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Professor Will Kaufman

Prof. Will Kaufman

Professor of American Literature & Culture

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Harrington Building, HA246

+44 (0) 1772 89 3035

Will Kaufman is a graduate of Montclair State College (now University) in New Jersey, with a degree in English and History. He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he earned a PhD in American Literature. His areas of expertise include American comedy, the culture of the American Civil War, transatlantic studies, the American 1970s, and American protest music.

Will is research active within the area of literature and cultures and is a member of the Literature and Cultures Research Group.

Full Profile

One of the UK's senior scholars in American Studies, he has served on the executive committee of the British Association for American Studies and has been Vice-Chair of the Association. He is also a co-founder of the Maastricht (now Middelburg) Centre for Transatlantic Studies in the Netherlands.

Will's first book, The Comedian As Confidence Man (Wayne State UP, 1997) introduced the concept of "irony fatigue" to the discussion of comedic expression, focusing on the conflict between the social critic who demands to be taken seriously and the comedian who never can be. The book engaged with the careers of such notable American comedians - both literary and performing - as Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, Lenny Bruce, Kurt Vonnegut, Garrison Keillor and Bill Hicks.

Will's second book, The Civil War in American Culture (Edinburgh UP, 2006), funded by a research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is a title in the BAAS Paperbacks Series; it explores the place of the Civil War in such cultural arenas as literature, film, drama, popular music, computer games and historical re-enactment.

American Culture in the 1970s (Edinburgh UP, 2009), Will's third book, examines a range of texts and practices that both define and problematise the cultural output of the decade - fiction and poetry, film and visual art, television and drama, popular music and style, and public space and spectacle.

Will is also a professional folksinger and multi-instrumentalist, with a life-long passion for American folk music that has most recently resulted in his fourth book, the AHRC-funded Woody Guthrie, American Radical (University of Illinois Press, 2011). As a recipient of a Woody Guthrie Research Fellowship from the Broadcast Music Industry Foundation and the Woody Guthrie Foundation, Will has produced the first political biography of America's national balladeer. He has also toured Europe and the United States with a pair of live musical documentaries - "Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin'" and "All You Jim Crow Fascists! Woody Guthrie's Freedom Songs" - which he has performed at such high-profile showcases as the Glastonbury Festival, the Bath International Music Festival, the Whitby Folk Festival, and the Chester Literature Festival, as well as hundreds of music venues on both sides of the Atlantic. His Guthrie presentations have attracted the public praise of eminent musical figures such as Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Ry Cooder, Ralph McTell, Martin Carthy and Christy Moore.

Will wrote an article in January 2016 entitled “Woody Guthrie, ‘Old Man Trump’, and a real estate empire’s racist foundations”. This was written for The Conversation, an independent news and commentary website produced by academics and journalists. His article was picked up and republished by numerous UK and international media publications and National Public Radio (US) for their “All Things Considered” programme.

Will has since discovered another new Woody Guthrie song and has written a further article which has been published on The Conversation, entitled ‘In another newly discovered song, Woody Guthrie continues his assault on ‘Old Man Trump’

Will is now at work on further studies in American folk and protest music.



1997: The Comedian as Confidence Man: Studies in Irony Fatigue (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press)

2006: The Civil War in American Culture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, BAAS Paperbacks Series)

2009: American Culture in the 1970s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

2011: Woody Guthrie, American Radical (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, “Music in American Life” Series)


2000: Transatlantic Studies (Lanham, MD: University Press of America). Co-edited with Heidi Macpherson.

More publications


Scholarship and publishing across the multidisciplinary spectrum of American Studies; performance and public dissemination of research; encouragement of American Studies research activities through the British Association for American Studies; serving as Research Co-ordinator for the Literature and Cultures team at UCLan.

Current Research and Supervision

American literature, American cultural history, the American Civil War, comedy and humour, music and society, transatlantic cultural relations, Kleinian psychology and culture

Research Projects

The Civil War in American culture; US culture in the 1970s; Woody Guthrie and the American left The American Musical


2004: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Research Leave Award
2008: BMI-Woody Guthrie Fellowship 2010: Arts & Humanities Research Council, Research Fellowship.


English (predominantly American Literature)

External Activities


2009: Historical consultant to Chichester Festival Theatre/English Touring Theatre production of The Grapes of Wrath, dir. Jonathan Church.

2009: Contributor, The Lyrics of Bob Dylan, BBC Radio 2, 25 April

2007: “Voice of the Other America” [on Woody Guthrie], Times Higher Education Supplement, 28 September, pp. 16-17.

2003: On-camera scholar, The American Civil War: A Union Divided, 4-part television documentary by Eagle Rock Media (USA/UK, 2003); repeatedly broadcast on the History and Discovery channels since 2005.

1995-present: Periodic commentator on US affairs for BBC Radio and other media outlets


2010: Elected Vice-Chair of British Association for American Studies

2009: Appointed to Editorial Advisory Board, European Journal of American Studies

2008-11: Member, Advisory Board of the Higher Education Academy (UK) Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies

2008: Re-Elected to Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies; appointed Chair of BAAS Development Subcommittee

2007: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, UK

2007: Appointed to Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Peer Review College

2007: Elected Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK

2007: Formally presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace for services to American Studies in the UK

2006: Appointed to Editorial Board, US Studies Online

2005: Elected to Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies

2002: Appointed to Editorial Board, Journal of Transatlantic Studies

1998: Awarded Honorary Lifelong Membership, Phi Beta Delta Society for International Scholars, USA

1993-present: Referee for manuscripts and proposals for Oxford University Press, Edinburgh University Press, Cambridge University Press, Routledge, Sage Publications, Journal of American Studies, Journal of Transatlantic Studies, Comparative American Studies and Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor


Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
Executive Committee member, British Association for American Studies
Member, European Association for American Studies
Co-founder and co-director, Maastricht Centre for Transatlantic Studies