A Brief History of BAMS

In September 2007 a small group of academics met at the University of Birmingham to discuss founding a UK Network for Modernism. Initially this was related to the idea of a grant application (which never materialised) but also because a number of us were aware of various existing networks and activities – with new networks in the offing – devoted to modernism in the UK (e.g. The London Modernism Seminar, the Northern Modernism Research Seminar, what was to become the Scottish Network of Modernist Studies, the then online Modernist Cultures journal).  A number of us had of course been attending the Modernist Studies Association for some years (I first went in 1999) and the new European Network for Avant-garde and Modernism Studies was also on our minds. Bringing people together in the UK in some kind of association seemed the logical way forward. But the nature of how to do this was up for discussion.

What emerged after that meeting was a decision by a smaller group to develop plans for a more structured organisation (some didn’t want this). The first mention in print that I can find is a flyer announcing the formation of BAMS in 2008, to be developed by a working party of five: myself, Rebecca Beasley, Andrzej Gasiorek, Deborah Parsons, and Scott McCracken. At a further meeting in December 2008 this group drew up a loose structure for BAMS – now we had drawn in Daniela Caselli, Bryony Randall, and David Peters Corbett.

Things progressed. The first BAMS event that I can find is a postgraduate training day at Birmingham in 2009. The commitment of the organisation to help provide a research infrastructure for postgrads and early career researchers in modernism in the UK was a central part of our thinking from the beginning, and something that other international organisations for modernism didn’t really do. Thus the earliest plans for the organisation always included the idea of 2-3 postgraduate reps – the earliest were Alice Kelly, Emily Ridge, and Cathryn Setz.  Interdisciplinarity was also an important part of our discussions from early on. There was also a lot of debate around what kind of organisation we should be – whether we should charge a fee to join, or whether we could exist without such a formal structure. We had, for example, an open meeting at the London Modernism Seminar to consider the form of the proposed organisation.

The first conference we put on was the inaugural New Work in Modernist Studies, at Senate House in London in December 2009 – this was a postgraduate event with short 10mins papers, but the tremendous success of this demonstrated to us that there was a real enthusiasm amongst participants for a more formal organisation. Hence we became a more formally constituted body at the 1910 conference held in Glasgow in December 2010: I wrote the constitution for BAMS, which the committee and then the membership agreed, and I became the first Chair, with Rebecca Beasley as the first Secretary, and Daniela Caselli as Treasurer. Other members of this inaugural committee were Scott McCracken (Web Administrator) and David Ayers (liaison person with other international modernist organisations), along with Andrzej Gasiorek, Geri Kimber, Deborah Longworth, David Peters Corbett, and Bryony Randall.

And from there things have grown: we look to have first discussed the more formal link with EUP and the Modernist Cultures journal in 2011/12; soon after we initiated talks with to become a partner organisation with the MSA. We then also thought up the idea of an essay prize, and devised the framework for membership fees. And I wrote an article in 2011 giving the nascent organisation a plug in the Times Higher.

I now look back and feel immensely proud to have helped bring BAMS into existence and to have worked with such wonderful and generous colleagues, giving up a lot of our time and effort to produce an organisation that, hopefully, will continue to benefit anyone working on modernism in this country and beyond for many years to come.

Andrew Thacker

Nottingham Trent University

November 2021