Fulbright scholarship takes Sara Polak to Yale
Sara Polak, PhD researcher and lecturer at LUCAS, has won a Fulbright scholarship to work on her research on Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yale University from September 2014 till February 2015.
Roosevelt in American cultural memory
With her Fulbright scholarship, Polak will research how and why Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the United States from 1933-1945) functions as an icon in American cultural memory. "There are thousands of books about the historical FDR, but I study (recent) representations of him in literature, film, biographies, documentaries, museums and memorials," Polak explains, "What image of FDR do they present? What ideology, need or desire in the present is served by remembering him in a particular way? And on the other hand, to what extent did FDR successfully manage his public image for the future?" Polak hopes to gain a better understanding of how stories – and especially memories – are shaped by, and contribute to our perception of who we are. FDR as an icon in American memory is a case study. However, she says, she is not a historian. "I use methods from literary studies to ‘read’ a range of cultural artefacts, in order to understand how American culture shapes itself through remembering a historical icon."
Polak will start her research at Yale University in September 2014. She primarily hopes to benefit from working together with prof.dr. Jay Winter, one of the Founding Fathers of memory studies. Much of his work focuses on agency in cultural remembrance: which individuals or institutions exert power over how something (or someone!) is collectively remembered? "Like my own research," Polak says, "Winter focuses on the memory of events and people that are almost no longer part of ‘lived’ memory, in the sense that very few people alive now were actually there at the time. Jay Winter is a famous scholar within memory studies and he is at the center of a very vibrant community of researchers at Yale, so I’m looking forward to meeting many interesting scholars in my field."
The Fulbright Program is an American international exchange program set up in 1946. It awards scholarships to students and academics from outside the US for study, research and/or teaching in the United States, and vice versa. It aims to increase mutual understanding and friendship between countries. Academics in any field and at any stage in their studies or career can apply for a Fulbright scholarship. Polak is delighted that she is given this chance. "I feel extremely privileged to get this opportunity to spend a couple of months in the United States, especially since I work in American Studies. Even when I just entered the field, I often heard Americanists say things like: "when I was doing my Fulbright at [insert name famous American university],…"- so I realized early on that being awarded one is a great honour."
For Polak, going to Yale is an American dream she has had for a long time. She did her undergraduate degree at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and it was there that she became interested in American Studies. Just weeks after her return in 2003, her partner went on Erasmus exchange to Germany. "Ever since, we have said we would one day go abroad together – to the US of course." Now that they are going, Polak muses, it is also somewhat of a logistic nightmare. "We both have work there, but we also need a place to live, childcare for our baby and toddler, a car, visas, bank accounts etc." A shout out to anyone who has shared her concerns: "Please let me know if you have any tips or experiences!"
Want to follow Sara Polak’s research on Franklin Roosevelt and learn about her experiences at Yale University? Be sure to check out her Research Blog on FDR’s Image.