On 7 and 8 December 2023, the RIAS held the second PhD seminar of this year, organized by Manar Ellethy and Christine Mertens. The RIAS was pleased to welcome ten PhD candidates from various renowned universities, ranging from UCLA in the US to Cambridge University in the UK.

As in previous editions, the PhD participants wrote interesting papers and gave us engaging presentations about their research projects on topics about US history, culture, literature, and politics. Each presentation was followed by insightful comments from discussants and a fruitful debate with all the participants.

For the first time, a panel on memory studies was featured in this year’s seminar. Chaired by Sara Polak (Leiden University) on Thursday morning, the presentations in this session featured a presentation on Confederate monument discourse among American politicians by Hillary Meuter (TU Dortmund) and the contestations over the memory of the Spanish Civil War in the United States from the 1930s to the onset of the Cold War by Tyler Goldberger (William & Mary  University). After lunch, the second panel of the day offered various perspectives on Black intellectual thought, from Charleston’s free people of color’s participation in a classical debating society to the literary scholarship of MacArthur Fellow Jesmyn Ward. Damian Pargas, Executive Director of the RIAS, fulfilled the role of this discussant during this session and provided the participants with valuable feedback.

After a small break, Professor David Woolner (Marist college) delivered a keynote on applying your academic skills beyond academia. Professor Woolner did not only inspire us with the various ways in which PhD students can engage with the public, but also talked about the responsibility of young academics to do so in this day and age. We like to thank him for joining us during the sessions and delivering an inspiring keynote. A first day of fascinating debates and engaging presentations was closed with a well-deserved dinner at La Piccola Italia.

On the second day, we started with a panel on African-American culture in the twentieth century. Jessie Morgan-Owens (Leiden University) chaired this panel. Thomas Cryer (University College London) presented first about re-evaluating the Black History Wars through the perspective of John Hope Franklin. Afterwards, Manar Ellethy (Leiden University) discussed radical womanhood in the Black documentary film, titled The New Ark, and Masa Yamada (University of California, Los Angeles) analyzed the interracial sociality of Jazz in Chicago’s Hyde Park in the age of racial integration.

After the break, the last panel was chaired by both Jessie Morgan-Owens and Damian Pargas and focused on American Literature. In particular, Aïcha Bouchelaghem (University of Geneva) discussed abolition beyond the human-animal binary in African American literature and Jack Love (Texas A&M University) considered representations of the sea as the New American Wilderness in late nineteenth-century American Fiction. Unfortunately, George Blaustein (University of Amsterdam)  could not make it to Middelburg to chair this panel, instead he gave his feedback by email. After this final panel, we had a relaxing farewell lunch.

We are thankful to our discussants Sara Polak (Leiden University), Damian Pargas (Leiden University), Jessie Morgan-Owens (Leiden University), and George Blaustein (University of Amsterdam) for sharing their valuable insights on the papers presented.