My central research focus is how the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves shape who we are, as individuals and as groups. I am particularly intrigued by the role of memory and history in the creation of identity: how do we negotiate the interface between History and personal narratives and family histories? In that context I have written life narratives based on interviews with (usually elderly) people, and worked on oral history projects.
My doctoral dissertation was on Franklin D. Roosevelt as a cultural icon in American memory. It analyzes FDR’s construction as an icon of America from two perspectives: first of the historical leader who autonomously fabricated his public image, consistently aligning himself with modernity and future-proof narratives and modes of rhetoric; and second, from the vantage-point of the early twenty-first century, looking at representations and negotiations of the FDR icon in cultural memory.
My current research project is titled “From Dormant to Disruptive Memory: Ebola in the American Imagination”. The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West-Africa sparked a “scare” in the US, in which potential patients (“Ebola suspects”) were implicitly criminalized. The event appeared to revive a dormant discourse, straight from slavery and colonization. How do events like the Ebola epidemic trigger such dormant, ethically problematic cultural memories back into collective consciousness? And what does such resurfacing “do”: is it disruptive in the present? I specify that question by focusing on how pre-existing conceptual metaphors constructed narratives about Ebola that, effectively, impeded American intervention.
Located at the intersection of postcolonial and memory studies – fields that traditionally focus on narratives and memories of previously suppressed groups – this project instead studies online discourse on Twitter that revives “non-pc” memories which, because of their antagonism, have the potential to become disruptive in the wake of destabilizing events. It develops digital methods for aggregating and analyzing resurfacing memories by focusing on metaphors operational in online discourse. Using an innovative combination of close and distant reading and machine learning, I test the hypothesis that, confronted with a potentially disruptive event, US Americans reactivate a dormant discourse from a problematic past to frame and mediate it, through metaphors like “Ebola patient is zombie/criminal/vermin”.
Refereed Journal Articles
2017 “And with all she lived with casual unawareness of her value to civilization” – The Rhetorical Construction and Transnational Success of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Modesty – European Journal of American Studies
2014 “Does My Cock Still Work? – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Prosthetic Masculinity in FDR American Badass!” – The Mid-Atlantic Almanack vol. 23, 2014, 59-75.
2011 Meerstemmig Verleden, Persoonlijke verhalen over het Nederlandse slavernijverleden. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2011. Co-author and co-editors: Paul Knevel and Sara Tilstra.
2013 “Prosthetic Memories of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Infantile Paralysis as Narrative Embodiments for Traumatic American War Memory” – in Mapping Generations of Memory in American Trauma Narratives (eds. Mihaela Precup & Dana Mihailescu) – Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, 265-284.
2010 “Roosevelt in zijn eigen museum: waarom Franklin D. Roosevelt als authentiek ervaren wordt” (“Roosevelt In His Own Museum: Why Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Experienced As Authentic”) in Persoon en Personage. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010, 124-135.
2015 Book review of Anthony Clark’s The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity and Enshrine Their Legacies. The Public Historian August 2015, 37:3, 142-144.
2016 “Gauging Non-PC American Cultural Memory through Ebola on Twitter” – Leiden University Arts in Society Blog, August 11, 2016.
2015 “The Presidential Juggler: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rhetorical Flexibility, and Autofabrication” – U.S. Studies Online, April 10, 2015.
I am series editor of the Journal of the LUCAS Graduate Conference.