Project: Watergate in the Public Memory

I am deeply fascinated by the Watergate scandal and I love studying how it continues to affect politics, journalism, and American society in general.  My personal belief is that most Americans generally misunderstand the scandal.  I don’t think that the public has a clear or thorough understanding of what actually happened and, more importantly, why it remains relevant today.  For the print project, I would like to explore what people say about Watergate on digital mediums such as Wikipedia and various blogs.  I will seek to answer some of the following questions:  What are people saying about the scandal?  How do they remember it?  Do their comments suggest that they understand Watergate’s nuances and intricacies, or do they gloss over the story and only focus on the barest details?  Why are they talking about it?  What does it mean to them?  Granted, some of these questions are more complex than others.  It would take multiple projects to adequately answer all of them.  However, my project will serve as my attempt to begin offering insights into some of these questions.

I will be looking mostly at comments on Wikipedia and various blogs that are out there, but I may include a few comments that people have made on Twitter and other social networking sites as well.  To help me explain why these digital sources are worth reading, I’ll rely on texts that we’ve read (or will read) in class.  Of course, I will use Rosenzweig’s Wikipedia article.  I may rely on Cohen & Rosenzweig’s chapters, as well as Kirschenbaum’s article,  to provide some foundations for my analysis too.  I think that all of these pieces will help me explain what we can learn about Watergate from comments that people make on the web.

I also plan on including some of my own ideas about why Watergate remains important today.  I will then analyze if the comments people make online discuss or are in any way similar to my thoughts.  For example, I believe that one of Watergate’s effects was to significantly decrease Americans’ trust in their government.  I will look to see how many comments pertain to Watergate and people’s faith in government, and whether or not people think that Watergate directly led to a decrease in that trust.  There is a fairly large body of literature that discusses the scandal’s wider ramifications, so I will have plenty of sources that help substantiate my claims.  To name but a few, Stanley I. Kutler’s The Wars of Watergate offers a short analysis of some of Watergate’s deeper meanings, and Louis Liebovich’s Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press specifically explores how it changed the relationship between the media and the presidency.  These sources, as well as others, will help provide a scholarly assessment of why Watergate continues to be something worth talking about.

Based on my preliminary research, average Americans seem to be discussing Watergate more than I originally thought.  The scope and range of their comments surprised me as well.  In a quick review of sites like Wikipedia and a few WordPress blogs, I’ve seen staunch defenses made on Nixon’s behalf, claiming in bold type that “HE WAS INNOCENT,” to characterizations of Nixon as a down-right “evil” man.  My preliminary research has led me to conclude that my topic is one worthy of greater examination.  Hopefully, my project will shed light not only on what Watergate means to people today, but how they understand American political history as well.

One Reply to “Project: Watergate in the Public Memory”

  1. Great topic. The key to this is going to be how you scope it. One suggestion might be to start from a premise like this. What does someone see if the sit down and Google watergate? Then just do a close reading of the first 10 results. That way you have a method of selection, Google, and that method of selection is, in all honesty, the first step that someone takes to find out about a topic like this. So you could say, what kinds of information and discussion is surfaced there and then use that as an opportunity to get into the topics you are interested in here. The idea of a selection method ends up being really important for this kind of thing, otherwise it is just to easy to poke around and cherry pick things that confirm one way of thinking.

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