Painter Vincent van Gogh, humanitarian Mother Teresa and country music icon Dolly Parton are among the prominent personalities featured in the upcoming William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series.
The 19th season of this treasured University of Mary Washington tradition will be held in person – for the first time in nearly two years – in George Washington Hall’s Dodd Auditorium on the Fredericksburg campus; due to the prevalence of the Omicron variant, the first four lectures will be held via Zoom. These free lectures will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from Jan. 18 through March 10, at 7:30 p.m. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is required.
Bestselling biographers and several UMW faculty members have spent countless hours chronicling iconic subjects – artists, adventurers, peacemakers and more. They’ll provide riveting reflection into their lives and loves, strengths and struggles, and successes and failures.
“We are very much looking forward to resuming live, in-person presentations in 2022,” said Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus William B. Crawley, Great Lives founder and director. “Audience members will be able to interact directly with lecturers, who are preeminent scholars in their fields.” Books by most of the speakers will be available for purchase and signing after each lecture.
The series kicks off with John Glenn, the third American in space and first to orbit the Earth. Historian Jeff Shesol, author of Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War, will discuss the late astronaut – who also became a U.S. senator – and the heroic flight that put America within reach of the moon.
Season highlights include subjects known for their humanitarian efforts, such as Mother Teresa, the Catholic missionary canonized for her charitable work, and Jimmy Carter, whose presidency has been recast as “consequential” by writer Jonathan Alter. After leaving office, Carter built homes for Habitat for Humanity, working well into his 90s. Multiplatinum recording artist and actress Dolly Parton built a successful career, penning songs about working-class women, but she’s also revered for funding the Moderna vaccine and promoting childhood literacy.
Several UMW professors will present lectures, including Stephen Farnsworth, commenting on the comic genius of Charlie Chaplin, and Marjorie Och, who will share her thoughts on Vincent van Gogh, whose tragic life and artistic brilliance continue to captivate. Surupa Gupta will offer insight on Indira Gandhi, the first and only woman to become India’s prime minister.
Other barrier-breaking women featured this season include FDR’s labor secretary, Frances Perkins, who helped deliver the New Deal, and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court. Another lecture spotlights the pioneering female aviators who didn’t get the same glory as their male counterparts.
Renowned authors will delve into the lives of investigative journalist Ida B. Wells, who exposed the horrors of lynching and white supremacy, and Emmett Till, the African American teen whose 1955 murder mobilized the civil rights movement.
Rescheduled due to the pandemic, one lecture will recount the swashbuckling adventures of America’s pirates, whose devilish deeds fascinated and frustrated colonists and the Crown.
Biographers will also shed light on British author and theologian C.S. Lewis, who penned The Chronicles of Narnia, and two poets spanning time and space: Homer from Ancient Greece and contemporary American writer Sylvia Plath.
First introduced as an academic course by the Department of History and American Studies, Great Lives later 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, the series received a generous endowment from John Chappell, whose late wife Carmen Culpeper Chappell graduated from Mary Washington in 1959. The Chappell family’s continued support, with that of local individuals and corporate sponsors, has sustained and propelled the series. For more information, visit the Great Lives website or contact the Office of University Events and Conferencing at 540-654-1276.