Buried within one of the numerous reports published alongside the results of the research excellence framework 2014 is a comment regarding the paucity of research on the US within politics and international studies.
In the 123-page overview report, published in January 2015, subpanel 21 notes that it was “struck by the relative lack of work on US domestic politics” in this discipline.
The observation refers to research in this area across the UK’s universities, but the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has taken the comment to heart; it is one of the reasons why the institution launched a new US Centre in October.
“There are few countries that are more important internationally but less well understood than the US,” said Peter Trubowitz, professor of international relations at the LSE and director of the US Centre.
“One reason for that is that even America’s closest allies, ie, the UK, invest very few resources in social sciences training about the US.”
He added that the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provided 12 grants, or less than 3 per cent of its total awards, for research on the US over the past five years. Research on China, in comparison, accounted for five times the number of ESRC awards in the same period, he said.
The LSE’s US Centre seeks to “reverse this trend”. The aim of the institute is to promote graduate training, scholarly research and public engagement on the US across all the university’s departments from economics and international relations to law and geography.
Professor Trubowitz believes that the LSE is in a unique position to pursue this mission – partly because of its central London location and global orientation, but also because more than 50 scholars at the institution “work in one way or another on the United States”, particularly in a comparative context.
He also argued that the timing has never been more appropriate. In the past 10 to 15 years there has been “stability” in the US, in relation to its commitment to internationalisation, which meant that for academics “understanding what made China tick was more imperative” than carrying out research on the US, he said. However, he said that the real possibility that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could become the next US president has led to “anxiety” in this area and questions around what this would mean for the “US’s commitment around the globe”.
The centre, which is based at one of the LSE’s towers off the Strand in central London, does not have its own degree programmes, but is designed to coordinate, advertise and financially support US research across the institution. Professor Trubowitz said that he is keen for the institute to provide summer internships for undergraduate and master’s students to work alongside academics on research projects – a practice he said is “standard” at US universities. He also hopes that the centre will be able to fund PhD students whose research is focused on the US.
He said that the centre has so far received a “non-trivial sum of money” from the university and alumni to “keep us going for several years”, but he admitted that the goals around students would be reliant on further funding through philanthropy.
“My hope is these are the kinds of things members of the LSE alumni network, and there are many in the US, would find attractive,” he said.
Another long-term goal is to establish the LSE’s US Centre as the hub for a global network of academic centres that are “looking at the US from the outside in”.
“I was recently in Shanghai talking to the people at Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies. There are also US centres at the universities of Helsinki, Toronto and Harvard,” he said.
He hopes that these collaborations will help the LSE lead a “reimagining” of the study of the US.
“In the US, disciplinary conventions have separated the study of foreign and domestic policy so if you’re an expert on US foreign policy you don’t spend much time talking about domestic policy, and if you study domestic policy you don’t spend much time thinking about the US in an international context,” he said.
“I personally think that’s a mistake. You would never study any other country that way. It might have made sense when the US was less integrated in the global economy. But now the US is so open. It is so reliant on the global economy.”
12 – number of grants provided by the ESRC for research on the US in the past five years
University of Liverpool
Physicists have been awarded £8.3 million by the Science and Technology Funding Council to study the building blocks of the universe. The University of Liverpool’s particle physics group will investigate the prevalence of matter over antimatter in the universe, via experiments in Japan, the US and at Cern in Switzerland. Themis Bowcock, head of particle physics at the university, said: “This confirms Liverpool’s role as one of the UK’s largest centres for experimental fundamental physics.”
University of Warwick
Sperm need to crane their bodies to turn right to counteract an in-built drift to the left, researchers have found. University of Warwick academics, led by Vasily Kantsler of the department of physics, found that all sperm tails rotate in a counter-clockwise motion, which means that sperm should only be able to move leftwards. But the researchers observed via 3D motion analysis that approximately 50 per cent of the sperm observed moved to the right, as they distorted the mid-section of their bodies in that direction.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Staff at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David have answered the Christmas wish of a young girl who has cerebral palsy. Enna Thea Kul-Want, 8, from London, had been unable to go ice skating because she cannot wear conventional skates. The university’s Swansea-based Cerebra Innovation Centre built a sleigh that will allow Enna Thea’s mother Catherine to skate, pushing Enna Thea along on the inside.
University of Edinburgh
A disused landmark building will get a new lease of life after being bought back by the University of Edinburgh. Generations of students from the institution’s medical school trained at the old Surgical Hospital until trainees moved to the south of the city in 2003, and the building became part of the Quartermile development. Now the university has acquired the listed building again and plans to turn it into a centre for business and social policy.
University of Huddersfield
Academics are investigating the use of nanoparticles as a means of combating infections contracted during surgery. Five per cent of patients undergoing surgery in England and Wales develop infections and these can cause prolonged illness and sometimes death. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield are exploring nanoparticle use as a way to disinfect surgical wounds. “Making [antiseptic drugs] nanoparticle size will help them to carry things into the skin better than current antiseptic regimes,” said Barbara Conway, head of pharmacy.
Sheffield Hallam University
An academic who used state-of-the-art computer technology to investigate a lost play widely regarded to have been written by Christopher Marlowe has won a literary prize. Matthew Steggle, a professor in Sheffield Hallam University’s department of humanities, used the Early English Books Online database to re-examine The Maiden’s Holiday, thought to be one of eight Marlowe plays that was never published and subsequently lost in the 18th century. Professor Steggle won the annual Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize.
University College London
A vice-chancellor has been awarded the sector’s highest award for teaching. Michael Arthur, president and provost of University College London, is the first serving head of a Russell Group university to receive a principal fellowship from the Higher Education Academy. The award to recognise successful strategic leadership of university teaching was gained via UCL Arena, a staff development scheme, which has helped 260 people become fellows since its inception in April 2014.
Anglia Ruskin University
Female cockroaches select only the fittest males to mate with, according to a new study. The research, led by Sophie Mowles, behavioural ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University, investigated the courtship displays of the Cuban burrowing cockroach. It found that the males that produced the most energetic “wing-raising” rituals, which involves the repeated vertical flaring and lowering of their wings, were more likely to attract a female.