Brian Ward

Brian Ward

I am Northumbria University’s first Professor in American Studies and my teaching and research focuses on the modern US South, the African American Experience, and popular music.

Location Newcastle upon Tyne

Activity

  • Interesting and, though I wouldn't presume to speak for David Olusoga, I suspect he wouldn't have much to disagree with in your comments, Julie -- with the caveat, that he'd probably defend, as would I, the idea that any 'national' history of Britiain is seriously compromised if it doesn't pay attention to ethnic and racial diversity, as well as many other...

  • Thanks for the comment, Rose. As I wrote as clearly as I could in the article, you are absolutely right that the underlying cause of Meadow Well was not racism but the perfect storm of deprivations I listed. The point is that once the violence was underway, it frequently took a racial/racist turn that revealed another layer of anxieties and resentments among...

  • Absolutely right, Jane. Appalling working conditions and mega-exploitation, yes; slavery, no. Always slightly confused when people argue that because one person or place was involved in something horrendous less than another person or place, their involvement shouldn't really be examined.

  • Thanks for this, Angela -- I love flushing out these anecdotes, which often speak to bigger issues. I've got a mate working on William Cody's European tours and will see what they know about his NE visits.

  • Wow -- awesome thread! I learned loads from Amanda, Joe D et al who contributed - nobody has a monopoly on knowledge and this is precisely how a community of learners is supposed to function, so thanks. And, yep, non-white is problematic and even scare quotes ('non-white') won't solve some of the problems with the designation, although it was pretty common in...

  • Really interesting to get perspectives from outside the country, let alone outside the region. I was really small when the T. Dan Smith scandals broke, so for my generation that swamped other considerations of his contributions (which were mixed and open to discussion, but certainly not wholly negative, as Connal's talk suggests). Bizarrely, I'm off to lecture...

  • Hi Both,
    Double checked and Ruhi herself definitely thought she was wearing a burka when the incident happened, so that's good enough for me! The photos you saw were almost certainly images from a photo shoot after the event. See, https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/newcastle-metro-passenger-who-racially-10489548.
    Answers/comments...

  • Wow - you guys are way ahead of the pack; we're only on Week 4! Always happy to accept factual corrections and listen to alternative interpretations. Terminology is important, so I'll recheck the newspaper accounts. Transcripts of video talks are automatically generated, and there are occasional glitches (software struggles with my southern accent!)....

  • Like the sensible point Neil makes that 'Stephenson's genius was in his ability to perfect ideas and build on what had gone before.' Very few new inventions or breakthroughs in science, technology, or for that matter the arts and culture are wholly 'new'; most have a lineage and build on previous efforts.

  • Interesting point about the ubiquity of bridges in lots of different courses, Hazel. Maybe we should consolidate them all into one super-bridge MOOC?

  • I like John's Charlton's book a lot -- it was really useful when I started my own work on the deep background to the visits of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. His argument is really that the region, like all of Britain, was heavily implicated in the slave trade -- not just making manacles and the wealth some locals got from slave...

  • Interesting again - I actually quite like the idea Amanda has put forward, albeit, I suspect, tongue in cheek. Sadly, nowhere near enough time in our day jobs to do anything so sophsiticated.
    Andy's right. Of course, VIZ doesn't encompass the entirety of Newcastle or NE life; nor is it exactly brimful of positive images of the area, though it does have a...

  • That was a fascinating discussion, Hazel, You might enjoy learning a little more at
    https://theconversation.com/frederick-douglass-the-ex-slave-and-transatlantic-celebrity-who-found-freedom-in-newcastle-90886

  • Fair enough, but not everywhere Douglass visited in the UK has a memorial commemorating his time there, or can trace a long series of connections to the African American freedom struggle from Equiano to Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali, as we'll see in later steps.

  • That's very kind, Janet -- we are only too aware of how much we had to leave out to fit into a 5-week format that wasn't actually a full-time job for all our learners. It was especially tough to omit a lot of fascinating pre-1500 history and culture, because we wanted to focus on more modern material. Maybe another MOOC - though some of our learners are rising...

  • Penshaw is a very good shout, David.

    Isn't the old DLI museum now home to Wylam Brewary and a music venue? Nice to see another example of local entrepreneurial activity apparently thriving - and, if I'm right, good use of a fascinating building. I think some of the DLI artefacts may have found their way to the Discovery Museum.

    Great thing about these...

  • Great choice! The man was a legend...

  • Good choice - especially in the 100th year since (some) women in the UK got the vote. If you haven't already found it, it's well worth looking at Matt Perry's biography of 'Red" Ellen for more on this remarkable woman.

  • Interesting line of enquiry. We actually had very similar questions from some learners on the American South course who came from the region and were hostile to any media depictions of southerners that stereotyped or caricatured less appealing aspects of southern life. They tended to focus on the negative portrayals we included (Deliverance, True Blood, etc)...

  • Good original choice, Steven And if we look closely at the blue star on the Newcastle Brown Ale bottle label, we can see the silhouette of the Newcastle skyline, so doubly good choice...

  • Spooky...It was a fabulous occasion. Good to mark the connections between the region and the long African American freedom struggle as that's a story too few people on either side of the Atlantic really know.

  • Good point, Ursula -- and she'd almost certainly be earning more if she was a man...Prejudices work out in all manner of ways!

  • Good call on Rhiannon Giddens, Gerard - and on Beyoncé's maturation. I'll wager good money that in years to come she'll be considered one of the most significant as well as one of the most popular US artists of the early 21st Century...But less sure how often the southern coordinates of much of her most significant work will be appreciated - except by folks...

  • Good to add some other viewing options, Claire - time and space are always against us, but that's where our learners can contribute. Of course, none of these reality shows are exactly exercises in documentary realism, rather they are generally as carefully staged and even more carefully edited than many 'fictional' programmes (but a lot cheaper to make than a...

  • As a few of you have already noted, Billy Graham passed away today (Feb 21, 2018). Regardless of where one stands on the particulars of his ministry, he was a very significant figure in southern, US and global culture and clearly for some people hugely inspirational and influential.

  • Good line of discussion, guys. There's been a huge interest in how religion plays in and out of the civil rights story of the 1950s and 1960s and the conclusions are complex. Clearly there were some diehard segregationists who turned to the Bible to justify their defense of Jim Crow (lots of stuff about the 'Curse of Ham' and 'separating sheep from goats);...

  • I think the point was more that people in positions of power in the recording industry and -- to a large extent -- consumers between the wars had pretty firm ideas about what female and male singers and musicians were 'supposed' to sound like and they were often marketed accordingly. Of course, you're absolutely right. Maria, that Memphis Minnie is just one...

  • Good call, Monica. Take a look at https://ferris.edu/jimcrow/origins.htm - it'll also be useful for when we look at southern museums and heritage sites in a late week. Be warned, there are some crude racial stereotypes at work in the images on display here.

  • Thanks, Emma -- couldn't wish for a better endorsement. Some of this material is hard to work through and troubling -- but, then again, so is much of the daily news!

  • Nicely explained, Julia -- though the real fear is of how often ignorance and bigotry wrap themselves in the guise of sincerely held opinions, as if that somehow excuses or legitimises opinions that are, well, ignorant and bigoted! Happy to see this cohort of learners are suitably feisty and opinionated, but also, by-and-large informed and eager to learn and...

  • Great question, Claire - and one which historians have grappled with for years. The answer seems to be that in different places at different times all of the groups you mention had considerable economic and with it political power in the New South -- even the heirs of some of the large plantation owners who had lost their slave property during the Civil War....

  • Nice summary, Rohan,

  • Good question. I think the term 'Lost Cause' was actually coined by a Virginia historian, Edward Pollard, as early as 1866, but the idea was popularised in the hugely popular novels of Thomas Nelson Page (try 'In Ole Virginia' from 1887 or ''The Old South' from 1892) and countless others, as well as through the efforts of groups like the Kappa Alpha...

  • A nice, thought-provoking comment, Matthew. Of course, the irony for those in the South who were anxious about the unwelcome reach of federal authority is that the Confederate government, was far more intrusive into the everyday lives of its citizens than federal government had ever been. Wartime needs meant the draft, tighter government controls on...

  • Good catch, Isla -- should read correctly, now.

  • Roughly 7.5million Germans came to the US between 1820 and 1870, forming the basis of what remained the largest ancestry group claimed by Americans in 2016, though that's not really relevant to Elkin's 1959 thesis. His comparison of the effect of slavery to the 'infantilisation" observed among the victims of Nazi concentration camps was hugely controversial...

  • Interesting, though it clearly matters quite a lot to Native Americans that their long struggle to resist the onslaught of European powers is recognised and respected. Historians spend a lot of their time trying to complicate the past because, well, because history is complicated and even amid the worst kinds of oppression there are stories, sometimes...

  • A thoughtful, nuanced and informed comment, David.

  • I'm a big fan of 'ACOD,' too, Phil -- glad it's getting some plugs from you and a few other learners!
    A couple of other good southern reads that I'd recommend and that are a little off the beaten literary track are Cynthia Shearer, 'The Celestial Jukebox' (a treat for those who love music, too), Jack Butler, 'JuJitsu for Christ' (a tale set in 1960s...

  • Fascinating and laudably balanced, Layla. One of the joys of the course is that inside/outsider views tend to compliment each other, building up a collective sense of the South, real and imagined.

  • Nice idea to trace the evolution of Elvis's style through one song, Theo. Suspect the Brits who reckon that Elvis was seen primarily as 'American' rather than 'southern' are right -- but in 1956-8, lots of the British press, music and mainstream, made sure to render his statements/interviews phonetically to make sure nobody was in much doubt as to which region...

  • Interesting thoughts, Martin - as we go through the course we'll keep playing with the notion of how much, or how little, the different sections within a 'South of Many Souths' actually have in common. You're right that Civil Wars are enormously significant in any nation's history -- but probably more decisively in the South than in the North, since it has...

  • Wonderful post, Danielle. Smart and balanced, recognising both the value of personal experience and the limited perspective that sometimes offers into the lives of others.

  • Great to have you on board, Jessica -- hope you find the course interesting and challenging, in a good way!

  • Welcome back Julia -- and thanks for flagging the forthcoming Global Geordies course on Future Learn (where there's actually more about the global history of the US South than you might imagine!)

  • Thanks, Linda, plenty more musical material to follow...some familiar, some less so!

  • Many thanks for these constructive comments, Susan and Ruth. Glad you appreciate both the content and the constraints when it comes to cramming in everything we'd like to talk about (or encourage the learners to talk about) into 5 week. Those constraints are very real, but we're always looking to improve. It's been gratifying that in this iteration the...

  • Thanks, Mark -- as the fabulous southern historian Ed Ayers once wrote, not everything in the South is primarily about race; but virtually nothing in the South isn't at some level about race. It's a tough balance to find, but the history of race and race relations intersect with and inform so much of the southern story that it's always likely to raise its head.

  • Enjoy your travels, Penny. As we're at pains to point out on a regular basis, "the problems" in the South are seldom, if ever, unique to that region (but it's a course on the South, so it would be perverse and irresponsible not to give them proper coverage) - and there are so many aspects of the region's past and present to admire and be inspired by that...

  • Really pleased you're enjoying the course and that it feeds into your A Level work, too, Amy. I just did a couple of A Level workshop on the CRM in London and Manchester and the topic continues to grab the imagination - and feature heavily on the curriculum for lots of exam board.

  • Interesting thoughts, ladies -- we know there's a lot to cram in; a fact that haunts us nearly as much as knowing how much we've had to leave out! As Penny notes above, these courses can only ever be a taster and stimulus to more reading, listening and viewing and it's always gratifying to find out that the learners are still eager for more!

  • Good to see mention of Jet and Ebony -- the black print media was very important, though as most activists recogized, black-oriented radio was probably even more important within the southern black community as a means of encouraging black pride and sometimes even mobilising African Americans for civil rights campaigns. Black southerners didn't need the press...

  • Generally agree Adetola -- though any half-decent historian would raise an eyebrow at the thought any media is 'unbiased'. There are always decisions being made about what to cover, what to ignore, what to broadcast and how to 'frame' those broadcasts (same applies to which print stories are run, how they are edited, which photos are used, etc). The Selma...

  • Awesome line of conversation -- in my wildest dreams I didn't think we'd have an anatomical analogy lesson linked to a smart analysis of how the civil rights movement worked. Got close once with a student who described the CRM as the floss necessary to clean the racist plaque from the South.

  • I think you've hit the nail on the proverbial head -- economic/housing patterns account for much of this distribution, especially after the heyday of busing past, when the demographics of schools once again closely mirrored the make-up of their neighbourhoods in many places.

  • Brings back nice memories of my time teaching at UF in Gainesville, Kelly. I loved that roadside culture -- and for a while was really into the Highwaymen painters who worked the back roads of the state in the 1950s-1980s, mainly. They sold their works for a few bucks, but some of it is worth a fortune now: http://www.floridahighwaymenpaintings.com/

  • Nice commentary, Liz -- we're fast approaching the 40th anniversary of Carter's visit to Newcastle and the North East, where there's still a lot of respect and admiration for him.

  • There was actually a boom-let in southern rock enthusiasm in Britain in the early-to-mid-1970s: Skynyrd shared top billing at Knebworth with the Rolling Stones and appeared on the much-missed Old Grey Whistle Test. For a while the Marshall Tucker Band, Outlaws, Black Oak Arkansas, the Allman Brothers Band, among many others toured a lot in the UK and regularly...

  • Interesting - I played the first 4 notes of SHA to a class of undergraduates in the UK last year: the vast majority of them knew it instantly and were able to spew out a whole bunch of southern stereotypes (positive and negative) they associated with it...Some may have been exposed to it via parents, adverts and the Reese Witherspoon film of the same...

  • Cheque is in the post, Michael - thanks for the shout-out!

  • Glad to see folks heading off to do independent research on Harry Truman; another complex political figure, but one whose administration certainly saw some important developments in US race relations and policies on race - not least a backlash, of which the Dixiecrats were part.

  • As you may know by now -- there's a whole step on the significance of air-conditioning coming up!

  • The 19th Amendment giving women the vote was ratified in 1920 - some 36% of eligible women voted in that year's presidential election (vs 68% of eligible men), partly because devices like the poll tax, literacy tests, and residency requirements depressed numbers, but also because of enduring beliefs among many women (as well as many men!) that it wasn't...

  • Fair to say, Huey Long polarised opinion! He was very popular among those in Louisiana who saw him as an energetic champion of the "common man' -- somebody who was willing to use governmental (state) power and funds to try to stimulate the economy, put people to work, arrest the effects of a long recession which had gripped the region long before the Great...

  • Only right that a university with fair number of Geordies in its student body and among its staff should have one of the largest concentrations of American Studies scholars, especially historians, outside the US, many of them with a keen interest in the South. After all, Jeremiah Dixon, the surveyor who, with Charles Mason, marked out the Mason-Dixon Line, one...

  • Terrific summary and response, Erin. Interestingly (possibly!) for at least the past 25 years and with increasing intensity for the past 10, historians have worked hard to counteract stereotypes about Native Americans and restore them to their proper place in the story of North America, making them agents in that story not simply victims -- all without denying...

  • Interesting conversation. It's worth noting 'dry runs' for Jim Crow-style segregation largely took place in the urban North prior to the civil war, as whites tried to work out how to deal with a large free black population while still preserving as much white (usually White Anglo Saxon Protestant) power and privilege as possible. As we've seen many times, the...

  • A nice summary, Nyree -- Jim Crow laws and habits did seep into and shape just about every aspect of southern life for many decades, affecting blacks and whites alike, though in profoundly different ways, of course. The cultural vibrancy you note was remarkable and in many ways largely the result of blacks and poor whites responding to their respective plights...

  • Some of these nuances will hopefully become clearer through the steps - not enough time in the Intro which is, well, an Intro..."Some" white southerners is a nod to the fact at everytime we say that "southerners"; "whites"; "African Americans"; "women"; "men"; "poor"; "rich" did something or thought something, these are inevitably generalizations that ignore...

  • Yep, the losers got to write and rewrite a lot of this history. It's only really when the great African American scholar-activist WEB DuBois wrote Black Reconstruction that we begin to get another view of things.

  • Interesting, though not sure too many ex-slaves would agree that the post war system was worse, even with all the systematic abuses that followed Reconstruction and became part of the "Jim Crow" South of segregation and disenfranchisement.

  • Pretty sure it was "skewed" - but both work!

  • Good intervention, though not always "invisible" - those "whites only" signs made Jim Crow all too visible.

  • Interesting post, Hugh - legions of scholars and commentators have debated much the same question: is there a unique southern identity and if so what are its main characteristics. Even those who argue for such a thing rarely settle on a single factor, preferring to stress a unique combination of economic, social, cultural, demographic, and historical forces -...

  • Interesting to see the shout out for Delius - a white Yorkshireman of German extraction who in the late 19th and early 20th Century wrote (among other things with a southern-focus) an opera (Koanga) on the life of an African slave living on a colonial Louisiana plantation that was based partly on a variant of English novelist, Aphra Benn's Oroonoko (reworked...

  • Terminology and language are important, as is sensitivity to their power to offend - but as Jim Crow was the term in use by blacks, whites, southerners, northerners and foreign observers during this period of history, it seems appropriate. It's a useful umbrella term to the whole system of legal and habitual segregation, disenfranchisement and terror and...

  • I think it is important to recogniize that the Union/federal government was hugely complicit in the legalisation of Jim Crow practices in the South by, as Aidan suggests, turning a blind eye to those developments and actively endorsing them through Supreme Court decisions such as Plessy vs Ferguson - all in the interests of "national unity" often founded on a...

  • Good point, David -- just always so much to cram in! Early Jazz does have strong links to the South, especially New Orleans, where the fusion of African American, French, Spanish and European marching band traditions give rise to an extraordinary musical gumbo. Many of the earliest stars of the idiom, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton cut...

  • A well-measured assessment of the situation in the late 19th Century South, Hugh. Of course, the region was not the only place in the US where interracial and interethnic tensions were exploited and generally worked against latent common interests among the "lower orders,"

  • A good thread - Foner is a fine historian so fully aware of the dangers of counterfactual speculation; but it's fun and actually can help identify why things played out the way they did (eg: what was present or absent that meant the "imagined history" never materialised?; here Lincoln is the central missing ingredient, but probably not the only one to make...

  • There's nothing like experiencing a region personally, Nancy -- I'd thoroughly recommend it (though sadly we're not on commission from southern tourist boards). Of course, part of what makes these courses work is the blend of insider/outsider perspectives, so you'd bring fresh eyes and knowledge to the place, too. Hope you enjoy the rest of the course.

  • Wow, Clare -- you nearly reached the end before the end was written! Glad you enjoyed it and hope you'll keep tabs on what your fellow learners have to say as they work through the weeks at a more leisurely pace.

  • Like your intervention, Liz, except for some dissent from the final sentence. As this course shows time and time again in the case of the South - stereotypes (the reduction of groups of people to simple 'types') are hugely helpful and instructive! Many of the worst abuses in history have been perpetrated by people who generated or manipulated or succumbed to...

  • Excited to hear how you get on with that guitar, Dorothy. You're in excellent southern company, of course -- music has been one of the ways to celebrate and criticise, revel in and rebel against the region's complex histories, good, bad and ugly! As I've mentioned before, the Drive-by Truckers' songs about the 'Duality of the Southern Thing" are all about this...

  • It's a difficult balancing act...Usually around week 3, the educators get characterised as unrelentlly hostile to the South, or the Godless spawn of Satan or some such, by folks who forget, or chose to ignore, just how much of the course emphasizes the positive and alluring aspects of the region, it's histories and cultures. There are lots of inspiring and...