Senior earns scholarship to study Eisenhower/Johnson relationship

Sam Cooper-Wall '12 was recently selected as a George C. Marshall Undergraduate Scholar, an honor that will provide funding for his research on the relationship between Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson and help him hone his skills as an American history scholar.

Nominated by history Prof. Michael Birkner, Cooper-Wall was chosen for both his "project criteria and his ability," as he displayed dedication and enthusiasm in his history classes.

Find out more about Cooper-Wall and his research directly from the Marshall Scholar:

This year you were selected as a George C. Marshall Undergraduate Scholar. Could you explain what the title entails and how you were nominated?

I was nominated to be a George C. Marshall Undergraduate Scholar along with 24 other students from Mid-Atlantic colleges. I was selected based on a thesis I wrote, "The Master of the Senate and the Presidential Hidden Hand: Eisenhower, Johnson, and Power Dynamics in the 1950s," for the seminar, Eisenhower and His Times, taught by Prof. Birkner. My thesis was also published in the 2011 volume of the Gettysburg Historical Journal.

What was your thesis' focus?

I looked into the political dynamic between President Eisenhower and Senate Democratic Leader Lyndon Johnson between the years of 1953-1961. I also investigated the leadership strategies and abilities of each man based on their sometimes cooperative, sometimes tumultuous relationship with each other.

From where did you derive the inspiration for this topic?

I've had an interest in American political history since elementary school, and this paper allowed me to debunk some of the myths about the relative power between Johnson and Eisenhower during the 1950s. My interest in Eisenhower stems from working as a curator's assistant at the Eisenhower National Historic Site here in Gettysburg since sophomore year, thanks to a work-study grant I have with the College.

How did the thesis evolve into a Marshall Scholar nomination?

After I completed the paper last fall, history Prof. Birkner suggested that I use it as a basis for the application. The program's opportunities to hone my historical inquiry and writing skills were intriguing.

How does being a Scholar assist your research and thesis?

I receive funding from the Marshall Foundation to expand and enhance my paper. Also, upon its completion, I'll be giving a presentation at the Marshall Library and my final written work will be kept as a resource in the Library's repository.

How else has the history department fueled your interest in the American presidency?

While I was taking the Eisenhower seminar a year ago, Prof. Birkner selected three students to go to Abilene, Kan. to do research at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. We were there for five days with the goal to work on developing our own thesis for the class.

How was the experience in Abilene valuable?

I was given the chance to work with such various primary documents, which few undergraduates are privy to. The trip provided me the chance to search and find a number of documents that were essential in the development of my paper. Working with those papers directly allowed me to assess and analyze them for myself, without having to read processed versions of them in secondary sources.

When do you plan on traveling to Austin, Texas to visit the LBJ Library?

Early January 2012. I hope to get a better understanding of Johnson's perspective on his political relationship with Eisenhower by using the Johnson Library documents. When I complete the final paper next April, I will have conducted research in two presidential libraries as well as the Marshall Library, and I'm very grateful for Prof. Birkner, the History Department, and the College for encouraging the work I'm doing on this project.

Article by Libby Conroy, office of communications and marketing intern
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Wed, 30 Nov 2011

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