Get to know the TLW team: Sarah talks transatlantic speechwriters

Hello everyone! Over the summer, each member of the TLW team will be writing a post to tell you a little bit about what they’re reading and researching at the moment. First up is our resident historian, Sarah.

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Hi TLW readers,

I’m currently writing my Masters dissertation here at the University of Glasgow, while simultaneously preparing for a move back to Edinburgh to start my PhD in September, so I’m having a busy summer! Excitingly, we’ve also started the planning for TLW Season 3, and it’s shaping up to be a fantastic series of events (if we do say so ourselves).

My Masters dissertation explores the transatlantic trip Ronald Reagan made to Europe during the summer of 1984. During his visit Reagan toured Ireland (his ancestral home), then visited London and Normandy, making plenty of stops for photo opportunities along the way. Of course, 1984 was also the year that Reagan ran for re-election, and I’m hoping my dissertation will demonstrate how Reagan used this trip to his political advantage as he sought a second term in the White House. This tactic of implicitly campaigning simply by appearing ‘presidential’ is known as the Rose Garden Strategy, and is one side-effect of the US President being both an elected politician and the head of state. Ultimately, my aim is to offer a contribution to the wider field of presidential studies, by offering a case study of this relatively short episode during Reagan’s presidency.

Though my focus will be on Reagan, while I’m on the TLW blog I’d like to give a quick nod to a different sort of writer than the ones we normally talk about at TLW HQ. Peggy Noonan was one of Reagan’s speechwriters, and she wrote the most famous speech that Reagan delivered during this trip, his remarks commemorating the 40thAnniversary of the Normandy Invasion. She wrote the speech with two audiences in mind, the American people who heard the speech on the breakfast news, and the audience of veterans who served during this mission and accompanied Reagan to Pointe du Hoc for the commemoration.[1] Noonan said of this speech:

“I wanted to sum up the importance of what happened on those Normandy beaches forty years ago, to show its meaning on the long ribbons of history […] I wanted people to have pictures in their mind of what the past had been like. I wanted the president vividly to describe what these men did forty years ago. “These are the boys who took the cliffs” and the TV showing those men” [2]

It’s an incredibly moving speech, which I’d highly recommend you watch to get the full effect of its staging as well as its language. Regardless of how you feel about Reagan, it’s hard to deny that he had a phenomenal team of people around him, and that’s very apparent when you examine the meticulous planning that went into all of Reagan’s public remarks.

Though I’m mostly reading non-fiction works for my dissertation, I’m trying to make time to read some fiction. At the moment the books on my bedside table are Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but I’m embarrassed to admit how long they’ve been there for… But, as you can probably tell, my fiction reading tends to complement my non-fiction reading!

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Thanks for reading! Next week we’ll have a blog post from our founder, Dr Laura Rattray of the University of Glasgow.

[1]William Ker Muir, Jr. The Bully Pulpit: The Presidential Leadership of Ronald Reagan (San Francisco, CA: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press, 1992), 27.

[2]Ibid.

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Sarah joins the TLW Team

The TLW Team is thrilled to be welcoming two new members, Sarah Thomson and Kari Sund, for the 2017/2018 series. For their first post, we’ve asked each of them to write a short blog introducing themselves. First up is Sarah:

Hi everyone!

I’m Sarah, and I’m delighted to be one of the two new members of the Transatlantic Literary Women’s committee for 2017/2018. For my debut on the blog, I’m going to share a little bit about myself, how I got involved with TLW, and what I’m hoping to see in the series this year.

I’ll be starting an MLitt in American Studies at the University of Glasgow in September, having just finished my undergrad at the University of Edinburgh. But, it was my year abroad at the University of Virginia that cemented my enthusiasm for all things American. While one year in the US perhaps isn’t quite long enough for me to call myself a transatlantic woman, it was certainly enough time for me to develop an overwhelming love for Charlottesville’s sunny weather, gorgeous scenery, and ‘school spirit’ (go Hoos!).

The first TLW event I attended was the popular Transatlantic Modernisms Workshop. Although I’d taken a class on transatlantic modernism before, the course featured just one female author (Virginia Woolf, predictably!). So, TLW’s workshop felt like a golden opportunity to learn about some of the understudied and overlooked women writers of the period. The series finale, the Transatlantic Symposium, was another great chance to learn some new names and pick up some reading recommendations. I was also delighted to get to take part in the final workshop of the day, making the case for my favourite transatlantic lady: Nella Larsen. Podcasts from the symposium are currently in the pipeline, so keep an eye out for those!

Despite spending most of my time studying history rather than literature, I’m hoping that being the team’s ‘resident historian’ will have its uses (if for nothing other than to provide some fun historical facts to complement whatever we’re reading!). I have a lot still to learn when it comes to American literature, but the TLW series is a great environment for exploring all things ‘transatlantic’, so I’m looking forward to it. I studied African American literature for the first time during my final semester at Edinburgh, so I’ll definitely be championing some of the women whose work I read on that course! And, with the centenary of (partial) women’s suffrage in 2018, I’m excited to see how that’ll feature in next year’s programme.

Having enjoyed the events I attended last semester I’m thrilled that this season I’ll be getting involved with the planning and organising side of things. Without giving too much away, it looks like another great line up of events, and I can’t wait to see everyone in September!

Sarah.