The role of the President of the United States has been to lead the American people in domestic and foreign policy. Beginning in the twentieth century and continuing to present day, American presidents have taken on larger and larger roles in foreign policy. To name just a few examples, FDR and Harry Truman’s role in World War II, the disastrous Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter’s bid for peace in the middle east with the Camp David Accords, and the continuing War on Terror have demonstrated the importance of a President’s foreign policy. In handling these complex situations Presidents have many meetings all over the globe with world leaders, diplomats, military and government officials. They also frequently host these events on their own turf at the White House. The White House has become an important site for these meetings and Presidents regularly host formal State Dinners to celebrate long-standing relationships, build upon fractious ones, and to display formal ceremony and decorum. Despite this long-standing tradition dating back to the very beginning of this nation, President Trump has declined to host a single State Dinner a year into his Presidency, citing exorbitant cost as a factor. This has created a question of historical precedent and the value of State Dinners.
In order to evaluate the value of State Dinners and their role in foreign policy, I propose a project that would compare the official records of State Dinner speeches, meetings, and toasts with news coverage of these events. UC Santa Barbara has launched an important digital platform called The American Presidency Project which seeks to compile thousands of documents related to the Presidency in one location for researchers to use. It currently boasts 128,921 documents in its rapidly expanding archives and contains papers from every Presidency. The records from more recent administrations are quite robust and contain transcribed copies of speeches, toasts, and meetings that occurred at State Dinners.
For this project, I will use The American Presidency Project to collect all records related to State Dinners from FDR’s administration forward and use Voyant Tools to create a corpus. This corpus will allow analysis of the words and phrases most used during State Dinners. It will look to analyze the most used words and phrases to address the following: Do State Dinners seek primarily to strengthen, maintain, or build relationships? And, are State Dinners valuable to addressing foreign policy concerns or are they simply ceremonial events lacking function and value?
In addition to the official presidential papers, I think it is also important to use news articles from both domestic and foreign newspapers to further analyze the benefit of the dinners. They would provide a point of context for this study. These could also be consolidated into a Voyant Tools corpus and the frequently used words and phrases would help provide a comparison point.
With this project, I think context is important to consider. As we pondered last week in our discussion of Jocker’s Macroanalysis, there is often a fear that digital macroanalysis tools can strip a project of context. I propose an additional point to this project that would involve close reading and analysis of a few selected State Dinners. This would allow an evaluation of State Dinners through more traditional historical methods which could then be compared with the macroanalysis.