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Robert Burgoyne


This dissertation examines the place of Will Rogers within American culture in the 1920's and 30's. Specific emphasis is placed on Rogers' impact on American nationalism and what Annette Hamilton would call the American national imaginary. I begin with a look at Rogers' ethnic and regional background and explore how his position as both "cowboy" and "indian" gave him a unique perspective and voice. I go on to explore how Rogers rose to fame in Vaudeville and his eventual entry into silent films. I consider Rogers as an international "unofficial" ambassador for America, and how, as such, he influenced American politics and culture. I then illuminate Rogers' growing importance in defining and shaping American nationalism through the 1920's into the 1930's. Specifically, I look at the Fox Studio films Rogers made under the direction of John Ford and others with an eye toward understanding how his unique persona was used to propel narratives with nationalistic overtones. I also consider Rogers' contribution to New Deal era politics and his personal relationship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a host of other prominent politicians and leaders. Finally, I explore the lasting impact Rogers has had on our national imaginary. What emerges from this work is a keener understanding of Rogers' place in our national history, as well as American culture of the 1920's and 1930's. I ultimately argue that there is no more important media figure from the period in understanding the unique role of media figures in forming what Benedict Anderson would call the American "imagined community". I argue that understanding Rogers' career is necessary in any future work that attempts to examine early 20th century American culture, and beyond.

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