The RIAS houses a range of research projects that examine the United States in the world throughout the twentieth century, within the overarching theme of the ‘Rooseveltian Century.’
The Rooseveltian Century
The Rooseveltian Century is a new concept for contemporary history. The use of a century to mark a specific view on US history is well-known. There is the idea of a ‘Wilsonian Century’ first put forward by Frank Ninkovich, most closely associated with Woodrow Wilson’s crusade to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ after WW I, and the ‘American Century’ of Henry Luce, promoting the productivity and abundance of consumer capitalism, and the self-confidence of a nation destined to lead.
In contrast, the Rooseveltian Century is about the development of progressive politics at home and abroad . It examines the three Roosevelts as a ‘collective agent’ who changed our understanding of the responsibilities of government and the global role of the United States. It links the three Roosevelts not only by name but also by belief, purpose and worldview. The Rooseveltian Century, as a historical frame, makes use of the three Roosevelts to view, critically consider, and explore progressive themes in US history and international relations, without necessarily stating that the three acted in unison or that they expressed the same views or policies.
The Rooseveltian Century focuses on three areas to make its case: Security, Equality, and Freedom.
The three Roosevelts collectively changed thinking on security, both expanding the reach of US power and influence abroad while taking up the cause of individual security at home. They applied measures to ensure equality – Theodore went against big business with his trust-busting legislation, Eleanor challenged social norms on class, race, and gender relations, and Franklin went so far to oppose the interests of Wall Street that in a famous campaign speech at Madison Square Garden in 1936 he declared “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.” And they had profound beliefs on the cause of freedom, ranging from Theodore’s Square Deal, through Franklin’s Four Freedoms, to Eleanor’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, each in their own way extending the rights of citizens to basic needs, and the duty of government to provide them. As Isaiah Berlin wrote of Franklin Roosevelt, ‘he altered the fundamental concept of government and its obligation to the governed’ by starting ‘a tradition of positive action.’
There is another, fundamental theme behind these three key fields of action of security, equality, and freedom: the need for change. The three Roosevelts embraced change, as necessary, for the sake of making peoples’ lives better. “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” as Franklin put it in 1932. ‘Above all, try something’ was the Roosevelts’ collective motto: they were disruptive characters, determined to act in the name of public interest, not sector or class interest, and that sets them apart as a group.
Current Research Projects
The RIAS staff is currently engaged in the following research projects: