In a year when many are sticking close to home, the upcoming William B. Crawley Great Lives lecture season, now in its 18th year, will be virtual this spring and returns to its roots by featuring the expertise of University of Mary Washington faculty. Authorities in their respective fields, they will chronicle the lives of Goethe and Gandhi, St. Augustine and Sojourner Truth, Isaac Newton and I.M. Pei, among other intriguing subjects.
Prerecorded lectures, which are free for the public to enjoy from the comfort of home, will be available on the Great Lives website at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 19 to March 18. Each will feature a live Q&A with presenters, hosted by Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus William B. Crawley, Great Lives founder and director.
Bringing in outside biographers isn’t an option due to the pandemic, but the 2021 season displays the research of “our own outstanding scholars in the Mary Washington community,” said Crawley, who tapped current and retired faculty to deliver lectures.
Great Lives kicks off on Jan. 19, with UMW Museums Executive Director Scott Harris providing illuminating insight into the lives of Presidents George Washington and James Monroe. Born just miles apart, these Virginians both heroically crossed the frigid waters of the Delaware River – in separate boats, contrary to the famous painting – during the American Revolution. But in time, their relationship turned icy, and they often feuded over the direction of the new nation they had both helped build. Their “revolutionary rift” will be at the center of Harris’ talk.
Offering both historical and geographical diversity, other subjects include General Douglas MacArthur, Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, playwright Lillian Hellman, and sociologists and Black rights activists Anna Julia Cooper and W.E.B. Du Bois.
The fates of Communist dictator Joseph Stalin and Soviet aircraft engineer Andrei Tupolev will be examined, as will the life of Süleyman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
The words of Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston and Southern writer Eudora Welty will fly from the page to the computer screen. Reference and Humanities Librarian Emeritus Jack Bales, co-author of a biography on Horatio Alger, will share tales of the novelist’s success in penning popular “rags-to-riches” stories for young readers.
Professor of Political Science Stephen Farnsworth, who recently published a book on comedy and the American presidency, will discuss late night legend Johnny Carson, who interviewed seven presidents during his three decades hosting “The Tonight Show.” Local biographer Michael Hill, who often conducts research at UMW’s Simpson Library, will provide highlights from his highly anticipated biography on American humorist and Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald, which will be released by Random House in 2021.
First introduced by the Department of History and American Studies, Great Lives became a public lecture series held in conjunction with UMW’s popular course, “Great Lives: Biographical Approaches to History and Culture.”
Shortly after its 2004 launch, Great Lives received a generous endowment from John Chappell. His and his family’s continued support, with that of local individuals and corporate sponsors, has sustained and propelled the series. For more information and a full list of lectures, visit umw.edu/greatlives or contact the Office of University Events and Conferencing at 540-654-1065.