I am beginning my senior thesis. I have a topic that my advisor approves of but now I am stuck (as I'm sure most are when they start such a daunting task for the first time).Basically I need to establish that at least a majority of Americans supported a policy of isolationism during the 1930’s leading into WWII. This is basically a starting point and I feel I need to prove this as much as I can before I actually present my thesis.
To prove this base assumption, I will use newspaper articles, public opinion polls, the Republican Party election campaign strategy (anti-war), and FDR’s “fireside chats” and speeches.
I need to then present my thesis which is basically that a combination of British and American (Roosevelt’s) propaganda drastically changed the opinion of the people and pushed America toward favoring the war. I partially intend to show how Churchill influenced (if not actually dictated) foreign policy and how both Churchill and FDR used propaganda campaigns to change the public opinion of America. I’m not sure what type of first hand accounts be best for me to start with; would books from the period or more contemporary accounts which comment on and analyze the period be better to start?
It is always hard starting a big project like this. I think the best advice I can give you is to see this big thesis as actually being made up of lots of smaller tasks that must be completed in turn before you can move on to the next one. The task of research, which is what you are engaged in at the moment, is a vital one, and really is the basis for your writing of the assignment later on. Therefore really work on putting in effort finding good evidence and quotes to support what you are trying to prove as it will make your life easier later on. My suggestion would be to focus on both primary and secondary sources, as the strongest arguments will use both to support your claims.
Great suggestions above. I would encourage you to emphasize the use of newspaper and magazine editorials from the time, as they can give you a more accurate week-by-week, month-by-month account of America public opinion.
Another good resource, very well researched is Citizens of London, by Lynne Olson. It exhaustively details Churchill's maneuvering to get American aid and entry into the war.
You might also explore the different motives for isolationism, as some Americans, notably US Ambassador to Britain Joseph P. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh and members of the German-American Bund were isolationist because they were Nazi sympathizers.
Good luck, and sounds like a great topic.
It's been a while, and I'm not sure what's come out in more recent times, but a few titles you might look at include:
- The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941 by David Reynolds.
- Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II by Waldo Heinrichs.
- The Reluctant Belligerent by Robert A. Divine.
As far as the issue of reading material from the period or modern sources, each has its purposes and each has its drawbacks. If you look at sources from the time, you have to take into account whatever biases the sources may have. Imagine, for example, the difference you would get between liberal and conservative commentaries from 2003 on the impact of George W. Bush on the move towards war in Iraq. You'll have to be careful of the same sort of claims about FDR. Those sources are closer to the event, of course, but may be more biased.
Modern sources are likely to be more neutral. However, they may obscure the nuances and complexities of what was going on. The farther you get from the event, the more that discussions of what happened tend to get simplified and boiled down into a dominant and accepted narrative.
Great suggestions thank you so much.