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Wedding of the Century?

April 5, 2011 | by Wendy Leopold

AUDIO: Listen to a Q&A with Deborah Cohen about the upcoming Royal Wedding

EVANSTON, Ill. --- After two decades of British royal scandal, the public suffers from “Windsor fatigue,” says Northwestern University historian Deborah Cohen. “And it’s against this background that Prince William and Kate Middleton are striving for normality.”

When the couple announced their nuptials, Cohen observed in the New York Times that the royal wedding represented, if little else, an opportunity to present “the façade of happy normality” in the House of Windsor.

“There’s far less interest on both sides of the Atlantic about the ‘big event’ than there was for the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in 1981,” suggests Cohen, whose book “Household Gods: The British and their Possessions” was named the best book on Britain after 1485 by the American Historical Association.

The diminished wedding interest, she says, is the result of the economic downturn and a controversial austerity program imposed by the British prime minister and Conservative Party leader that has brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to London streets.

“Add to that the fact that reality TV programs have for 15 years provided a steady diet of the subjects that a royal wedding once offered -- marrying millionaires, lifestyle changes, makeovers and fulfilled fantasies, and the royal wedding just doesn’t have the pull it once did,” says Cohen, the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities who teaches modern British history in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Cohen, with Professor of English Christopher Lane, recently developed the Graduate Cluster in British Studies at Northwestern University. The new program capitalizes on Northwestern’s distinguished multidisciplinary British culture faculty, its long history of British scholarship and its rich resources in British culture.

Cohen and Lane, author of five books on Britain including “The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty” (Yale, 2011), point to Northwestern University Library’s extraordinary British culture archives and digital resources. These include the Gale Cengage Databases, which permit users to keyword search hundreds of Victorian periodicals.

“As news of the royal wedding turns Americans’ attention to Britain, our perspective at Northwestern is of a country and culture that’s far more dynamic, progressive and uncertain about its traditions,” says Lane.

“Whether the focus is politics, literature, music or history, we want to extend our students understanding of Britain as a much richer, more striking and more complex country than they previously may have imagined,” says Cohen, who currently is writing a book about families and social stigma in modern Britain.

Topics: Opinion