Computer Scans Identify Hillary Clinton Memoir Styles

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In the political memoirs of Hillary Clinton, a new study finds two contrasting writing styles. The underlying theme, Clinton’s guardedness, highlights specific challenges facing women who run for office.

The analysis of Clinton’s Living History and Hard Choices uncovers links to the US democratic presidential candidate’s public perception problems.

Hillary Clinton

In the article, David Kaufer of Carnegie Mellon University and Shawn J. Parry-Giles of the University of Maryland show that both memoirs are written with a future presidential run in mind.

For their analysis, Kaufer and Parry-Giles, professor and chair of the University of Maryland’s department of communication, used DocuScope, a digital humanities tool developed at Carnegie Mellon to statistically tag, examine, and visualize text for rhetorical patterns.

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They found that Living History, which spans Clinton’s childhood through her years as first lady, is written in the Boswellian approach, meaning it delves into her most intimate thoughts. Hard Choices, written to recount her tenure as secretary of state, uses the Plutarchian style of focusing on the leader’s public service performance.

“But that is only the beginning of the story,” says Kaufer, professor of English in Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “Our important finding was the interweaving of the styles across both memoirs and Clinton’s choice to employ an institutional style when a disclosive personal style was not only expected but hyped by her publishers.

“For example, Living History’s chapter on the Lewinsky scandal reveals a litigator style pressing the case against Kenneth Starr more than the personal style of a betrayed spouse,” he adds. “And her chapters on a future vision for America in Hard Choices emphasize more the continuation of the visions of the two presidents she served than a vision of her own.”

Kaufer and Giles see gender as playing a role in these style options and decisions.

“Clinton has been attacked for being too much of a ‘policy wonk’ and not revealing enough about her personal life in her memoirs,” Giles says. “But this is really a by-product of the ‘double bind’ women face in politics. Women in politics, like Clinton, often find they can’t be too intellectual or too emotional—or too serious or too jovial.”

The authors propose that, “because of the binds they face, it is easy for women candidates to be pushed back into pragmatism to remain ‘appropriate.’”

The work appears in the National Communication Association’s Quarterly Journal of Speech.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Original Study DOI: 10.1080/00335630.2016.1221529

Article by Shilo Rea-Carnegie Mellon

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