On the Spot: Susan-Mary Grant

‘There’s always someone missing from the story.’

Map showing 'the pursuit of the rebel army, 6-8 April 1865, and Battle of Sailor's Creek'. Library of Congress.

Why are you a historian of the United States?

It seemed fresh and exciting when I was an undergraduate, and the lecturers at Edinburgh, especially George Shepperson, were very inspiring.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

That there’s always someone missing from the story.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?

Unusually for a Civil War historian, John Demos’ The Unredeemed Captive, which is about colonial New England.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, 1865, but only for a short visit.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Peter J. Parish, author of The American Civil War (he was my PhD supervisor).

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

Crazy Horse.

How many languages do you have?


What’s the most exciting field in history today?

The history of emotions.

Which genre of history do you like least?

Old-fashioned military history of ‘the cavalry arrived at three o’clock’ type. Fortunately, it is far rarer than one might suppose.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

The long-term result of America’s Civil War.  

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

How would I know? Okay: I have not read all of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

What’s your favourite archive? 

The Massachusetts Historical Society.

What’s the best museum? 

The McManus Art Gallery & Museum in Dundee.

Normans or Anglo-Saxons? 


Rome or Athens? 


Braudel or Gibbon? 

Braudel, in light of the above comment.

Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo?


What is the most common misconception about your field?

That American history is ‘shorter’, somehow less complicated, and therefore ‘easier’ than other histories, which reveals the white privilege behind many assumptions about the US. 

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?



Susan-Mary Grant is Professor of American History at Newcastle University.