Thursday, August 3, 2017

Netherlands American Studies Association [pdpf]

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RSC Lecture at Plymouth University

Since 2007, the Roosevelt Study Center and the Plymouth University in the UK arranged a cooperative program to encourage and support undergraduate students of American history to come to Middelburg and use the Center's research facilities. As part of this program, members of the RSC staff are alternatively invited to Plymouth to deliver an annual lecture and award a prize to the best thesis in U.S. History of the year. On September 19, 2013, the Plymouth University in Great Britain hosted the RSC postdoctoral researcher Dario Fazzi, who gave a lecture titled 'American First Ladies: The Most Gracious Public Diplomats.' The lecture was an opportunity to address some of the most important first ladies' activities as 'informal diplomats,' i.e. as legitimate actors of public diplomacy who have been able to informally affect US bi- and multilateral relations.

Quite obviously, this lecture could not analyze in-depth the entity of first ladies' broad involvement in the foreign policy field. However, it gave an idea of the tools that they used to play such an international role. On the one hand, first ladies' activism represents a semi-institutional intrusion, a drift toward a less representative democracy, since there is no people's control over the informal diplomatic activities that the first ladies can carry out. This can sound like an old reminiscence of royal privileges and elitist politics. It is true, on the other hand, that through such an informal activity many important goals have been achieved for the very sake of American democracy itself.

Frist [sic] ladies indeed have shaped the US image abroad and have given people around the world a more complex idea of the US social development. Sometimes, their efforts have overcome those of any other official diplomat. Often, US first ladies have spread over the world the quintessential elements of American exceptionalism. Only sporadically, however, they have failed to deserve a great level of public attention and attract people's imagination.

--Dario Fazzi ...

Selling America in an Age of Uncertainty: US Public Diplomacy in the 1970s [See also (a)] The image of the United States around the world has been badly affected over the past decade, with the negative effects of unpopular wars in South Asia to the more recent revelations of NSA spying on European allies. But these kinds of revelations are not new. In the 1970s there were also unpopular wars in South-East Asia, and revelations about CIA 'dirty tricks' around the world.

This event, a collaboration between the University of South Carolina, the University of Oslo, and the RSC, brought together a group of fifteen historians at the Nobel Institute in central Oslo to discuss the international image of America in the post-Vietnam, oil crisis-ridden 1970s, and what efforts were made to try and deal with the negative outcome. Papers were circulated beforehand to ensure that all participants were up to speed on the issues, and a one-on-one speaker-commentator set-up followed by group discussion soon enabled a vibrant and engaging atmosphere to develop.

Topics covered ranged from issues of race, gender, and human rights, to new threats such as investigations of CIA covert action or the rise Eurocommunism, to 'alternative' forms of public diplomacy abroad such as the sister cities initiative, the Bicenntennial [sic] celebrations, and the US Army's annual Volksfest in West Berlin.

Discussion was greatly aided by the presence of retired USIA official Michael Schneider, who worked with the Agency from the 1950s to the 1990s.

The papers from the conference, which provide a unique take on the 1970s and the changing nature of US power internationally, will be developed into a volume. The conference was preceded by a public discussion evening at the Fritt Ord Foundation on the topic of Digital Diplomacy, which considered the extent to which new digital technologies (including the recent revelations on eavesdropping) have altered approaches to diplomatic practice.

--Giles Scott-Smith, Roosevelt Study Center / Leiden University

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