by Claire L. Lanier
This spring, in conjunction with The Presidency Project, the Museum is offering a series of twelve public programs exploring the American presidency – what it means, who did it well, who did it not so well, how different interpretations of the presidency have manifested the current functioning of the office, and many more issues. In such a tumultuous political era, we believe that examining the presidency is not only a fascinating initiative, but a deeply necessary one for all Americans. Understanding how our presidency works is a crucial part of every democracy.
What our programs, and what great historians, allow us to see is not necessarily explosive, new information (though that is often the case) but rather a reevaluation of what we already know and a context for understanding our current worldview. In a talk with Douglas Brinkley on January 13, historian Sean Wilentz reminded us that though today we often view President Lincoln as a pure-of-heart politician, as one not subject to the manipulative political mindset, Lincoln was in fact highly political and always of a political mindset, no matter the issue. Indeed it was this political mindset that allowed him to be so successful in the government and accomplish so much.
And last week, on February 13, historian William E. Leuchtenburg, in conversation with Harold Holzer, reminded us that while executive orders have gained a complicated, sometimes terrible, reputation from both parties in recent years, it was an executive order passed by President Truman that desegregated the military in 1948, a hugely significant initiative in the history of our government and society.
These new thoughts on issues or presidents that we may have already settled in our mind allow us to expand our thinking in new, broader ways—in ways that challenge our already shaped neurons. They shake us from our existing perspectives and wake us up, pushing us to reexamine thoughts on perhaps the current government and presidency and the issues that are important to us, whatever those may be, whatever side of the aisle they rest in.
Indeed that’s the broad benefit of history, no? That it allows us to re-enage with the world around us— to re-see who we are and what we already know. We invite you to dive in to a new history, no matter how many times you think you’ve swum in it before, no matter how often you dunk your head or dip your toe below the water. History changes as our nation does—as we as a people do. We welcome you to pursue that change with us.
See our full schedule of programs and buy your tickets today.