US Centre staff members at an event

Undergraduate Research Assistantships

Encouraging interdisciplinary research collaborations between academics and undergraduate students

In Michaelmas 2017, the Centre launched the US Centre Undergraduate Research Assistantship program as a means of encouraging US-related interdisciplinary research collaborations between academics and undergraduate students at LSE.

There is nothing quite like working with an LSE undergraduate research assistant to help you jumpstart a piece of research. They are resourceful, committed, open-minded -- an invaluable combination in the early stages of a project.

Fabien Accominotti, Assistant Professor (Department of Sociology)

Working with budding academics from across the School gives a remarkable opportunity to reimagine our own research focuses. It also challenges us to have an even greater openness to interdisciplinary insights and question our most basic hypotheses

John Collins, Executive Director (LSE's International Drug Policy Unit)

The Undergraduate Research Assistantship program has been an opportunity for students to involve themselves directly in internationally-oriented scholarship on America’s changing role in the world. Collaborating over the course of an academic year, undergraduate students were paired with academics who required assistance in collecting or processing new data, gathering archival resources, writing-up a blog article, or conducting library searches.

Read the 2019-20,  2018-19 and the 2017-18 donor reports for more information on the programmes.

The Undergraduate Research Assistantship program has been generously funded by LSE alumnus Stefan Guetter (Msc Accounting and Finance 1995, and Executive Summer School 2010). 

"My gift is supporting the provision of internships for undergraduate students, enabling them to work with faculty on professional research programmes that emanate from the Centre. I thought it was a very good idea as it provides a different academic challenge that would not otherwise be undertaken in undergraduate study. Separately I thought it made a lot of sense to support something that is having a close look at US relations from a European perspective; obviously this is highly topical at the moment."

- Mr Guetter outlined his motivation for donating to the programme on page 21 of LSE's Impact Magazine.

 For information on the 2021-22 programme please click here

 2020-21 Research Projects

1. Charismatic infrastructure for climate change adaptation in the US

Faculty: Rebecca Elliott, Department of Sociology                                             
Research Assistant: Emily Douglas, Department of Geography and Environment

In the absence of national leadership, some American towns and cities have begun to marshal immense resources – financial, political, and intellectual – to confront and prepare for the worst effects of climate change. This adaptation often takes the form of major investments in new infrastructure projects meant to defend existing landscapes of people and property from the encroachment of rising seas, extremes of heat and cold, and more intense natural disasters. This project will assess what makes such projects a compelling or ‘charismatic’ strategy when compared to, for instance, forms of climate change adaptation that unbuild, retreat, or maintain existing structures rather than building new ones.We will reflect on how particular infrastructure solutions to climate change, and not others, come to be understood as precisely that: solutions.The research will follow the social lifecycle of this infrastructure in order to examine how what ultimately gets built – the form a project takes, where it is sited, who pays for it, and who or what it protects – reflects local configurations of political power, authoritative knowledge practices and expertise, and cultural ideas about human-environment relations. 

Read the report.

2. The acceleration of prison reform in the age of COVID-19

Faculty: Johann Koehler, Department of Social Policy                   
Research Assistant: Hawa Patel, Department of International History

Prisons and jails rank among the world’s densest and most transmissive hotbeds of viral contagion. This insight worried the penal reformers of the 18th century who were concerned with typhus and ‘miasma’ just as acutely as it does the policymakers of the 21st century who worry about COVID-19’s spread. Yet while the suppression of disease spurred the prison’s invention and proliferation three centuries ago, today it prompts serious discussion about whether the institution has outlived its purpose. The management of COVID-19 has forced states across the US and beyond to consider the mass release of people held behind bars. Such measures are far more drastic than the preferred solutions of first resort in progressive criminal justice, which typically are modest, piecemeal, and incremental. This research project looks at how might we make sense of the spontaneous shift toward taking seriously penal reforms—such as the mass release of people from prisons—that were considered unthinkable shortly before. 

Read the report.

3. The disasters of the international financial system after World War I

Faculty: James Morrison, Department of International Relations               
Research Assistant: Johann Power, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

This project will examine the attempts to restore a cooperative international financial system following World War I, the failure of those attempts, and the disasters that followed.  By analysing the documents surrounding the political-economic collaboration between the USA and the UK in this period, this project will consider the interaction between political economy and security, particularly as they came together in the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles. It will also explore the longer-run role played by JM Keynes in re-shaping the Anglo-American alliance across the first half of the 20th Century. 

Read the report.

4. Examining the legacy of Henry Kissinger

Faculty: Roham AlvandiDepartment of International History                        
Research Assistant: Sajjad-Ali Mohajerani-Irvani, Department of International History

2023 will mark 100 years since the birth of former diplomat, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. This project will consider the scholarship on Henry Kissinger, and address the questions: why does Henry Kissinger matter, and to what extent are we living in a world of Kissinger’s making? It will examine the legacy of Kissinger’s decisions during his time in office, as well as the debates and controversies surrounding those decisions today, especially the accusation that he is a 'war criminal'. Why do we still talk about Kissinger more than 40 years after he left office? The project will include Kissinger's legacy as an architect of superpower détente and the opening to China, and the legacy of his decisions in various theatres, such as his 1973-74 Arab-Israel shuttle diplomacy, the 1973 coup in Chile, the civil war in Angola, and the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. 

Read the report.

5. How using Zoom has changed Congressional hearings on economic policy

Faculty: Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey, Department of Government                  
Research Assistant: Matthew Bradbury, Department of Economics

Legislative committees in the US Congress play an important role in holding policymakers to account in oversight hearings. While most empirical studies to date which look at how these committees deliberate have focused on the words and arguments spoken, very little work has been done on the effect of nonverbal communication in accountability hearings. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of Zoom and other visually remote ways of communicating have made the importance of nonverbal communication even more important. This project will examine the hearings on economic policy by the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee, both immediately prior to the lockdown conditions brought about from COVID-19 and then those conducted remotely in the months following these restrictions. It will also examine whether the nonverbal challenges that have been raised by remote sessions have significantly diminished (or enhanced) deliberative quality. 

Read the report.

6. How US state institutions seek to control socially marginalised women

Faculty: Amanda Sheely, Department of Social Policy 
Research Assistant: Sarah Ang, Department of Social Policy

This project will examine the relationship between socially marginalised women and state institutions in the United States. There has been increasing recognition among scholars that governance in the US has shifted dramatically, with criminal justice and welfare systems increasingly working together to control the behavior of socially marginalized people through punishment and supervision. However, there is important variation among states in both the provision of welfare, as well as the reach of the criminal justice system. Research has found that states with Republican lawmakers, as well as with more African American residents have higher incarceration rates and more stringent welfare policies. This project will build on the existing literature in three important ways. First, rather than focusing on understanding state punitiveness, this project will instead seek to understand how states are seeking to regulate and control behaviour instead. Second, it brings in an explicit focus on gender by examining state supervision of women under three systems: the criminal justice, welfare, and child welfare systems. Third, the research will be designed to look for divergences, as well as coordination between these systems.

Read the report.


2019-20 Research Projects

1. US Aid and international drug policy- evaluating the US role in the global drugs and development debate 

Faculty: John Collins, International Drug Policy Unit (IDPU)
Research Assistant: Karen Torres, Social Policy 

The US is generally viewed as the lead protagonist in the global “war on drugs”. This has generally manifest through the traditional lens of militarisation, repression and policing which are widely viewed as often ineffective and counterproductive. Another, less examined, strand of US drug diplomacy is the stick and carrot wielded through the provision of development aid. This research project will aim to gain a better understanding the US’ complex diplomatic and geopolitical interests and roles in global drug policies via the drugs and development debates. Further it is intended to understand how US policies can and could intersect more productively with global efforts to align drug policies more closely with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Read the report.

2. The New Politics of Inequality: How It Works - and Fails - in America 

Faculty: Lloyd Gruber, International Development
Research Assistant: Colin Vanelli, International History 

This book project will examine the surprisingly understudied relationship between globalization, economic inequality, and domestic politics.  While we know a great deal about globalization’s impact on economic inequality, the second link in globalization’s causal chain—the link from inequality to politics—has been subjected to far less scrutiny. If recent trends of globalization continue, a great many congressional districts will soon by populated almost exclusively by wealthy families, just as other districts will soon find themselves the exclusive preserves of poorer households. If this pattern continues—if America’s inequality-winners keep clustering into some political districts, the inequality-losers into others—we will soon be seeing stable inequality-generated “tyrannies” of precisely the sort that worried James Madison, Alexis de Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill in the past and inspire (and motivate) populists and their supporters today.

Read the report.

3. The changing role of high culture in American social stratification over the 20th Century

Faculty: Fabien Accominotti, Sociology
Research Assistant: Nicholas Robben, General Course

The project will use a unique database of subscribers to the New York Philharmonic – one of the oldest and most prestigious orchestras in the United States – to explore the changing role of high culture in American social stratification over the twentieth century. The project will explore the data covering 1910 to 1990, with emphasis on the post-war period (1950s-1990s). The post-war era was one of important shifts in patterns of social stratification in the US, with the three decades between 1950 and 1980 often described as the time of the rise of the “great American middle class,” and the 1980s and 1990s in contrast as a time of renewed inequality and elite closure. The goal of the project will be to explore how these dynamics were reflected in the audience of one of the most prominent, elite-sponsored, cultural institutions in the United States. 

Read the report.

4. Race and Gender in US Politics in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Faculty: Imaobong Umoren, International History
Research Assistant: Eileen Gbagbo, International Relations

Given our current moment, with surging white supremacy and sexism directed toward, in particular, Black politicians and the overwhelming significance of the African American vote in the upcoming 2020 US Presidential elections, it is worth reflecting on the intersecting influence that race and gender has had both historically and in contemporary times. This research project is based on the seminar series 'Race and Gender in US Politics in Historical and Contemporary Perspective'. The seminar series will bring together historians, political scientists and sociologists to share current research on the theme of ‘race, gender and politics’. While race and gender will be the central themes, the seminars will also explore other issues surrounding religion, immigration, incarceration, and poverty.

If you would like to know more about Eileen's journey on the programme, watch her Undergraduate Research Assistantship Video Diaries here and here.

Read the report.

5. The failure to restore the international financial system after World War I

Faculty: James Morrison, International Relations
Research Assistants: Anna Cooper (International History) and Katherine Bennett (General Course)

The project traces the attempts to restore a cooperative international financial system following World War I, the failure of those attempts, and the disasters that followed. Much of this is rooted in the documents surrounding the collaboration of the central banks of the US and the UK. Documents covered include a large collection from US Treasury Department official Harry Dexter White related to ongoing US-UK collaboration in the 1930s and 1940s as well as original private memos from Winston Churchill and John Maynard Keynes.

Read Anna Cooper's report.

Read Katherine Bennett's report.


2018-19 Research Projects

1. The Rise and Fall of US Drug War Hegemony: Rethinking Bilateral Perspectives

Faculty: John Collins, International Drug Policy Unit
Research Assistant: Maria Cerdio, Anthropology

The US has traditionally been viewed as a key actor in international drug control. Indeed many accounts highlight the US as the key protagonist, or hegemon, responsible for the creation of the UN drug control system, as codified under the various UN drug control treaties. The relationship between US bilateral diplomacy and its negotiated process around exporting the US model of drug control to specific key states has received less attention. This research aims to develop a more vivid and clear picture of the US’s role in the drug policies of states around the world and thereby discern some of the mechanisms and leverage points the US was able to exert in its export of the “war on drugs” model.

Read the report.

2. Jimmy Carter and Global Human Rights

Faculty: Roham Alvandi, International History
Research Assistant: Joss Harrison, International Relations

This is a book project, which examines the relationship between the ‘human rights revolution’ of the 1970s and the Iranian Revolution of 1979. It explores the ways in which transnational human rights activism in the United States and Europe, involving American, Iranian, and European activists, helped to spark the Iranian Revolution. The project involves looking at the human rights policies of the Carter administration.

Read the report.

3. The Decline and Fall of the Gold Standard

Faculty: James Morrison, International History
Research Assistant: Maitrai Lapalika, International Relations

This is a book project on the “Decline and Fall of the Gold Standard” in the interwar period. The project traces the attempts to restore a cooperative international financial system following World War I, the failure of those attempts and the disaster of the Great Depression, and the radical departures from the gold standard system in the 1930s. 

Read the report.

4. Eugenia Charles and US-Dominican Relations, 1980-1995

Faculty: Imaobong Umoren, International History
Research Assistant: Christina Ivey, Government

LSE Alumna Eugenia Charles made history in 1980 when she became the first female Prime Minister in the Caribbean. Sweeping to victory in the Dominican elections, Charles simultaneously became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Charles won three consecutive elections serving until 1995. With conservative political views and close ties to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan, Charles gained the title 'Iron Lady of the Caribbean'. The research assistant will be involved with conducting research in US and Caribbean newspapers about Eugenia Charles and US-Dominican relations between 1980-1995. In particular, the research assistant will investigate the media and public reaction to the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the influence of US aid in Dominica, and how Charles was represented.

Read the report.

5. Islamophobia Discourse in the British, American and Australian media

Faculty: David Smith, US Centre
Research Assistant: Arundhati Suma-Ajith, International History

This research project maps the political discourse of Islamophobia in Britain, the United States and Australia. “Islamophobia” is a highly contested term, and the political use of it has changed over time and has been different in different places. By exploring the development of Islamophobia as a concept in different countries, this project seeks to answer the question of why different states have responded to the problem of Islamophobia in different ways. 

Read the report.


2017-18 Research Projects

1. A Return to Mercantilism

Faculty: James Morrison, International Relations

This project attempts to rethink mercantilism using the political and economic work of John Locke, to assess that theory in light of modern developments in political economy, and to explain the return to mercantilism (particularly in the United States) today. This will be either a set of articles or a small book project.

Research Assistant: Olivia Horn, 3rd Year International Relations student 

2. US State-Level Partisanship and Political Blogging

Faculty: Peter Trubowitz, International Relations

While political polarization is not new, the 2016 presidential election brought this phenomenon into sharp relief. Previous studies have used Twitter and other social media sources, as well as broadcast and online news media, to examine partisanship, but to date there have been no comprehensive studies of partisanship at the US state-level, which have closely examined commentary in the form of political blogs. 

This project aims to explore the connection between US state-level partisanship and political blogging. Broadcast and online media at the national level have become very polarized in recent years – but is this the case with state-based commentary as well? How is state-based partisan commentary linked to partisanship in the states? In order to achieve a large enough sample to draw conclusions about partisanship, this project will use a web census of all state-level political commentary blogs across the US. Alongside this, the project will also involve a survey questionnaire and text-mining. The project output will be a series of blog articles and potentially a peer-reviewed publication.

Research Assistants:James Sanders, 3rd Year Government and History student
Gabriel Chua, 3rd Year Economics student  

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