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Ronald Reagan and the mythology of American history

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:22 authored by Roger James Johnson
The concept of myth has been central to the interpretation of President Ronald Reagan. This is a complex and ambiguous association. Myth is variously defined, referring to fable and falsehood as well as symbolic narratives of memory and identity. It is also variously applied, to Reagan’s character, ideology, communication and legacy. Reagan’s relationship to American mythology has been incompletely defined, and is in need of a synthesis which shows the connections between its different facets and processes, while identifying the problems of such an approach. Analysing the extensive literature on Reagan, using his public papers and published writings, and based on original research at the Reagan Presidential Library and at Stanford University, this thesis considers the presence and functions of American myth in Reagan’s presidency in five distinct ways. Firstly, I look at the mythic narratives of Reagan’s life in his biography. Secondly, I define his own perception of American history. Thirdly, I describe his distinctive, but constrained engagements with national commemoration. Fourthly, I explore the politicised historical interpretations of two central events of his presidency, the end of the Cold War, and the Iran/Contra affair. Lastly, I examine how his presidential library works to define his varied meaning in American history and mythology. The thesis concludes by surveying Reagan’s meaning in twenty-first century America, and the tension between his national and partisan symbolism. Reagan built a reputation on his successful appeals to American myth, memory and identity and maintains a charged and contested symbolism. This association and this success have become the definitive factor of his image as his own mythology emerges in American national culture.


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  • American Studies Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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