What is the history of the perception of the U.S. president – including as a global president – in the decolonized/ing world? At which junctures did that perception arise, shift, and assume contrasting if not conflicting forms? Who produced, consumed, spread, and contested it? And what does this theme tell us about globalization?
These are key questions underlying this conference which, for three reasons, will focus on the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
Firstly, Kennedy (and his administration) was greatly interested in decolonized/ing countries, which he saw as central to a changing world. Described by Arthur Schlesinger as “Secretary of State for the third world” [A Thousand Days, 509], he unprecedentedly engaged also nonaligned countries, courted on the D.C. stage leaders of decolonized countries, and intensified public diplomacy and expanded polling worldwide. But simultaneously, he sought to not alienate European NATO allies that held colonies.
Related, secondly, the time around 1960 was a double turning point, making the Kennedy presidency particularly relevant for the opening paragraphs’ questions.
However, thirdly, very few of the thousands of texts penned on Kennedy have focused on his reception in decolonized/ing countries. This lacuna is doubly problematic because ‘regular’ people mattered, too. For instance, people from decolonized/ing countries, including Arabs, inundated his senatorial office with letters after his 1957 speech on Algeria; his 1962 visit to Mexico, as the first Catholic U.S. president, was followed especially in Latin America, also on TV; more books – both in praise and critique – were written on him during and just following his presidency than on earlier U.S. presidents; and in many countries people mourned his assassination.
As conference contributors write their empirically grounded papers, they may consider questions like:
Prof. Cyrus Schayegh
Department for Near East Studies
110 Jones Hall
Princeton NJ 08544