Dr Simon Topping
School of Society and Culture (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business)
- American history
- American civil rights
- American popular culture
- Black US soldiers and World War Two
- American politics/elections/Republican Party
- Northern Ireland and World War Two
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Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) United States History
Exchange Co-ordinator, School of Society and Culture
I have been at the University of Plymouth since 2004, prior to my appointment here, I taught at the University of Wales (Bangor) for a year. I did my PhD, entitled “The Republican party and Civil Rights, 1928-1948,” at the University of Hull, supervised by Professor John Ashworth and Dr John White, and successfully defended my thesis in 2002.
I taught in the American Studies Department at Hull from 1997 until 2003. Before that, I took a Masters degree in American History at the University of Sheffield from 1994 to 1996, working under Professor Richard Carwardine and Dr Robert Cook and specialising in civil rights. As part of my BA in American Studies at the University of Ulster (graduating in 1993) I spent a year as an exchange student at the University of Mississippi (1991-1992), where I was appointed to the Chancellor’s Honor Roll for Academic Achievement.
At Plymouth, I was head of the Popular Culture degree from 2004 until 2009 and subject leader for American Studies from 2008 until 2010. I have been a member of the History team since 2008 and led the programme from 2011 to 2013.
British Association for American Studies (BAAS)
Roles on external bodies
External Examiner at Northumbria University
My teaching concentrates on the United States. I teach the first year core module entitled America from Settlement to Empire (HIST406) which examines American history from the arrival of Columbus to the end of the Spanish-American War. This module introduces students to the key themes in the first two hundred years of European settlement in what would become the United States and demonstrates how the country has been shaped by settlement, revolution, slavery, civil war, westward expansion and imperialism.
My second year module, America Since 1900 continues from where HIST406 left off, examining the key moments in the United States’ rise to superpower status, analysing the Progressive Era, the New Deal, two world wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate and America's role in the post-Cold War World.
American Popular Culture since 1945 is a second year module using various forms of mass culture to understand the United States. Thus, for example, we look at McCarthyism through film, the impact of television on the democratic process, black history via music and employ sources as diverse as comic books and political satire as well as more traditional historical texts, to show how culture operates in its political and historical context.
In the third year I ordinarily offer two modules on the civil rights movement. The first deals with the period from 1890 to 1954 and the second from 1954 to 1970, examining the roots of the modern civil rights struggle, through key figures such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Walter White, and key events such as Scottsboro, the Great Depression, the anti-lynching campaign, WWI and WWII and the Cold War.
The second module, The Civil Rights Movement, deals with the more familiar territory beginning with the Brown decision of 1954 and concluding in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King in 1968. In this module we examine the roles of ordinary people, leaders such as King and Malcolm X, important lesser known figures, notably women such as Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and those who opposed civil rights such as governors Faubus, Barnett and Wallace.
Staff serving as external examiners
I am currently completing a monograph entitled Northern Ireland, the United States and the Second World War (Bloomsbury, 2022). This analyses the positive reaction of the government of Northern Ireland, the only self-governing region of the United Kingdom at the time, to the presence of the American military, which it saw as a way of strengthening the union. Conversely, I also consider how the problems of Northern Ireland were reported back to Washington by the Belfast consulate, and the attitude of the American minister in Éire during the war, David Gray, towards partition and Irish history more generally. The book examines the strategic and diplomatic reasons why Northern Ireland was chosen to host the American forces, the impact of this on local sectarian dynamics and cross-border relations. It also deals with the social impact of the Americans, from interactions with African American troops, to cultural and sexual mores (some 1,600 local women married Americans), how the American presence was presented in the press and how the arrival of the Americans saw the revival of interest in Ulster’s historic links with the United States.
This research grows out of three articles dealing with the stationing of African American troops in Northern Ireland during the war: the first examined their reactions to the locals and vice versa in addition to their treatment at the hands of their white comrades and the US military authorities. The second analysed the attitude of the government of Northern Ireland to the importation of American racism, while the third, in the Journal of African American History uses Northern Ireland as a case study for the racist application of American military justice during the war. A fourth article on the broader topic of the Americans in Northern Ireland appeared in the Journal of Transatlantic Studies in 2018.
My next project will analyse the efforts of the Northern Ireland government to seek support for, and investment in, the country after the war, concentrating primarily on Prime Minister Brooke’s tour of North America in 1950.
Further ahead, I am hoping to write a monograph on comics and the Great War, focussing on Charley's War.
My previous research analysed the pre-1954 civil rights struggle in the United States, looking in detail at the black vote and culminating in the publication of Lincoln’s Lost Legacy: The Republican Party and the African American Vote, 1918-1952 (University Press of Florida, 2008). I also contributed a chapter on Walter White to Long is the Way and Hard: One Hundred Years of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), (University of Arkansas Press, 2009) and have published articles in the Journal of African American History, the Journal of American Studies, the Irish Journal of American Studies, OVERhere (now the European Journal of American Culture), Historical Research and the African American National Biography. I have also written a number of book reviews for national and international journals.
Key publications are highlightedJournals
Peninsula Arts Series and Events
'The War of the World': lecture series on events outside of Europe during the Great War, 2015
'Three Towns' Centenary, 2014
US Presidential Election Night Debate, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020
American Civil War lecture series, 2011
'American Mavericks' film and lecture series, 2010
American Civil Rights Lecture Series, University of Plymouth, 2008
American Presidency Lecture Series, 2007
Other academic activities
Co-ordinator of Department of Humanities reciprocal student exchanges with the United States and Canada.
Co-ordinate Humanities student exchanges to the United States as part of the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP)
Manage study link/scholarship scheme with the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies (RIAS) in the Netherlands