Theodore Roosevelt American History Award 2021
Every year, the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies organizes the Theodore Roosevelt American History Award (TRAHA), which is presented to the best MA thesis on a topic related to the history of the United States, written at a Dutch university during the previous academic year. The Jury of the 2020 TRAHA was comprised of Giles Scott-Smith (Chair, Leiden/RIAS), Markha Valenta (University of Utrecht), Emma van Toorn (2020 TRAHA winner), and Arendo Joustra (Elsevier Magazine).
In 2021 eight MA theses, submitted by four universities, were received. The scope of the subjects covered by the theses represented the broad coverage of American Studies programmes in the Netherlands. All of the theses demonstrated inventiveness in terms of topic selection, argumentation, and use of sources, with diverse methodologies being drawn from literary studies, cultural studies, diplomatic history, and media studies. There was general consensus on a handful that stood out from the rest and one clear winner emerged: Melanie van der Elsen, of Radboud University Nijmegen, for her thesis ‘On The Edge Of Empire: Agency and Imperialist Practices in the US Territory of American Samoa’
Melanie’s thesis makes a nuanced, insightful argument in a clear fashion, integrating its study of history with an exploration of power, agency, exceptionalism, imperialism and territory and drawing on a wide range of primary and secondary sources to support its case. The author demonstrates a wide knowledge of the field of US history and is very capable in moving across disciplines to put forward an innovative and mature intervention into current academic debates on US imperialism. American Samoa has rarely been examined in this way, most studies aiming at more well-known US territories. The thesis fully showcases the complexity, diversity and relevance of American Studies as a critical field of enquiry, and self-consciously engages with existing scholarly debates as well as boldly proposing new ones. A worthy winner all round.