On eve of royal wedding, NU professors talk British monarchy’s perception


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

History Profs. Deborah Cohen and Scott Sowerby discuss the ways in which the British royal family is seen by the public. The two spoke at Harris Hall on Friday, the eve of the royal wedding.

Wilson Chapman, Reporter

On the eve of Meghan Markle (Communication ’03) and Prince Harry’s wedding, two Northwestern professors discussed the history of the British royal family — and why the U.S is so invested in them — during a Friday event in Harris Hall.

Markle, who graduated from NU with a double major in theater and international studies, became the Duchess of Sussex through her marriage on Saturday. Her induction into the British royal family has been widely called a socially significant event for England — her background as a divorced, mixed-race American stands contrary to the typical image of the royal family, history Prof. Deborah Cohen said.

“If (the royal family is) smart, they’ll view her as an opportunity — as I think they have in a sense with the Duchess of Cambridge — an opportunity to go back to Victoria’s idea of modeling a normal family life, and a normal family life means, also, an outward facing, much more relaxed and modern life,” Cohen said.

Cohen and history Prof. Scott Sowerby discussed a wide variety of topics relating to the royal family, many of which revolved around the public’s perception of and preoccupation with them.

Sowerby discussed the historical portrayals of royal family members through the lenses of TV series like “The Crown” and other media. Many members of the royal family, he said, are often portrayed in entertainment media as either tyrants or as prisoners in a “gilded cage.”

He added that some media outlets often portray royalty as undesirable and destroy the glamour it might otherwise hold.

“They’re reassuring you that you wouldn’t want to be a monarch because either you’d be a terrible person, who’s trying to persecute people, or you’d be totally miserable, so you should just be happy with your life,” Sowerby said.

Cohen brought up the unusual level of attention Americans pay to the British monarchy, saying part of the reason people remain engrossed is that the family, in many ways, was “the reality show before the reality show.” Cohen called Markle’s addition as a “smart addition to the marketing enterprise” of the monarchy, as she represents the increasing diversification of British royalty.

The discussion was sponsored by the history department and the Office of International Relations. University spokesman Bob Rowley, who introduced the event, said Markle’s unique background adds “firsts” to the Windsor family and mentioned the royal wedding’s impact at NU.

“Already today, we see the Markle sparkle fly around campus,” Rowley said.

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