Afterword: The American Politics Group (Political Studies Association, UK)

Dean McSweeney

British scholars specializing in US Politics founded the American Politics Group in 1974. The inaugural event was a conference at Keele University organized by John Lees. A January conference has been an annual event ever since, and the Keynote Address named after John Lees commemorates his significance to the Group and contribution that he made to the broader development of the study of US politics in Britain.

Perhaps, as befits pioneers, some of the early conferences had their share of hazards to overcome. The central heating broke down at the conference in a cold January in Bristol. The University of Wales conference centre at Gregynog proved almost as inaccessible as it was unpronounceable. A venue at the University of London might have been described as positively Dickensian but for the absence of any positive features. (It was not until the first Oxford conference that the Group discovered how the other 2 per cent live.) These experiences not only generated fortitude but also made their academic value all the more welcome. Members discovered not only a shared interest in American politics but also a shared approach

Dean McSweeney, a founder member, offers some personal reflections on the history of the Group from which many of this volume’s contributors are drawn.

D. McSweeney (H)

University of the West of England, Bristol, UK © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017

E. Ashbee, J. Dumbrell (eds.), The Obama Presidency and the Politics of

Change, Studies of the Americas, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-41033-3_15

in institutional/historical methods so different from the behaviouralism dominant across much of US political science. This academic network encouraged and enhanced individual research efforts. It also spawned a host of collaborative efforts, which run from the edited collections, Roosevelt to Reagan and Reagan’s First Four Years, to the present volume.1

Beginning in 1984, the Group launched an annual one-day colloquium in London. Staged jointly with the British Association for American Studies and hosted by the US Embassy, the day is devoted to a single theme, such as that year’s elections or a retrospective on a presidency just ended, bringing the Group’s expertise to a broad audience including academics, students, teaching staff, journalists and members of the general public.

Like any enduring organization, the Group has adapted to thrive and sustain its relevance. Conference papers, once designed to promote discussion, are now more likely being readied for publication, reflecting the increased importance of research in measuring the quality of universities and the merits of individual academics. Whereas the focus was once almost entirely on domestic politics, now the US foreign policy features strongly in the Group’s interests, animated by the uncertainties of the post-Cold War world, the September 11 attacks and the War on Terror. When the Group started, its membership was entirely British, but as its profile has grown, academics from the USA and continental Europe now join in its activities. Research methods have evolved, and there has been a growing interest in quantitative and qualitative methodologies as well as broad theoretical frameworks.

As the American Politics Group looks forward after four decades, this volume offers a sample of its current activities and interests.


1. Malcolm Shaw, ed., Roosevelt to Reagan: Development of the Modern Presidency (London: Hurst, 1987); John D. Lees and Michael Turner, eds, Reagan’s First Four Years: A New Beginning (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988).

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