Over the past few weeks, this course has covered many different tools that can be used to study and practice digital history. The most compelling, in my opinion, often included word maps, like Wordle or Voyant. Word maps, like those created by the two platforms just mentioned, can allow scholars to examine well-studied texts with fresh eyes. Analyzing which words appear more frequently can help determine what the true main ideas of speeches were. Looking back on texts with a twenty-first century viewpoint changes their meanings as well, but with context it is possible to get closer to an understanding of what the speech meant at its performance. It is impossible to detach oneself completely from the time period that is currently going on, but maybe by viewing speeches primarily through the common words, some manner of detaching from the current viewpoint can be achieved.
Historically, there have been many great speeches, but for the sake of this project, World War II stuck out in my memory for broadcasting some of those speeches. Not just because of FDR’s Fireside Chats, or the maybe-never-heard-by-the-public Churchill “We Shall Fight Them On the Beaches,” but also because of the memory that exists around those speeches today. Films like The Darkest Hour make it appear that this speech was broadcast across the nation (even when historians doubt the truth behind this claim), but does that fact take away the power those words still hold? Other historians have dissertated on whether FDR’s chats were as intimate as they were made to seem through analyzing the text itself. Again, whether they were truly as intimate as they claimed can be examined through the text itself—since it’s much harder to replicate sitting by a radio in a time of uncertainty in the country. What is more interesting to me, is just how similar were the messages present in these speeches? Churchill and FDR were both facing similar threats, and oratory was a common way to calm the public’s fears about war– so just how similar were their actual techniques at the same time periods?
For a written paper project, I propose to use Voyant Tools on specific Fireside Chats and speeches given by Churchill. The speeches that will be analyzed must come from at least the same month and year as one another, to get as close as possible to the timeline of World War II and the British and American efforts. Beyond this, other scholars who have studied these speeches in depth will be brought in to test their claims against some of the analysis that Voyant helps with. For example, were the Fireside Chats as “intimate” a look at FDR’s life as they claimed to be at the time? Primarily though, this project seeks to answer the question: What similar messages made it into the speeches, and what could that say about the two leaders themselves?