Theodore Roosevelt American History Award 2023

Every year, the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies has the privilege of organizing the Theodore Roosevelt American History Award (TRAHA), an accolade that recognizes the most outstanding MA thesis on an American history subject composed at a Dutch university during the past academic year. Initiated in 1987, the TRAHA has been a beacon of academic excellence, fostering the study of US culture and society, and serving as a launchpad for many promising academic careers. The Jury of the 2023 TRAHA was composed of Gaetano Di Tommaso (RIAS, Chair), Jelte Olthof (University of Groningen), Manon Parry (University of Amsterdam), and Nathaniel Weisberg (2022 TRAHA Winner).

The meticulous work, innovative thinking, and interpretative skills displayed by all nominees made the choice incredibly challenging. After much deliberation, the jury reached a unanimous verdict assigning this year’s award to Pip van der Zanden for her thesis: “Decoding ‘The Iron Curtain’: The Role of Newspapers in Decoding American Propaganda in the United States and the Netherlands,” completed at the University of Groningen.

Pip’s thesis offers an incisive exploration of media’s intricate role in shaping public perception, focusing on the film “The Iron Curtain,” Hollywood’s inaugural anti-communist propaganda piece. Her research deftly employs a transnational approach, investigating the reception discourse in both the US and the Netherlands, where the film spurred controversy, protests, and an initial prohibition by the Dutch Board of Film Censors. This angle, with its unique comparison between the US and the Netherlands, contributes to the existing body of work on film history, providing a fresh perspective often overlooked in conventional analyses. The study adopts a reception-centric perspective, highlighting the importance of audience response when analyzing propaganda films and implementing Stuart Hall’s Encoder/Decoder Theory to understand how newspaper portrayals can significantly influence audience interpretation.

Pip was granted a week-long, enriching visit to North Dakota, courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in Medora (ND) and the US Embassy in The Hague. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the TR Center at Dickinson State University and the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library for helping to make this journey possible. Pip had a great time in the Badlands! We invite you to read her engaging report!

The complete TRAHA Jury Report 2023 is available here.