October 30, 2020

Great Lives Series Explores Perceptions of Past Presidents

In the midst of 2020’s contentious presidential election season, most Americans are looking ahead – to Nov. 3 and beyond. In the meantime, UMW Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley is looking backward, serving up some snapshots of past presidents.

With the spring Great Lives series cut short by COVID-19, Crawley decided to videotape, starting in August, a mini-series of lectures about several U.S. presidents, the lives of whom he deems great, or at least notable – Thomas Jefferson, the two Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman.

The Great Presidential Lives mini-series of lectures by UMW Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley features videotaped lectures on Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy.

The Great Presidential Lives mini-series of lectures by UMW Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley features videotaped lectures on Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy.

 

The sixth and final lecture will be tomorrow: John F. Kennedy: “Camelot” and the Question of Style vs. Substance. The JFK lecture, as well as the other five – all approximately one hour – are available on the Great Lives website. Some of the lectures also are being rebroadcast as part of C-SPAN’s “The Presidency” series and will remain available on the UMW Page of the network’s free video library.

“I chose the six mainly because I’ve always found them to be especially interesting,” Crawley said. “Each was controversial in his own way in his own times and has continued to be the subject of changing historiographical interpretations over the years.” Read more.

Great Presidential Lives: Announcing a New Online Mini-Series

With large in-person gatherings currently prohibited on campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Lives program is offering a mini-series of videotaped lectures focusing on several notable Presidents — an approach that seems particularly appropriate in this presidential election year.

Each lecture will be delivered by UMW Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley, who is the founding director of the Great Lives series. This year marks the completion of Professor Crawley’s 50 years on the Mary Washington faculty, during which he has won numerous awards for teaching excellence, focusing largely on political history.

All lectures will be pre-recorded and released on the dates listed below. They will remain posted throughout the series, after which they will be available in the Great Lives archives. Please refer to the schedule below and click on the media link to view the lecture.

Aug. 11 Thomas Jefferson: Paragon of Democracy or Racist Hypocrite?
Aug. 25 Theodore Roosevelt: The Patrician Progressive and the Bully Pulpit
Sep. 8 Woodrow Wilson: Self-Righteous Idealist or Far-Sighted Visionary?
Sep. 22 Franklin D. Roosevelt: Savior or Spoiler of American Democracy?
Oct. 6 Harry S. Truman: The Accidental President and the Triumph of True Grit
Oct. 20 John F. Kennedy: “Camelot” and the Question of Style vs. Substance

 

Crawley Announces Great Presidential Lives Online Series

Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley offered commentary in The Free Lance-Star on Founding Father and America’s third president Thomas Jefferson in advance of the Great Presidential Lives series, which launched on Aug. 11. The online series will be available at https://www.umw.edu/greatlives/.

Dr. Crawley also appeared on “Town Talk” with Ted Schubel on 1230AM/WFVA: https://www.newstalk1230.net/episode/bill-crawley-great/

 

FLS Commentary: IN RECENT years, as biographers have reinterpreted the lives of significant historical figures, there has been a tendency toward denigrating the reputations of a number of previously hallowed individuals.

In this process—referred to, sometimes derisively, as “revisionism”—perhaps no figure in American history has suffered a greater decline in stature than Thomas Jefferson.

To be sure, the third president had enemies in his own times, including one who ineloquently referred to him as a “son of a bitch” and a “red-headed rascal.” Others, in contrast, revered him as the “Sage of Monticello,” emphasizing his immortal precept that “all men are created equal.”

In a letter to James Madison dated Feb. 17, 1826, Jefferson implored his friend and presidential successor to “take care of me when dead.” He need not have worried, at least for his immediate posterity.

Indeed, for more than a century following his July 4, 1826, death, the preponderance of historical opinion—either diminishing or ignoring altogether his involvement with slavery and his racist views—was so uniformly in Jefferson’s favor that one historian, writing in the 1940s, declared that “the enemies of Thomas Jefferson are all dead or else are in hiding.”

But with the coming of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, biographers began to focus increasingly on his personal life, which presaged the end of Jefferson’s secular sainthood. One critic pointed out the irony that “the leisure that made possible Jefferson’s great writings on human liberty was supported by the labors of three generations of slaves.” Read more.

View the first Great President Lives video here: https://www.umw.edu/greatlives/lecture/thomas-jefferson/.

C-SPAN Airs ‘Great Lives’ Lecture on Joanne Freeman’s ‘Field of Blood’

Missing UMW’s celebrated Great Lives lecture series? Coronavirus cut this season short, but you can catch pre-recorded episodes on C-SPAN. Acclaimed author Joanne Freeman kicks off the three-part series by discussing her book, Field of Blood, which recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

View the C-SPAN coverage of Freeman’s lecture, based on her acclaimed 2018 work, The Field of Blood. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.

These fights didn’t happen in a vacuum. Freeman’s dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities―the feel, sense, and sound of it―as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.

C-Span’s American History TV to Air Great Lives Lecture

C-Span’s American History TV will air the Great Lives lecture from Tuesday, March 10, “Female Internet Inventors,” by Claire Evans, author of Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. Titled “Women and Computers,” the program will air at the following times:

  • Saturday, March 28 at 10:30 p.m. EDT
  • Sunday, March 29 at 4:30 p.m. EDT
  • Monday, March 30 at 2:45 a.m. EDT

Description: The history of technology you probably know is one of men and machines, garages and riches, alpha nerds and brogrammers – but female visionaries have always been at the vanguard of technology and innovation. In fact, women turn up at the very beginning of every important wave in technology. They may have been hidden in plain sight, their inventions and contributions touching our lives in ways we don’t even realize, but they have always been part of the story. In Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet (Penguin Random House), Claire L. Evans finally gives these unsung female heroes their due with her insightful social history of the women who made the Internet what it is today.

Speaker: Claire L. Evans is a writer and musician. She is the singer and co-author of the conceptual pop group YACHT, a founding editor of Terraform, VICE’s science-fiction vertical, and the author of Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women who Made the Internet (Penguin Random House, 2018). She is the former Futures Editor of Motherboard, and a contributor to VICE, Rhizome, Quartz, The Guardian, WIRED, and Aeon. She is an advisor to graduate design students at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and has taught and lectured about science fiction, art, and technology around the world, at places like Walker Art Center, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, CalArts, Arizona State University, UC Berkeley, General Assembly San Francisco, La Gaité Lyrique, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Riverside Museum of Art in Beijing, among many others. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs the beloved LA-centric culture app 5 Every Day.

Great Lives Continues with Female Internet Inventors, C.S. Lewis

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Tuesday, March 10, with Female Internet Inventors, featuring Claire L. Evans, author of Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The Theresa Y Crawley, D.D.S. Lecture.

The history of technology you probably know is one of men and machines, garages and riches, alpha nerds and brogrammers – but female visionaries have always been at the vanguard of technology and innovation. In fact, women turn up at the very beginning of every important wave in technology. They may have been hidden in plain sight, their inventions and contributions touching our lives in ways we don’t even realize, but they have always been part of the story. In Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet (Penguin Random House), Claire L. Evans finally gives these unsung female heroes their due with her insightful social history of the women who made the Internet what it is today.

The Great Lives series continues on Thursday, March 12, with C.S. Lewis, featuring Devin Brown, author of A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis. The Coldwell Banker Elite Lecture.

Although Clive Staples Lewis died over a half-century ago, his works live on in the hearts and minds of countless readers, young and old, all over the world. From the Lewis Memorial recently installed in Poets’ Corner to the new Narnia films scheduled for release by Netflix over the next decade, the life and legacy of an Oxford don born near the end of the 19th Century continue to impact the current one. In this talk, which features rare archival photographs, you will visit the places that Lewis knew and loved.

The Great Lives series will continue on Thursday, March 19 with America’s Notorious Pirates, featuring author Eric Jay Dolin. Visit https://www.umw.edu/greatlives/ for more information.

Great Lives Continues with Frederick Douglass on Feb. 27

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Thursday, Feb. 27, with abolitionist, orator and author Frederick Douglass, with David W. Blight, author of The New York Times bestseller Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The Synergy Periodontics and Implants Lecture.

As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was taught to read by his slave-owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence, he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.

Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, using his own story to condemn slavery. By the Civil War, Douglass had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. After the war he sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican Party or the cause of black civil and political rights.

In this “cinematic and deeply engaging” (The New York Times Book Review) biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historians have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’ newspapers. “Absorbing and even moving…a brilliant book that speaks to our own time as well as Douglass’” (The Wall Street Journal), Blight’s biography tells the fascinating story of Douglass’ two marriages and his complex extended family. “David Blight has written the definitive biography of Frederick Douglass…a powerful portrait of one of the most important American voices of the nineteenth century” (The Boston Globe).

The Great Lives series will continue on Tuesday, March 10 with Female Internet Inventors, featuring Claire L. Evans, author of Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. Visit https://www.umw.edu/greatlives/ for more information.

Great Lives Continues with American Duelists, John Adams & John Quincy Adams

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Thursday, Feb. 20, with American Duelists, presented by author Joanne Freeman. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The Hirschler Lecture.

Professor Freeman’s lecture is based on her acclaimed 2018 work, The Field of Blood, which recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.

These fights didn’t happen in a vacuum. Freeman’s dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities―the feel, sense, and sound of it―as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.

The Great Lives series continues on Tuesday, Feb. 25 with John Adams and John Quincy Adams, presented by Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein, authors of the book, The Problem with Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of PersonalityThe Parrish Snead Franklin Simpson, PLC Lecture.

The two presidents Adams have never been examined together, either as mutually supportive father-and-son historical actors, or as experienced men of the world with interconnected philosophies. History conveniently paints them as out-of-touch, each turned out of office by popularly cast southerners, Jefferson and Jackson; their rejection at the polls is explained in terms of their supposed resistance to a rising democratic spirit. The Problem of Democracy, Isenberg and Burstein’s first major collaboration since Madison and Jefferson (2010), elaborates on the Adamses’ constitutional thought in favor of strong institutional checks in government (as a counter to the myth of an all-knowing popular will); their critique of democracy’s tendency to “dress up” select political men as popular celebrities: in their time, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Their concern about a moneyed oligarchy and their unwillingness to surrender personal political independence to the conforming character of the two-party system make them unique in the nation’s political life. The themes they embraced have clear implications for our times.

The Great Lives series will continue on Thursday, Feb. 27 with Frederick Douglass, featuring author David W. Blight. Visit https://www.umw.edu/greatlives/ for more information.

Great Lives Continues with Stephen Hawking, American Duelists

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues on Tuesday, Feb. 18, with a look at the brilliant and enigmatic scientist and disability icon Stephen Hawking, with biographer Kitty Ferguson. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The Dovetail Cultural Resources Group Lecture.

“It’s been a remarkable journey.” With those words Kitty Ferguson describes her thirty years knowing and writing about Stephen Hawking. When she first met him in 1989, he had recently published his A Brief History of Time. He was also already trapped silent in a wheelchair, able to shift just one or two fingers to operate his communications system, tediously, word by word. The inexorable progress of Motor Neuron Disease had begun more than twenty-five years earlier when he was a first-year graduate student in the University of Cambridge.

Hawking’s legacy consists of more than stunning ideas, scientific advances and theories. His adventurous spirit ensnared a generation of younger scientists. He gave a priceless gift of inspiration to disabled people and others of us who have had to adjust our attitudes about disability.

Who was this man? This scientist who so often changed his mind and undermined his own previous discoveries . . . who bequeathed to his field questions others will spend decades answering . . . who took readers and lecture audiences laughing into black holes and to the origin of the universe . . . who toughed it out against odds that would have destroyed almost anyone else?

Stephen Hawking relished his work and life in a manner totally his own, an enigma even to those who knew him best. In spite of the difficulties, his was a life well lived.

The Great Lives series will continue on Thursday, Feb. 20, with American Duelists, presented by author Joanne Freeman. The Hirschler Lecture.

Professor Freeman’s lecture is based on her acclaimed 2018 work, The Field of Blood, which recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.

These fights didn’t happen in a vacuum. Freeman’s dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities―the feel, sense, and sound of it―as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.

The Great Lives series continues on Tuesday, Feb. 25 with John Adams and John Quincy Adams, presented by Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein.

Great Lives Continues with The Beach Boys, Dr. Seuss

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues this evening, Feb. 6, with a look at the quintessential American band, The Beach Boys, as well as the artistic genius and downward spiral of its leader, Brian Wilson. Biographer Peter Ames Carlin will talk about his book, Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The Davenport & Company Lecture.

This is the story of The Beach Boys in the context of American history and the two sets of ideals, faith and money, that have defined our society since the Pilgrims sailed the ocean blue. In both music and the five Beach Boys, brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their first cousin Mike Love and neighbor Al Jardine, presented a dreamy vision of California as Eden: a place filled with, sun, surf and beautiful girls. The group turned towards art music in the mid-sixties, but Brian Wilson, the group’s resident genius, was as troubled as he was brilliant, and as his visions became more avant-garde the group turned away, choosing to become a perpetual motion nostalgia machine that continues to fill casino showrooms and state fair venues across the country. And so here we are again: Art vs. commerce, faith vs. finance. The fact that the legendarily lost (for nearly 40 years) Smile album, a psychedelic masterpiece Brian recorded in 1966 only to lose his way and vanish for the better part of the next thirty years, was about Manifest Destiny’s impact on the nation, tells us something. In both their beauty and their ugliness the Beach Boys are truly the most truly American band that has ever existed.

The Great Lives series will continue on Tuesday, Feb. 11, with Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, by Brian Jay Jones, The New York Times bestselling author of Jim Henson: The Biography. The JON Properties/Van Zandt Restorations Lecture.

With more than 600 million copies of his books sold worldwide, few names are as recognizable and beloved as “Dr. Seuss.” And yet, the man behind the pseudonym, Theodor Seuss Geisel, was more nuanced than his outsized legacy – and his journey to American icon was never preordained. In his early days as a magazine cartoonist in Prohibition-era New York and a successful career in advertising, and his later work as a progressive editorial cartoonist and dreams of a career as a Hollywood screenwriter, Geisel produced children’s books only sporadically, and not always successfully. Jones explores the artistic and intellectual trajectory that convinced Geisel that children’s books were “a good profession,” and that children deserved to be taken seriously as readers – a long and creative journey that transformed Theodor Geisel into Dr. Seuss.

Great Lives continues on Tuesday, Feb. 18 with Stephen Hawking, by Kitty Ferguson.