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 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.”
Now completing his 50th year of teaching at Mary Washington, Crawley has researched, taught about, and developed great familiarity with each of these presidents. “I suppose my favorite is Theodore Roosevelt because of his personality and rambunctious behavior – quite atypical of presidents up to his time,” Crawley said. “Also, it was interesting that, even though he was a member of the very conservative Republican party, he became the leader of the first broad reform movement in America.” The Teddy Roosevelt lecture first aired on C-SPAN on Oct. 11.
Any lessons for today? That’s a matter of debate. Check out some scintillating snippets from Crawley’s lecture descriptions.
Should we judge historical figures by contemporary standards that are often at great variance from the times in which the biographical subject lived? (Thomas Jefferson)
[This president] embodied a host of contradictions. (Theodore Roosevelt)
In truth, [he] was an unlikely candidate for the White House. (Woodrow Wilson)
The scion of an aristocratic New York family, [he] faced several setbacks on his journey to the White House. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Few people have ever attained the presidency so seemingly ill-equipped for the job. (Harry S. Truman)
Tune in tomorrow to hear more about John F. Kennedy, about whom – according to Crawley – many say that “the glitter of ‘Camelot’” masked the lack of any real accomplishment.
“And yet … the Kennedy image still shines brightly for many Americans largely because, even though he was certainly no saint in his personal life, and showed significant shortcomings in his political career, he nonetheless had the ability to instill courage and to inspire hope.”
The Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series will feature a full schedule next year, beginning in mid-January and running through mid-March. There will be 18 lectures, all by members of the UMW academic community. The lectures will be delivered online, with the opportunity for audience questions at the end of each. The schedule will be released later this year.