American Studies students receive BAAS recognition for outstanding essays

Samantha Barker, a final-year undergraduate student, has been announced as the joint-winner for her essay on gentrification in Harlem, while Anya Carr, a first-year student, received one of two honourable mentions for her essay on Native Americans within U

Each year, the British Association of American Studies (BAAS) seeks essays that explore an aspect of the American experience, researched and written by UK-based undergraduate students. 

Essays engaging with current issues like racial and environmental justice are of particular interest to the judging panel. Last year’s winner, a student from University College London (UCL), approached the subject of Black Lives Matter and the nature of protest, and this year, Samantha’s winning essay similarly tackled racial themes. 

In response to whether the gentrification of Harlem after 1980 was led by external forces and whether this led to a white takeover, Samantha concluded: “[T]he effects of gentrification are now clear. If there had not yet been a white ‘take-over’ in population by the early 2000s, Harlem is surely on its way there today […] Despite the work of internal forces and community organisation groups to see improvements in Harlem for its long-term residents, the ‘pockets’ of black history were being, and continue to be, overwritten by larger, external forces.”

Samantha takes home a prize of £250, and will have the chance to participate in workshops with the editors of the Journal of American Studiesand the European Journal of American Culture, as well as other opportunities. 

In addition to Samantha, congratulations are in order for Anya, who received one of two honourable mentions for her essay, ‘To what extent were Native American activists recognized and embraced as allies of US Civil Rights and Black Power groups?

Anya found that Native American activists were recognised and embraced. “In recognising the Black embrace of Native Americans, and, by extension, ‘all poor and oppressed people,’ as allies in a global movement for freedom, intersectionality goes beyond a shared experience of oppression, and becomes in fact a tool of liberation,” she said.

This is a fantastic achievement for Samantha and Anya, and for the American Studies programme as a whole. 

Dr Andrew Fearnley, Lecturer in US History, praised the achievement. 

“We're delighted that our students have received this recognition for their excellent work—on Native activism in the civil rights period, and on the transformation of Harlem at the turn of the twenty-first century. These essays demonstrate the wide range of topics that we address in American Studies, and both show the balance we try to find between historical study and contemporary, political intervention.”

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