One Friday evening…
UEA American Scholar, 2nd Air Division Memorial Library
On Friday evening, 9 April 2010, the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library helped to host the civic reception for the annual British Association of American Studies (BAAS) conference. This is a prestigious event held in a different British city and hosted by a different university each year. This year, the University of East Anglia was chosen to organize the conference. They, in turn, were pleased to give us the opportunity to receive the nearly 200 international academics who made the trip to Norwich from over twenty countries. The governors of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Trust and the library staff saw to it that everybody was well received. Prior to the reception there was a tour through the Memorial Library, with visits from renowned authors, Yale Professor Wai-Chee Dimock and University of Illinois Professor Bruce Michelson. Amongst the many visitors, there were a few with books on our shelves. Following the tour the governors provided wine and canapés for the conference delegates at the reception which was held in the Forum building here in the centre of Norwich. The chance to unwind and mingle after a long afternoon of presentations and lectures was well-received after a long day of presentations and lectures at the UEA campus. The conviviality was, however, only part of a much more important evening for the library. There was a schedule of speakers, three of whom were extremely relevant to the Memorial Library. The first was Matthew Martin, Governor of the Memorial Trust. Matthew welcomed everybody to the Forum and graciously thanked those who had stopped in and signed our visitors book. Next, Dr. Wendy McMahon of the University of East Anglia took the lectern. Dr. McMahon had recently organized an outreach project that brought American Studies to ‘at-risk’ Norwich school children. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this project. Along with another PhD student, Catherine Barter, Dr. McMahon and I conducted a day-long seminar in three schools. The seminar, entitled What America Means to Me, asked eleven year olds to articulate and then reconsider what they know and believe about America and its influences in Britain. Our goal was to dispel myths and prove that there is more to the USA than fast-food, malls, big cities and sky scrapers. Weespecially wanted to talk about history. I used my background with the library to connect WWII, GIs in Norwich, and contemporary British pop music. The students and I discussed the meaningful relationships that our airmen and the people of Norfolk formed. That day, many realized why they haveAmerican grandparents, great-uncles, aunts, and cousins across the pond. Furthermore, we explained how the music our GIs made popular between 1943 and 1945 has directly influenced the types of music that are popular today. The students responded very well to this history and were moved by the toll the war extracted on so many 2AD servicemen. The culmination of the seminar was to have the students respond creatively to what they had learned. Many poems, letters, and drawings were produced. Itwas obvious how deeply they cared for the history of the 2nd Air Division by the numbers of responses they had to WWII history. As a result of the excellent work these students did, a book was published. This ground-breaking book, which demonstrates the capabilities at-risk students have when they are motivated by something personally important,was presented for the first time at the BAAS Conference. The US Embassy now has plans to sponsor an expansion of the project. With all of the famous writers in attendance, it was the work of these children that stole the spotlight.Maybe that was because of the heart-felt sentiments contained within their work. As one student wrote, in his poem entitled, “The Special Relationship”,
“American airmen away from their country, / Many miles away from home. /
Different place, different people. . . . / We were in it together.”
I believe that even Professor Dimock, who spoke next, played second-fiddle to these wonderful students. And it was Dimock around whom the evening was centered. This, in itself, was a great honor for our library. I had theopportunity to dine with her afterwards and she was effusive with her praise for what we do and the results of the outreach project.As such, it was a fantastic evening for me and the library. With the exposure we received, the hospitality provided by the governors, and the influence of the Memorial Library on an ambitious project it is my hope that what we are, why we are here, and what we are doing is, at least within certain niches, being recognized by people around the world.