Can anyone tell me why there are not more Presidential history courses being taught at universities?
Why, after all, is history taught to begin with? History is taught so that society has some understanding of where they came from. History gives us all context to place current events in, to give us a reference point to process everything thrown at us during every day life. History connects us with our ancestors, and helps us understand where we are going (if you ascribe to the idea that history is progressing toward some goal). And, at it’s very basic level, history is entertaining. The study of Middle Eastern history, for instance, gives Americans a greater sense of why there is so much chaos in the region and what effect different American actions are prone to have. Knowing about Revolutionary America is to give us a greater sense of our heritage, the successes and failures, moral heights and moral depths of American ideas. While America has not always been the land of equality and freedom, these are the ideas that have prevailed over all others. This is who we are.
So why is there no organized study of American leaders? I know that “Great Men History” is blasé among cultural historians these days, but it still serves an important purpose. With the Election of 2012 almost upon us, we are faced again with a populace left in the dark about what makes a great President. Everyone has their gut feelings and opinions, but how many actually build off an understanding of where Presidential history has come from to understand where it is going?
Presidential biographies are big sellers right now, thanks partially to the boom of history fascination in the United States. But they have always enjoyed some level of success. History classes focused on presidential history would not only create a group capable of analyzing current presidential politics, it could provide a wealth of new approaches to Presidential history which unfortunately is usually written by journalists.
Is there any value in teaching or learning Presidential history in a college setting? What are your thoughts?
Well, as some of you may know, I am a huge follower of Teddy Roosevelt. Not only is he fascinating but his political ideas (most of them) are still relevant today. One can wonder where we would be if we still had visionary leaders like him. But anyway, I stumbled across a group known as the Theodore Roosevelt Association (TR hated the nickname ‘Teddy’). While my finances at the moment can’t justify the cost of joining, I can’t wait until the day comes when I can belong to this group.
Let me wax a little nostalgically about Teddy Roosevelt. The man was an energetic dynamo, “all act” as one of his contemporaries described him. Reading the excellent The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris has really gotten me thinking about our current political state. During his time, Theodore Roosevelt made a name for himself by championing impossible reform causes, even taken on his own party bosses. In fact, if it were not for his spectacular oratory skills and his intangible presence in front of a crowd or during a committee meeting, they would have sunk him before his career ever got off the ground.
He always dove head first into things without taking time to survey his surroundings, and he took his fair share of lumps. But his indomitable spirit and his quick mind enabled him to escape almost any scenario. He took on corrupt party bosses in New York state, reformed the New York police department (which involved immediately outmaneuvering and defeating a corrupt police chief and a violent cop), and relentlessly hounded the powers that be to clean up their act.
Because of this many people thought Roosevelt was certifiably insane. They acknowledged the power of his charisma but many people were suspicious of his ambition and relentless drive forward. But in the end he became one of our greatest Presidents. Let’s make May “Teddy Roosevelt” month, for no other reason than the fact that I just finished readingThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Virtually any book on the man is fascinating and I think all Americans would do well to know a little bit more about this complex but incorruptible man.