Ask An Americanist

Ask An Americanist: Dr Emma Hamilton

Dr Emma Hamilton is a Lecturer of History in the English Language and Foundation Studies Centre at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her first monograph, Masculinities in American Western Films: A Hyper-Linear History, was published in 2016 and she has recently released a co-edited collection, Unbridling the Western Film Auteur. Her research interests include representation and cultural studies, especially film and history, and representations of gender, sexuality, age and race across time and place.

  1. Tell us a little about your background

I completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) majoring in History and Politics, then progressed on to a PhD in History at the University of Newcastle (UON), Australia. My thesis examined American Western films released in the 1950s and 1960s and was particularly concerned with theorising history on film and the intersections between historical representation and gender. I’m now a lecturer of History in the English Language and Foundation Studies Centre at UON, and I also currently convene their Open Foundation Online program. I’ve always been really passionate about the teaching component of academic work and care so much for the valuable enabling programs offered by UON, which gives students who have missed out on the chance to enter straight into University for any reason, another chance at a degree and an experience of University life.

  1. How did you get interested in American history?

In short: The Autobiography of Malcolm X! As a young adult I was interested in memoir and biography and became fascinated with the lives of civil rights activists. Of course, being the recipient of so many American cultural products, especially film and TV, probably also had something to do with it, but in a more subconscious way. And when I started University I was very lucky to be taught undergraduate American history classes by inspired teachers who were really passionate about their subject and cared about their students.

  1. What are you working on at the moment? How was this project conceived?

Over the past two years I’ve been fortunate to see some larger projects come to fruition: I’ve been able to publish a book on Western films, and a co-edited collection on auteur theory and the Western, which had its roots in the research for my doctoral study. I’ve also been working on grant projects related to online education, pedagogy, and widening participation, which were conceived really out of concerns to be reflexive and conscious about my own teaching practices and the sector I work in. At the moment I’m really working on the dissemination of the outcomes of these grants, and I also feel that I’m at the ‘what’s next?’ phase of my research cycle. I’m trying to evaluate the components of my research that I really enjoyed in this last two year period and that I feel have a lot more room to contribute to the field and grow into my next big projects. I would also say that a lot of my work has been conceived or worked through collaboratively, and I enjoy the process of working through ideas and the practicalities of research projects and publications with my colleagues.

  1. Do you have a favourite source that you have discovered/used in your research?

I have really enjoyed discovering films that have fallen out of popular consciousness, especially ‘acid westerns’, like Ride the Whirlwind. Aside from cultural products, any source where you really feel the voice of the person composing it come through and you can, sort of, excavate their selfhood, is pretty special.

  1. How has your geographical distance from the United States shaped your work?

My work has largely focused on cultural histories that, in the digital age, have fairly easily accessible source material. Although I have always been interested in cultural histories, it’s really a happy coincidence too, because it makes the process of reading and writing far more accessible than if my work were based on non-digitised archives.

  1. What are your favourite & least favourite aspects of being an Americanist in Australia?

I like being part of a smaller community of practitioners, and I like the different perspective being an Americanist in Australia can give you on American issues. The ‘tyranny of distance’ can be an issue, particularly for historians needing access to regular archival material, and for PhD and early career researchers whose access to funding opportunities can be more limited. The opportunities to work strictly as an Americanist academic in Australia are also more limited.

  1. What has your relationship with ANZASA looked like over time?

ANZASA gave me my first opportunity to present at a conference! I was incredibly nervous but found that it was a very supportive community, and I continue to look forward to receiving the journal and seeing the array of emerging and established scholars’ work.

  1. Finally, what is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?

I have been given two pieces of advice that have resonated with me: firstly, one of my PhD supervisors passed on a piece of advice given to her by her own supervisor, ‘Don’t focus on whether you’ve bitten off more than you can chew; focus on chewing hard!’ When I feel like maybe I’m a little out of my depth or too busy I try to focus on thinking deeply, being disciplined, and chewing hard and hoping my teeth don’t fall out! Secondly, ‘be generous’. We work in a sector that often makes us feel compelled into patterns of competition with other people, but we have much more to gain through expressing generosity of time, resources and spirit to our colleagues.