From literature and history to philosophy and the social sciences, DePaul University possesses a strength in British studies that often goes untapped. To highlight the university’s active presence in the field, Associate Professors of History Eugene Beiriger and Lisa Sigel brought the 60th annual meeting of the Midwest Conference on British Studies to campus, Oct. 11-13, 2013. “DePaul showcased its strengths in British Studies, which thanks to the Midwest Conference, are not hidden anymore,” says Sigel. “This particular conference was one of the best in recent memory, and that reflects well on the quality of the people who presented and on the university,” adds Beiriger.
More than 150 scholars gathered to hear panels running the gamut from politics, finance and warfare in Stuart England to contemporary British writing. Advanced scholars offered tips on how to get published, while representatives from the Newberry Library, the Center for Research Libraries and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library discussed the expansive primary resources available in the Chicagoland area. “They have these enormously rich collections in British studies, but you need to contact them directly to get the full extent,” Sigel explains. “There are things online, but there is a wealth of material that is un-cataloged.”
Special guests included conference honoree Walter Arnstein from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; keynote speaker Robert Bucholz from Loyola University Chicago; plenary speaker Jonathan Rose from Drew University in Madison, N.J.; Stephen Bridges, Chicago British consul general; and James Kariuki, counselor and head of the politics, economics and communication group at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. After hearing Rose’s remarks, Kariuki requested a copy of the speech so that he could use parts of it in Congress’s rededication of a Winston Churchill bust. “Our conference provided a talking point for Washington,” says Beiriger.
However, without strong institutional support, Beiriger and Sigel would not have been able to host the conference at DePaul. They cite professors Rebecca Cameron, director of undergraduate studies in English; Lucy Rinehart, English department chair; Tom Foster, history department chair; Susan Solway, history of art and architecture department chair; Kara Dempsey, program director of Irish Studies; Euan Hague, geography department chair; and Charles Suchar (LAS ’67), dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, as well as the rest of his office, as being instrumental to the conference’s success. Undergraduate history students assisted with operations, answering questions and acting as guides for attendees. “No one believed they were actually undergraduates because they were so professional,” Sigel laughs. “They did a wonderful job of representing history at DePaul.”
With many fields moving away from the traditional British slant, Beiriger and Sigel stress the importance of Great Britain in the modern world. “British history is interesting because it is the hinge,” explains Beiriger. “It allows the United States to see itself as part of a past that is bigger than itself because the British Empire had a role to play throughout the world.” Sigel adds that “anything that is important in the world happened first in British history—capitalism, industrialization, world empire. If you want to understand the making of the modern world, turn to British history.”