“Freedom Fries” got Ryan Nivens thinking.
Nivens was a high school student in Kingston Springs, Tenn., when, in 2003, Republican leaders made a public declaration that French Fries were to be renamed “Freedom Fries” in all three House office buildings following France’s condemnation of the United States’ plans to invade Iraq.
The public taunting of each country really made an impact on Nivens, and his curiosity went into high gear. Already a history buff who had studied the French Revolution independently, he paid close attention to the diplomatic efforts of both the U.S. and France during that time period.
For the most part, the two countries are friends and allies, but the relationship is strained, Nivens said. When the time came for the history major to choose a Senior Study topic, he was drawn to the history of Franco-American relations because it also incorporated coursework from his minor, international studies.
At the beginning of the project, Nivens wanted to find out what the U.S.’ current status is in relation to France, but remembering the “Freedom Fries” incident, he decided to look at the evolution of the countries’ relations and why the two governments have become estranged over time.
Franco-American relations date back to the Revolutionary War. Without the support of France, the United States’ defeat of the English would have been highly improbable. And then there’s the Statue of Liberty - a symbol of freedom and democracy given to the people of the U.S. from French citizens. So what occurred in the 20th Century that has created tension between the two sister countries? That was the primary question Nivens wanted to explore.
Dr. Daniel Klingensmith, associate professor of history and Nivens’ Senior Study advisor, said he was excited to work with Nivens, as they share a common interest in 19th and 20th Century French history.
Specifically, Klingensmith said that he always thought the conflict came after World War II, and his advisee showed him a great deal of the complications and misunderstandings between the two countries were already present.
Nivens’ 110-page study not only pinpoints events that have had a negative impact on Franco-American relations, but puts to rest preconceived notions that he believes have plagued this relationship for decades and have hindered a true understanding of why each side acted as it did.
“From a modern perspective, it seems to be a diplomatic Rubix cube,” Nivens wrote in this study, entitled “The Evolution of Franco-American Relations in the 20th Century.” “However, if we are to step back about a century and look at the gradual evolution of relations, we can begin to notice a series of trends which shed new light onto the situation we have now.”
Nivens said he was proud that Klingensmith had recommended his Senior Study for the permanent library collection. He has a lot of respect for his advisor and describes him as “a mentor, a friend, an expert with vast knowledge of both 19th and 20th Century history, and someone that I could just pop in his office and bounce an idea around with.
“He was, and still is, here for me and he truly wants me to reach my highest potential,” the MC student said.
That potential is taking Nivens to the University of Chicago, where he has been accepted into the Master of Arts Program in Social Sciences. When he enrolls, he’ll be following in the footsteps of his advisor. Klingensmith earned both master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago.
“I am really excited about the program because it makes it easier to mix both my interests by combining history with political science,” Nivens commented.