It is with great pleasure that the Jury awards the Theodore Roosevelt American History Award, 2017, for the best Dutch university master thesis.
This year the Jury was comprised of the following members: Dr. Joanne van der Woude (University of Groningen), Dr. George Blaustein (University of Amsterdam), and Martina van Cimmenaede MA (winner TRAHA 2016).
The winner of 2017 is Renee de Groot, of the University of Amsterdam, for her thesis ‘The Rewritten War: Alternate Histories of the American Civil War’.
Writing on works of speculative, or, as she calls it, “alternate histories,” Renee de Groot explores the curious genre of (non-)fiction that considers alternative endings, beginnings, and, most importantly, motives for the American Civil War. This thesis a mature work of scholarship on a knotty subject. Eschewing easy or obvious interpretations, which would settle for pointing out the racist or reactionary motives that seem to underlie many re-imaginings, De Groot instead notes that “within Civil War alternate histories, there is a dearth of escapist fantasies of vindication, revisionism or revenge.” (18) Her consistent, careful attention to eleven (at times very lengthy) Civil War Alternate Histories (CWAH) is all the more admirable in light of what seem to be at times risible or offensive apologies for slavery or secessionism. Impeccably researched, De Groot identifies the key elements of the CWAH’s to identify their functions: challenging “reconciliation culture,” to “counterintuitive socio-economic critique,” “as a platform for reflections on history,” and “historical consciousness.” Methodologically, de Groot is a generous reader but also an incisive one, and it is this balance that lets her weave fine readings in and out of the historiography of Civil War memory, often to brilliant effect—e.g. the reading of Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South (1992). As literary criticism, the thesis finds that ideal middle ground between close reading and contextualization, see, for instance, De Groot’s nods to Bellamy’s Looking Backward, to an amazing inversion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and to the tradition of the jeremiad. Somehow the thesis almost never belabors plot summaries, even though it has to convey a lot of plot. In sum, De Groot has managed to raise interesting, sophisticated questions on a highly original topic with nuance and admirably thorough scholarship.
Here is Renee’s travel report.