On 2-3 June 2023, The Rothermere American Institute hosted two days of conversation and celebration to mark the centenary of the creation of the Harmsworth Professorship in American History, which has been associated with Queen’s since its foundation.

This one-year visiting position has been held by many of the United States’ most distinguished historians. Around 20 former Harmsworth professors attended the event, along with other invited guests including Oxford’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Irene Tracey; the Chancellor, Lord Patten; the Deputy US Ambassador; and Lord and Lady Rothermere. The event concluded with a special gala dinner at Queen’s.

The symposium focused on two of the key themes that have run through the Harmsworth lectures over the last century. The first is the question of who is an American? What have been the changing boundaries of belonging and citizenship, and how have these been contested? What role have race, class, and gender played in defining what it means to be an American.

The second theme has been the place of the United States in the world. Perhaps in part because of the external perspective of a position in Oxford, Harmsworth Professors have often taken the opportunity to reflect on their country in comparative, transnational and global terms. In the end, one of the running themes of the conversation was the value of an external perspective on American history. Harmsworth Professors, along with the dozens of other historians who have written about America from here, have been able to – at least for a while – look at America from the outside in.

In the century since the first Harmsworth took up the UK’s first-ever chair in the subject, American History at Oxford has become a vibrant intellectual community producing innovative scholarship and training numerous students.  I’ve become part of that enterprise, interacting with and learning from colleagues, postgrads and undergraduates.

At the same time, Queen’s has welcomed me into college life—something wholly unfamiliar in American academia.  Navigating its beautiful stone cloister and its sometimes mysterious language and rituals, I’ve found rare intellectual stimulation, all sorts of new experiences, and generous fellowship.  It’s been the journey—and the honour–of a lifetime. 

Professor Bruce Schulman, current Harmsworth Professor
Group shot of former Harmsworth Professors at the Centenary celebrations of the Harmsworth Professorship
Photo: Tom Weller

The centenary celebration was magical. It was so great seeing people I knew who had been a Harmsworth, as well as meeting Harmsworths I did not know. What a thrill to be back at Queen’s. It made me want to do the Harmsworth all over again.

Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, former Harmsworth Professor and Honorary Fellow