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tv   Whose Stories Are Told  CSPAN  October 27, 2018 5:58am-7:18am EDT

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it restored, and president truman on a post-presidential visit was surprised to find his old piano back in the white house. hello. i'm gale berry west. and i am on the board of the white house historical
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association. on behalf of the association, the board is pleased that you have chosen to attend this presidential site summit. i know you will agree that we have an attendance, a unique gathering here of presidential leaders, site directors, educational specialists and subject matter experts. thank you for supporting our organization with your attendance. and we look forward to continuing with you beyond the days of this outstanding summit. we want you to keep in touch. our next featured session this morning is inclusive presidential history. this session will explore recent efforts made by sites and libraries to incorporate the
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stories of lesser known individuals, social groups and events into the lives and times of the presidents that we are serving. i have witnessed the progress that many sites have made in regard to telling the story today of african-americans who previously were not discussed or even acknowledged as part of the american story. i recall going to visit the home of one of our presidents in 1969. when i asked a requequestion concerning slavery, my question was ignored. today that same presidential site is readily telling the story of slavery and the role that slaves played. our inclusive presidential
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history panel will feature presentersers representing professionals in curatorial work, historical interpretation who have embraced this challenge, providing lessons for a variety of types of presidential sites. including those with a regional or national point of focus. now i have the great pleasure of introducing our moderator and members of our inclusive presidential history panel. please let me say it will be a brief introduction of each, for if i were to share all of their outstanding bios, we would not be able to hear all they will be sharing with us this morning. our moderator, williams is the director and ceo of the miller center at the university of virginia. where he specializes in presidential scholarship, public
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policy and political history. he was formally managing director at the brookings institution and served in the clinton administration as director of international economic affairs for the national security council. joining him on stage are panelists leslie bowman, president of the thomas jefferson foundation, which owns and operates the unesco world heritage site monticello. katherine a.s. sibly, director of american studies at st. joseph university. she's a published author and professor. she has written on first lady florence harding and edited a companion to first ladies. earlier in her career, she was the author of "red spy: stolen secrets of the cold war." timothy naf taltalli is a
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presidential historian. from 2000 to 2011 he directed the richard nixon presidential library. he has co-authored several books, most notably for our purposes today, "john f. kennedy: the great crisis" and in 2017 a book on george h.w. bush. and katherine algore is a noted american historian and specialized in biographies of american first ladies. most notably dolley madison. please enjoy this presentation on how different organizations, institutions and individuals are being changed and incorporating different perspectives and moments into the narrative of
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presidential history. thank you so. >> thank you. >> thank you for the kind introduction and to the whole team for including me and including all of us here. this has been a terrific few days already. and a lot of great programming. it's hard to follow john meacham and judy woodruff, but we have a great team here. one of the great things about this team, everyone on this panel has been a scholar and everyone also has run important historic institutions. and i want to get at that in the conversation, so i'm going to start -- all good research starts with questions. but also framing. museums, framing presentations also starts with questions. so, i'm curious what questions animates your work and how do you think about the hard challenges of including voices, who to include, how do include
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them, in that mix, what are the questions that keep you up at night? >> that makes it sound like we're terribly worried about it. what keeps me up at night is really the excitement of what we do. and i think i'm going to speak with a little prejudice, but this is going to be the best panel of the entire conference because though we are all historians, we are all futurists. we are talking about using the past to move forward into the future. when you sort of threw that out there and i was thinking about it, i thought one of the ways to think about this term, inclusiveness, this getting our arms around it, is we're really talking about two kinds of inclusiveness, i think. one is exactly what gale was saying, it's the stories we tell, the interpretation, the research, but there's another inclusivity, which is the people we're telling it to. who are they and how do we get them to come and listen to our story. so, i think maybe if we kind of think of those two different
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camps, we can kind of divide up this rather amorphus term. >> is the audience participator to in your work as you are framing history for them? >> you know, it's a tricky balance, isn't it? on one hand there's a value to somebody saying, i see myself here. i'm represented here. but the truth is, history is people. and they're fascinating. somebody from a very different background could get quite excited about abigail adams in my case or the abolitionist movement of the 19th century. we have to walk that balance of not presuming because you're of a certain backgrounds or race or gender that you're interested in this track and maybe allow for the fascinating part of history that could just capture somebody. >> if i could jump in. >> please. >> i want to make a correction. i don't actually run an historic
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home, i'm sorry to say. >> but you run a center, right? you run an organization dedicated to the study of -- >> sure, thank you. it's an academic program at my school. you're absolutely right. but i did want to use this as an opportunity to first shout out to an historic home, as we have all benefitted from that helped many of us us, right, we can't do our work without these homes because they bring us to the place where the research is, where the people lived or where their archives are that we might not otherwise find. in my case it was the harding home and also people in marion, ohio, who were incredibly kind to me. a woman named ella took me to her home when i came to work there. you're not staying at the holiday inn. stay with me. i'll tell you some stories. it was wonderful. but to get back to your question about the questions that animate us. in my case, your lovely moderator/introducer noted, i started out studying spies, soviet spies. i know you've looked at a few of
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those yourself, tim. i was struck by the life of elizabeth bentley. she had been maligned, laughed at, this woman, no credibility, a drunk. i said, maybe there's a story there. there certainly is a story there. she knew what she was talking about. okay, she liked drinking, too, but that's okay. when i came to study florence harding, it was similar. a woman who was maligned, overlooked, called a shrew and just horrible names because her husband wasn't faithful to her, this is her fault? she had a really interesting story to tell. i think what animates me are questions that allow me to check the assumptions that so many people have and say, maybe there's something a little more there in that story. >> tim, you tackled some big controversial issues at the nixon library. he brought a scholar sensibility to it. how did you think through the bifurcated set of questions that catherine laid out there, what animates scholars and also what people are looking for when people come to a library museum?
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>> i'm very grateful to the miller center for having helped prepare me for the job but i learned a lot on the job. i think scholars who go to presidential libraries, and i would describe myself in that way at the time. we would go to a library for the archives. we rarely visited the museum. and as a result, we didn't realize -- or i didn't that a presidential library is both a national institution and a local institution. so when you think about your audience, you have both a national one be and a local one. when the nixon family decided that they would turn over their private library to the federal government, the federal government found itself with this really big problem, which was, how do you both meet the national expectations for such a
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place and the local exceptions, because they were different? the national expectations because -- we know this history, i think, really well, all of us. the national expectations had a lot to do with the very fact that president nixon did not have a library and the fact his library is materials, the materials we would associate with a presidential library had to stay, i don't know, 30 or 50 miles of the capitol. the local expectations had to do with the fact that richard nixon was the son of yorba linda. the down of yorba linda so loved richard nixon that he was described on their coat of arms. you have both the national problem, which was how do you make a presidential -- nixon presidential library credible to scholars and stakeholders, who understandably associated richard nixon not just with watergate but with years of litigation to prevent the
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release of tapes and papers, while at the same time, not having a revolt among local folks who loved the place because it made them -- it reminded them of their childhood. it reminded them of their forced vote. it reminded them of the things they like to remember about richard nixon and his family. so the question for me was, what's legacy? and i learned the job that the definition of legacy defends on the person. i think, as an historian, legacy could be good or bad. it is, after all, the consequences of a set of actions and decisions, right? but for those who love a president, legacy is only the positive elements of what that president did. and if you attempt to, in a clear-minded, straightforward, nonpartisan way, to put the rest of the history in, to include the rest of the legacy, you find
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yourself rubbing up against expectations. in some cases you produce anger and resentment. so, that was a very interesting balance to try to strike to meet both the expectations for a national institution that had to be absolutely credible on the issues of watergate, abuse of powers and the like because we had the materials of that presidency. by law, they had to be accessible. while at the same time being sympathetic and apathetic to a local community whose vision of the president and the presidency were completely different. >> one quick follow-up on that, going back to the idea of inclusivity, give us a sense of characters that you included that might -- might or might not have been natural to choose. this is the thing that's fascinating to me is how do you choose to highlight, you know, somebody daisht chief of staff, the president's lawyer, henry
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kissinger. how do you make those choices, how do you ask those questions? >> i know people will understandably debate this and -- but when i thought about it. i talked to people, i didn't do this alone. but when i thought about what a federal institution, a federal library should be, i felt that given the history of this particular place because it had been run as a very insular, i would argue, sectarian private library, that the most important thing to do was to open it all up and to make clear there was no enemy list. when i arrived there, i was told by the private foundation that there were people that just couldn't come. and i thought that if that were the spirit of this place, we would fail. the national archives'
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reputation would be tarnished if we participated in a continuation of a nixonian list. i made sure before i left that institution, bob woodward, carl bernstein and john dean were there. the other thing was, they did not want an academic conference where any of the scholars were noted critics of nixon. they canceled the conference before. we made sure -- i don't want -- it's not about me. there were a lot of folks that worked on this. and we had academic partners. we made sure that there was a completely open, beautiful conference that talked about all aspects of nixon, his life and his administration at the site within a few years of the opening of the presidential library.
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so, inclusivity for us was a matter of including ideas and points of view. inclusivity can be all kinds of things. for this library, its challenge was to be inclusive of all ideas and points of view and i think we did it. >> leslie, since i live in the shadow of your little mountain and home, not to mention the big mountain, there's so much to include there, right? this was a president of many talents, ambitions, just even on the estate itself and then also many things that had been secret. so, obviously, you've made a big choice recently to much national attention, but dial us back a half step. how do you think about the full range of those choices, of -- what are the tickets people can buy when they come to that front booth?
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there are so many different options now. give us a sense of what inclusivity means at monticello and then you can help us wrestle with the harder ones. >> thank you. i think the question that keeps us awake at night is are we offering as humanistic and honest a history as we can. i will own the fact that if gale west wasn't talking about monticello, she could have been. and i think the question, therefore, that was on the table when i arrived ten years ago was the question all the staff and the board were keenly aware of, which is what every visitor wanted to know when they came through the door. you asked it yourself and you didn't get the answer you wanted, which is, how does a man who writes "all men are created equal," the most famous in the english language, even in texas, and then own 600 men, women and children throughout his life. the institution had been on an amazing trajectory to begin to
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answer that question. so, i owe great honor to the staff and to my predecessor for decades of scholarship, working on understanding slavery at monticello. at that point it had not yet arrived on the mountain to be visible. the last ten years we've really been on a journey to bring all that research and all that information into the visitors' physical experience on the mountain. but then there's another question, i think, and that is something that you touched on as well, gale. so, if we're trying -- first i'll say, you can't answer that question. so, you can devote yourself to giving as honest and inclusive and authentic story as you can with as much scholarship and rigor and transparency as possible, but i can't answer the question how he felt about writing those words and owning slaves. that would be disingenuous, right? so, i think monticello has rigorously struggled with how to
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be transparent in our history without prescribing how you or you or you would want to answer that question. but i think the other question we should all ask ourselves, and i'm taking slight leaf out of john meacham's speeches in the past. if gale west could come to monticello in the 1960s and we were doing what every site was doing and we look back and we were getting it so wrong, much as our founders got it wrong, right, with slavery, then what as we as sites doing today and our country doing today that is also in 50 years going to be looked at with bewilderment? >> i want to connect something you said, the rigorous struggle with something that tim said when he said this wasn't just about me and asked this of everybody. how do your teams work on these
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questions? we're complex organizations. we have mixes of scholars, if you're in a university, there's largely a lot of other scholars around you, but you also have others that help probably with communications and the like. what the process like? is it daushg -- is it a papeless journey or a painful journey? tell us about that. >> i think it always goeses to mission and a place. a mission and a kind of underlying intention. i think for the massachusetts historical society, we've had a m mission -- actually, we had a mission statement in 1981 to collect, preserve and disseminate history, whatever that means. it's been a pretty good mission statement but it's been tweaked. it's important everybody understand where they're going and then to have a really big goal and our goal is to change the world. and that's the business a lot of us are in through education, through helping the american
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public understand their history, especially for children and teachers. if you have a staff that understands the mission and has a big goal, like let's make this a better place, let's use the past to help people imagine their future, if you give people something big like that to work on, then i think it really goes a long way to pushing the work down the road. >>. >> i think to build auto your point earlier about how we are futurists and how that connects well to what you said, looking ahead, how will it look what we did now and what will be missing and being conscious of that? when i came to my university, we didn't teach women's history at all. in fact, we didn't teach african-american history for that matter. this was only in the early 1990s. i thought, i might be able to teach women's history, why not? even though i was not trained in it. that's what led me to this field of first ladies. my colleagues were very encouraging. how we find homes where we can build and grow and encourage others to also grow, we need to
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be in hospitable places like your institutions. so, i think that's what helped me kind of move forward. when you get into these interesting questions, for instance, studying first ladies as we talked about yesterday are often still sadly dismissed or maybe defined, dismissed is too strong. gowns are lovely, but they are defined too often by gowns. i know that is changing. i wondered if you had an exhibit at the nixon library about pat nixon. wow, she had some interesting travel she did around the world, effortsth et cete efforts, et cetera. there was mention of al burl son, i have to bring him up one more time. ellen wilson, who preceded edith wilson, the first first lady of woodrow wilson, when burleson is the postmaster, when he does all of those things to shut down the press and the post and all of this, ellen pointed out to him -- some might know, she was concerned about the fate and
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plight of workers because they were not in safe conditions, especially the women workers. she point she asked the colonel to tell burleson. the message was never carried on because she was dismissed and didn't seem important and all of this. i think on the theme of inclusivity and finding new places where we can explore, we need to kind of draw on all the things you're talking about. to think of the future, how will it look if we didn't care about women and working women and african-americans who are working and women and all of these things, right? i think that we're very fortunate to be living in a time when these questions are being asked but i think we have a long way to go. recently, i was in monticello, and it was much, much different, even from when i was there maybe 20 years ago. so, really some exciting changes there. >> i think mission is a very important source of good moral. i also believe that the director
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has to, to the best of his or her abilities, shield members of the team from the politics of the situation. i tried my very best. i know i didn't always succeed. i mean, this was a very contentious story. i'm not going to -- but i want to talk about archivists for a minute. i want to talk about the people that are so important to the work that we historians and those of us who love history, the two should be the same, do. this is a story that needs to be told at some point. this is a great american story and these people are heroes. these people put up with
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incredible pressure, generally from the nixon family and foundation, but sometimes from the national archives and sort of a darker periods. but they did -- i'm talking a generation and a half of archivists that we have the nixon tapes. i was fortunate to bring there to bring the process almost to conclusion and my successor finished it off. but when we talk about the cost of doing the right thing in presidential history, there are costs, they're worth bearing but there are costs. let's not forget it. one of the things i learned is that -- and i was part of that. i this this misunderstanding. we i think the system works without any of us giving it a little nudge. we i think that when push comes to shove, materials will be released, exhibits will be produced, that we'll match our expectations about access,
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transparency and nonpartsh nonpartisanship. it's not true. it's not because there's some group out there trying to deny it. it's just that there are many stakeholders that define legacy that don't want that material released. and the public and historians don't often do the pushing they need to. in the middle of this are the archivists who are trying professionally to do the right thing every single day and they are buffeted by these strains. so, my -- i can't tell you how much i admire the folks who do -- i've gone on on to do other things but my colleagues, former colleagues, who are still in the business and new people, who i didn't know, who are in the business who every day are toiling and working professionally to make sure we all have access to that presidential history we care about. so, those are the people, i believe, are often forgotten in this story. >> so, leslie, bringing it back
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to you and maybe tell people here who haven't been, including myself, up to see the new exhibit, how you got there and how you took the history and what's known about the history of the jefferson/hemmings relationship, and how you can bring it to life while there are still uncertainty about parts of it and how that worked as a team effort. >> it was probably the apogy to reveal slavery. we purposely faced it last because we knew it would be the most challenging and it was most challenging because it was in the terrace, south wing, connected to the house. there's no secret stairway, by the way. we learned a lot. in 2009 we opened. it's been within my tenure of incredible, devoted people we brought that story up on the
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mountain. i want people to understand we didn't just open an exhibit, we really transformed the mountain and put the narratives back of at any one time 130 men women, women and children are living and -- but we knew sally hemmings would be the lightning. we really did learn from that journey because as we put a cabin back on mulberry row, the landscape of slavery, the main street, we had visitors who went inside. weal actually knew what that cabin looked like. we had a firsthand account of how priscilla and john's cabin looked. so, we could actually do a period interior that had real connection, not just our understanding of slave quarters. we put that cabin back exactly the way it would have been, archeologically right where it was. the best of our abilities to be true and honest and accurate and visitors were known to walk in,
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a child, as has been in "the washington post," say, that's not so bad. oh, my god. so, i think -- i want to come back to your question, how do you put together the team that works on it? the team cannot only be the people inside the institution. it has to be a cross-disciplinary team at a minimum but you have to have the visitors' voice all the time. we are a public trust. american public trusts american museums more than they trust, sorry, judy woodruff, american media. we have a huge responsibility to the public and we have to keep hearing those voices even if we don't like them, we think they're wrong, we don't think they understand. how do we get them the truth, the scholarship, the facts, the resources so they can get their own opinions. when we got to sally hemmings'
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room, we said, we can't do a period room. what is a period room with a cot and a trunk and take fireplace going to tell us about arguably the most famous african-american woman in history? how is that going to convey she's jefferson's half-white sister, a mother, a daughter, a sister, that she lived in paris, that she negotiated with jefferson, she achieved freedom for her children 50 years ahead of other african-americans because of that negotiation? how do you convey that with the minimal woods we think would have been in her room? we did something rather controversial for an historic site. everyone thinks we're going to monticello, that's how those rooms should look. we said, we've got the cook taes quarter right here. people can look at that to see how slaves lived right next door but we're going to do something different with sally hemmings. i just want you all to come. >> no big reveal. >> it's moving, it's theatrical.
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we said, we want people to feel her life and not just know about it. we also made the decision that we would include nothing without rigorous fact. as our exhibition designer started weaving things together, i can portray this -- no, no, no, you can only work off the words from the period we know. what i will tell you we did, because i think it has enormous relevancy to places we are in our country, unfortunately, and gale i love your introduction because you're giving me a lot of launch pad, we legitimateized oral history for the first time, which had been ignored for more than 100 years. when the dna came out, everybody thought, welling, now we know. and gordon reed had come to that conclusion based on lots of other evidence. way before dna. dna was merely corroborative and it didn't pin it on thomas
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jefferson. it only said it had to be a jefferson male. there was lots of oral history and her own sons who made it very clear that jefferson was their father. we chose to elevate madison's words, which turned out to be poetic and use only his words about his mother inside that room. >> i wanted to mention the fact that i was living in charlottesville when the thomas jefferson foundation changed its perspective on sally hemming and i was very includfluenced by th. i was hoping at the nixon library, the tapes would be the dna and that what would happen because the private library had a watergate exhibit. which was a fantasy. it made richard nixon out to be the victim of an effort by
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democrats to overturn the verdict of the 1972 election. and it was essential for the credibility of this institution that it have a real watergate exhibit. it was also essential for the credibility of the national archives. and i would argue, it was a very important thing for public history throughout the country, that this be possible in a federal space. the question was, what's the dna going to be? i can't tell you how much respect i have for the way in which the foundation finally turned because it was quite bitter and mean to scholars like annette gordon reed beforehand. so, i decided we would do an oral history program where i would let people of the nixon era speak to the local community. the national community had heard these people speaking on pbs many times over. but local community hadn't. i'm talking about chuck holson, i'm talking about john dean, i'm
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talking about george schultz and leonard garment and have those choic voices tell about the crimes, abuse of power, let them, not some carpet bagger -- i was fearful of being the carpet bagger from the north. the tapes themselves would be the dna. i wish i had a good story to tell you. i have a very good story to tell you about the national effect, and i'm very proud to say, and i was just trying to talking to sharon, who was my boss for most of this process, that the watergate is exhibit is still there and now considered a permanent feature. but i don't think we convinced the local community.
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i think they actually thought of it as fake news. it was my first experience of encountering people whose minds were closed. at one point they came to me and said, we understand that when the president says things about jews, you've made this up in washington. you created it, tim, didn't you? that i was somehow creating this data. and the family worked very hard from preventing those oral histories from being shown because they did not want people to hear those voices. so, i think one of the things that's important to say is that we should do what is right, but sometimes the target audience is not going to change its mind, but it doesn't matter. we still have to do it. >> i love that because if we inspired you, and that was my predecessor at the time of the dna, you've inspired us because as we were in planning meetings, we talked about the fact that what we were doing with sally hemmings was literally to the equivalent of the watergate
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library. so, thank you for that. >> it's a virtuous circle. >> we have to thank sally hemmings, really. >> i'm reflecting -- i'm hearing words like truth and facts and responsibility. and, you know, we do have a responsibility to tell the truth but it's also a great gift. so, a lot of institutions in our culture will say they have, quote, a commitment to diversity, a commitment to inclusivity. do they have to? i don't know. but the great thing about being an historian is we include these stories, sally hemmings, the archivists behind the scenes. not because it's nice, the polite thing to do, but because it makes our history whole. it makes us tell a better, fuller, more accurate, truthful story. >> i was going to direct this at you, katie, which is, yes, that's important to do, it also
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feels like it's popular. up, as i was thinking about your work on first ladies, and recent first ladies have been far more popular than their husbands, the presidents. >> that's often the case. >> is there a paradox there? on the one hand we focus on the president and we have to work hard to include these other voices. on the other hand, they are popular. >> well, you know, they take on interesting roles. they have some freedom if they choose to exercise it, to use this platform for good. a number of them, especially in recent times, have. i think -- and there's controversy from that, as we know from hillary clinton's efforts in the medical area. on the other hand, they often are able to leave a legacy. think of laura bush, could be taken in the pop. laura bush and her work, for instance, on lit racy. a common example many of you may know about. rosalynn carter and mental health. it was completely overturned in the next administration by no
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reagan and congress, et cetera. but she really wanted, you know, to see mental health be better in this country. and i think people remember that about her. >> you heard last night about betty ford acknowledging -- >> yes, also not only about breast cancer but mental health herself later when she was struggling with alcoholism. it is interesting, isn't it? i hope the current first lady will use her platform for good because it is a really powerful one. want all first ladies have taken advantage. as we were talking in the last session about truman and the good things he did, but sadly, bes, didn't really do a whole lot. it's too bad. i think she mostly wanted to be back in independence. i mentioned ellen wilson, florence, who i would say at least made the cracks in the mold that eleanor roosevelt broke. let's remember that about florence. she really did make some interesting changes. i don't want to bore you are florence right now. i did want to get back to the issue of dna because this was something -- telling the story of inclusivity, you probably know a couple of years ago evidence emerged that warren g.
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harding had fathered a child with nan briton. for years i did not believe this because i was on -- i was on my, i guess, mission to show that this was a story. florence harding we -- one of the thins we do, all of us, in local history and inclusivity, we humanize these people. i wanted to show she was a human being. the fact is, yes, her husband did have an affair with carey phillips. there were letters, the archivist hemd me find these in wyoming, of all places. there's a big akooif out there. now those letters are open. opened in 2014, almost a century after harding died, that showed this relationship. then there was this nan briton character. there are no letters. i thought, here we go again. they want to bash the harding. the fact is florence had a child with her first husband, a very short-lived marriage. it's not even clear it was a marriage. then she met warren and they had
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no children. clearly she could have children and he couldn't. how could nan briton have this child? now fast forward to 2015, no letters from nan but the dna, which seemed to suggest, in fact, that indeed warren had fathered a child because this child, now a 67-year-old man at the time, blessing was his name, what a great name, a blessing, indeed, he was the second cousin to harding's great nephew -- grand nephew. what that meant for me were inclusive history, in this book here, i had to go back and rewrite my piece about florence, which drew from my earlier book. i had to say, up what, there's a story here. i don't know if florence knew about this but it says something about her husband. not very nice. he was dating some woman 30-some-years younger than him. the evidence suggests this happened. the dna paints a fuller picture in a way that i was disappointed but we have to tell what really
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happened, don't we? we can't assume. i have my mission to change the storiography of florence, so can i just not mention that story? >> did the harding home -- how did they receive that news? >> i haven't had a chance to talk to them about that. but i understand there was discussion at the library of congress about it and i know know some family harding members that were there. they acknowledge -- >> they should embrace it. i think we brought up this idea, too, of one way to think about a presidential site, which is a presidential site. it's one guy at this point. is to bring in family. we can kind of crash this problem a little bit because we're not just the holders of john adams' papers and john quincy adams' papers. we have the adams family. our wonderful national park service oversees the family homes in peacefield.
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when we open up the idea -- and open up the idea of family and household. we can now talk, even if you just wanted to keep that story to the president's family, women, children, slaves, servants, other people that are around. so, i think the idea if you're in presidential site and you say, i want to open this story up a bit, look around the at the family and see who's around and what interesting characters pop up. >> have you found that connects with audiences? >> oh, yes, absolutely. in fact, shifting to the stories we tell, this idea of audience. i think if you have a compelling story, you can connect to any kind of audience. we're getting ready to -- we have an abigail adams anniversary coming up, the anniversary of her death and then birth. we're trying to think of all the different ways we can tell the story of abigail, abigail and john and how we can connect our
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collections to as many people and as many kinds of people as possible. so, i would say even if you just had your president's story, if you tell it well enough, it doesn't have to necessarily include the entire cast of characters representing all kinds of walks of life, but you can connect people to the story. >> i want to connect it back to your scholarship. i was intrigued by tilts of your work with dolley madison and the nation and the creation of the nation. tell us about that. does it go beyond family to more deep resident connection or just that she was this incredible hostess, connecter, networker, quasi chief of staff for jimmy? >> i like how you call him jimmy. i'm sure he would appreciate that. >> yeah. >> so, here's the thing. we're back to why we do this. why do we study women's history? again, it's not to be polite. it's because when we look at what women are doing, look at their words, their work, we discover something different about american history. so, i could go on and on about
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dolley, but i'll say two things. when we look at what she did and how she dressed and the forms she adapted, we realize in spite of the founders telling us that the revolution is done and we're going to abandon all things monarchical, the federal government was very dependent. on these aristocratic forms. that's part of her historical significance. what i think is the deeper lesson, again, when you take the woman seriously, is we understand that even in the early days of the republic, when the style of politics was violent and masculine, as the work of joanne freeman shows us, there was another model. there was a woman and her colleagues who are presenting a model of governance that was about cooperation and civility and empathy. it did not succeed. it didn't stop the war of 1812. it didn't transform politics into a cooperation. because this woman modeled by partisanship at a time when they didn't even have a word for it,
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we now know we had that model in our history. and if we as americans look to our history for guidance, and we do, because we're quoting it all the time, there was a woman and a moment back there where there was a different model for politics. >> jefferson is president without a first lady. >> sally hemmings is going to be considered a first lady. >> that was actually the question, right? >> i'm there. i mean -- >> please go there, because, i mean -- >> she obviously wasn't able to exercise agency or open power as a first lady, but -- >> the relationship certainly existed -- >> i'm not sure we can call it a relationship. we're very careful as to how we describe that. we describe her the way madison, her son described her and her mother, as concubines. we know she's at monticello while he's at the president's house. it's not called the white house yet. we only know that concubine
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relationship is existing when he comes back to monticello. but is she an influence on him? you know, was it rape? was there affection? was it negotiated? >> the questions there -- >> all the questions raised in the exhibit and we cannot answer them. but there's no question he and she had something sustained going on between them for decades. >> tell us a little about the role his daughter plays during this period and what you know about it, both the time in the presidency but also as he travels back and forth to monticello. >> well, his daughter really comes into much more focus when he comes back after the presidency. >> after the presidency. >> so, she's in her own marriage, right, and it's not an easy marriage. there's mental health issues in the randolph family that surface. probably some bipolar disease. and i think it's one of the reasons -- >> on his side, not with her husband? >> on her is side. right, exactly. so, when jefferson comes home to
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monticello, his beloved monticello, john meacham loves to say the roads are open, but it's always always jefferson decrying that he can't be in monticello for four years in public service, but he finally comes home in 1889 and never leaves. he almost immediately calls for his daughter and her family to come and live, for her to be the host of the plantation and run it and manage it and bring her family there. i think it's partly because he wants a woman to be in that role, and he can't obviously have his concubine doing that, but i think it's also because he wants to protect her and have her and her children at monticello. >> she does make a couple appearances while jefferson is present. this is martha jefferson randolph. and she is officially his hostess but she's not there a lot. meanwhile dolly madison is on the other side of town creating a whole political center of networks and connections at the white house, and jefferson lets
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her do it. but there are these moments where she does show up, and i'm thinking of the work of cynthia ke rrk kerner and it's when the news about domestic work comes out. >> the jefferson first lady is exactly about martha and the other sister, too. they made two sort of long visits. they were called flying visits, i guess. >> what was that? >> flying visits, because they sort of flew in. you can't really fly in in those days, but they came and left and stayed for quite a while. cannotly exactly as you were saying, they were hostesses. she coming from monticello was really like the sucker, the ss -- succ-u-c-c-o-r -- she was
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serving in a role with him at the white house and this brings up all the surrogate first ladies under the time of buchanan, for instance, or a number of others. people often died in the white house, including forest moran, but then florence couldn't continue because that was the end of his term. these men came and they didn't have wives, they didn't relatives to take it on. but one thing i wanted to mention, picking up on something you said about the context of the time of dolly and the jeffersons. also in the early 20th century, very interesting time for women. so something florence got very involved with, of course, was supporting women in politics. she had to be careful. she was a republican. she didn't want to be too partisan, and the republican women did want her to come and speak, but she knew she had to be careful about that. but instead she turned more of her efforts toward activism on behalf, for instance, prisoners, women prisoners, you know, who
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were treated pretty badly in our prisons, or animals and that sort of thing. and one other aspect i want to bring in about inclusivity is illne illness. we've had many first ladies who were ill. they get completely overlooked. they were ill, end of story, they had nothing to contribute. there weren't many interesting stories about these women, and one little anecdote i want to leave you with about florence is she had a kidney ailment just like ellen wilson's. ellen died, of course, during the time of wilson's presidency. what she did was she got very ill but the whole country was told about it, unlike what happened with john quincy alwda, she got better. people prayed for her and she got better. died later, of course. but there was this sense of love and connection, so i think that idea as a piece of inclusivity,
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we understood need to talk abou well. >> i'm curious about that entire period, not just watergate, but having just watched the cnn documentary "1968," so from the campaign, nixon had been with him going back, obviously, to when he was vice president. over all those years, through the turbulent years of the late '60s, then through the white house, and finally watergate and we find out later about her own struggles with depression and alcohol and all that, you know, as you hear this conversation about other first ladies, tell us what you're thinking and what kind of questions -- and did that come into play when you were at the library? how were you presenting that during that period? >> oh, i was listening intently. i was thinking about how hard it is to document because the
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system of papering was not designed, other than eleanor roosevelt, to actually preserve the voice of the first lady and her actions, activities. although i'm learning so much about florence. who knows, it may have all happened with florence. but i actually believe it's very hard to get insight on what a first lady is thinking and doing. i think we have examples of where we do have some insight. that's because the first lady for her children were so strong, they were willing to let us see, warts and all, her activities. i'm going to give you two examples. one is lady bird johnson and is her diary. i could be wrong about this, but i don't believe there are many, if any, excisions. i apologize, i haven't worked on this in the library, but my
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sense is there weren't many excisions. and the other is jacqueline kennedy's interviews with arthur schlesinger which carolyn kennedy and later ambassador kennedy decided to release unredacted. they're very revealing and they're not always -- you know, they're not always complimentary to mrs. kennedy. but i think those are exceptions. in the case of pat nixon, and it's a very sad story -- it's a very sad story -- and my sense is that she really didn't want to be first lady. >> just a quick follow-up to that. when florence was staying right here at the willard hotel which, believe it or not, she was. in 1924 after warren died, she came here a while. she was trying to write a book about her own experiences. she didn't want anyone else writing it, so she said i'll do it and she had someone else helping her. she died and then look what else
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came out. it's important to let out what really happened. >> and this is where the presidential library system, you know, there are challenges, because the courts have defined privacy for the president and the first lady, and so there are obstacles to the release of materials about these matters. now, the family can always waive its privacy, but many families don't. so there are whole spots, whole, if you will, spots -- white areas that can't be filled because the family doesn't want to fill them. and that also includes medical issues. so i think when you do first lady history, when one does it, and i think it's extremely important -- i think what's important here is i don't like to have siloed history when you pull it all together, because first ladies interact with
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presidents. it's not like they have a separate parallel life, or in pat nixon's case, to some extent she did, but it's pulling it together. anyway, i would recommend a certain modesty because unless the family releases these materials, a lot of what you're hearing is what the advance team presented during the presidency. it's the same stuff. you can actually go back and see the same words, the same arguments about the first lady in '72 and '73 in the case of pat nixon. it's the same story, but it's not, it's an advancement story. it's not really the real story, right? because the real story, understandably, it's not within the power of the federal government to share that. it's protected by privacy issues. i would just recommend a little bit of modesty in assuming what we can know about some first ladies. as i said, there were some exceptions. lady bird johnson, to some extent jacqueline kennedy. betty ford, for example, opened
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the doors. but a lot of first ladies we still don't know. >> the role of the family, i'm going to take that metaphor in a slightly different direction and go behind the curtain. for us, researching monticello, the family are the descendants, right. you asked the question how we as a team went around that, there's the inclusive story we all need to tell, but there's the inclusivity we all need to model in searching for the truth and the illuminations. i think monticello's more than 25 world histories with 23 descendants in the community has been unbelievably rewarding and we couldn't have done what we have done without their participation. so i just to want remind -- you know, unfortunately, we are far too white at monticello.
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i own that, i'm sorry. we're working on that. we have a descendant on our staff now, i'm really proud of that. but we need to go out and engage them. elizabeth shue was here from our history site. the voices of those descendants have got to be part of the story we tell in our case about slavery. so whatever the inclusivity is, you were talking about the founding fathers and first ladies, we have to remember our obligation and our mandate, really, to the public to include the voices as we do our research. >> i think that's a terrific addition because i was talking with katherine about something she said before we came on about how the national historical society has papers and they also have physical history of homes and material history, which was your own background.
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but then there's this oral history that sort of stitches and connects. so maybe, katherine, you should talk about this more because you live in this space. does oral history come into your work as something that connects? >> absolutely. you know what's interesting, there's been a shift that has been really terrific around history making. it used to be that historians were the owners thesaurus, had to read it and get it. wh there was a difference what history meant from kindergarten to 1th grade and what it meant to historians. now the state of massachusetts has had this what we prize now, not the memizatiorization but td
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something, understand what it says and be able to make an argument from it. and that skill now has broke open the barriers, different kinds of silos, right, that separates the possessors of knowledge from those who do not. we're able to make a project where, no, your third grader cannot come in and hold up the lady's letters. but we can use these sources as ways to build skills for schoolchildren. >> i just want to add -- >> oh, history day forever. i plug for kathy if she's is he here. >> not to suggest i'm an ageist, the federal government is not trying to teach you how to view history, it wants to give you more information than you can absorb. maybe with the older folks. but with the school kids who came to the library and their teachers, the effect of adding this new data, really had an
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effect. i remember teachers coming to me -- we would get about 12,000. minim mindy farmer was our best teacher. she said, they came to me and when we went to the private library, the students were taught all presidents do this. i thought, what a cynical way to teach history to our future voters, that every president commits crimes. >> that's why the sources are so important. >> but that was because the only way for these folks to massage the nixon story was to say that every president was a crook. and that only nixon got caught, and that there was a double standard to which he had to -- a double stand that was on hi impn
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him or expected of him that his predecessors didn't have to meet. the fact we have history today, we now have student historians, i think opens the possibility for presidential sites to do great educational missions. and that's an experience we had at the nixon library. maybe with the older folks, this new data, they didn't want to absorb it, but the kids were delighted to have this data to play around with. >> oral history has undergone a redemption in the historical profession thanks to people like nick gordon reed. but it's perfectly put because ai it's a great way for students to get involved. sometimes it's the gateway drug, if you will, that the document scares them, the handwriting scares them, but if you give them a tape recorder and a phone and send them out to the community to ask for the stories, that's sometimes the gateway drug. >> i don't know if that makes me
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a drug dealer with so much history. we go to the lightning round here. as you know, the miller center has a web page for every president where we have these biographical essays and we now have a lot of links on those pages. what is the inclusive link we need to have on john adams' page? the one that would be -- other than the massachusetts historical society, of course. what is the inclusive story that we should be steering someone to? >> if you let me have my choice, it would be the link to our employment page. right? so we talked about -- you apologized for monticello being rather white. our profession is very inclusive and supportive, i would say, of women, but we need new people in our profession. and the question always is, where is the pipeline? we decided for us the pipeline
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is undergraduates, and so we're sponsoring fellowships that allow undergraduates from diverse backgrounds to come and have an internship that's paid at the massachusetts historical society. walk right up those steps and ring that doorbell and come right in so they get a sense of what it's like to be an activist or a president. so yeah, the link to our page. >> we'll do that, but is there an adams story that need to be included in the canon about adams? >> i have to confess, i'm a women's historian, so i would say start to take the work of women seriously. i do appreciate your point about the siloed histories. actually, the histories weren't siloed, it was just one. it was about the world of power and it was populated by white men, and it was only until the
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historians women and people of color started talking that they said, well, that could be siloed, we want it all together. we want a new national narrative that includes everybody and the lessons they bring to us. and that's what's exciting, too, about i think the place that we are now. so those national narratives used to be created by scholars who would disseminate them from the eiffel tower into the textbook industry and that was the end. i think we have a role to play as projects and sites to crash that narrative. it doesn't have to come from the top down, it can come from the wisdom of the people who come to us and ask those questions. i just want to say i think it's a very telling thing about monticello that they started listening to what people really wanted to know about. >> tim? >> when the watergate -- when i produced the draft watergate exhibit, it was a great fight over this. and i decided working with my
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colleagues at the nixon library to create a web page with all the facts, the footnotes for the exhibit. all the documents, some of which we found in the vault which had been closed for a number of years -- that's a different story -- the oral histories, the tapes that showed the evolution of the cover-up and the president's role as the architect -- in the center. he was not always the architect but he was at the center of the cover-up. we produced this page -- there were people at the national archives who were not sure of this, either, so the national archives and the nixon foundation could all see the evidence. that web page, i am proud to say, is still part of the nixon library page, and if any of you are interested in the definition -- or in obstruction of justice, of abuse of power, how presidents can do that and have done it, and to see the evidence of it, it's on a
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federal website, and that's what i would link to. i would link to the watergate exhibit evidence, which lays out from the pentagon papers, plumber's story, right through the resignation. the story of the reason why richard nixon had to leave office before the end of his second term. and that might be useful for other reasons, i don't know. >> thank you. and to the point about siloes, you notice, all the first ladies were lumped in a book here. that's because they were only covering presidents. i said, what about first ladies? the other chapters have other volumes as well. they were written by a number of people in this room including anita mcbride and of course catherine. they say the full story of this woman has yet to be written and that would include their relationships to the men. to your point about the website, yes, i think it's better.
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because the last time i looked a while back, it seemed to only focus on the poisoning. the poisoning never happened, the poisoning of warren by florence. you all heard the story. it's still mentioned there, though. i would like a little editing to perhaps downplay that story and show that this is -- you do -- i shouldn't say you personally but your center does say this is an allegation. but a larger, fuller picture which actually shows that florence was terribly distraught when warren died, she did not poison him, and we don't even need to raise that. >> i'm reminded of a comment that lonnie bunch made. lonnie bunch is an old friend and was so helpful to monticello as we began to embark on this journey, and it was really one of our first major victories, was the 2012 landmark exhibition at his galleries in the american history museum. he didn't have a building yet
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for the national museum of culture. we jointly prepared the exhibition of slavery at monticello, paradox and liberty. it went on to channel elizabeth as our curator as well as richel l -- rich ellis. he said, you can't understand race in this country if you don't understand slavery. and you can't understand slavery if you don't understand the plantation system. and you don't understand plantations unless you go to places like monticello. so i think what i would ask you to link to is not sally hummings, because you really can't understand sally hummings if you don't understand the economy in which the entire country was entangled. so i would say link to our plantation slavery section. >> we have five minutes left. who is your favorite other presidential family, presidential story that you don't study? what's out there, like, if it
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shows up on the history channel some night or you're flipping through a site that you say, yeah, that's the presidential family i want to spend some time with. >> i've been lucky. i started out with the adams and they're always fun and then i was with the madison family and the adams. yes, i actually would be very interested in michelle obseramao i would like to learn about that. >> i would like to learn about lincoln. >> and i would like to make a shoutout to the woman who wrote about the tyler family. you had a woman who switched from being a mormon to a defender of slavery. i'd like to learn more about the tylers. >> i would have to say fdr, eleanor. not only for the long reign, but to the popular issues dealt with that had to do with jefferson's
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legacy. >> that's great. last one. >> you said that two ago. >> you guys were so quick through that one, we still have thr three. what does keep you up at night? >> gosh. as a president, i'm responsible for a 13-million-item collection and a 50-person staff -- actually, reverse that order -- and the building, last of all. what i worry about is what the future looks like. i have to keep everybody safe, i have to keep everybody contained, but i wonder what the future of the library looks like. and i was saying to my board that i think that in no other generation, except for our founders in 1791, have we been poised on this era of change. so i would like to say that if people from the 1950s came to the mhs, and some of them still
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do, they would recognize what we do. they would wonder who the broad was in the president's office, but they would recognize researchers. they would even recognize children. but in 50 years, what is that library going to look like and how can we help the massachusetts historical society get ready for that future? >> i'm lucky. i sleep pretty well. but during the day i worry about the death of the presidential library system. i admire many things that president obama did, but i think he made a big mistake in the way in which he has managed his presidential library center. one of the things that we attempted to do in 2006 when it became clear that the national archives would acquire the private nixon library was that we were hoping that by the way in which we transformed a private partisan library into a
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federal nonpartisan library, we might accidentally encourage other presidential libraries to shift away from the shrines that they had become. this was an understanding that those of us who were involved in this process had. it wasn't going to be forced on them, but the hope was that they might actually benefit from our example. i can't tell you how moved i am that we could have had an effect on monticello. i wish we had had that effect on other presidential libraries. and president obama's decision that his private foundation would run the museum, i'm afraid, put a stake in the heart of what we were trying to do. because what we wanted was to prove that a federal -- federal -- library could be nonpartisan. that in our era, we are not so partisan that our federal government -- i don't mean to be on a soapbox, but you asked
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me -- and he is now opening the door for every subsequent president to have a private museum, which means all of those benefits that those kids in norbel linda that go to a federal library is not possible. all those kids that go to these shrines that will just keep repeating the nonsense about our past that makes it hard to be a citizen. to be a citizen means to be willing to deal with contradictions and data that isn't always positive and coming up with your own decision as to what to do. but if we let presidential libraries become these partisan shrines, we're losing a grand opportunity around this country for specific literacy. so that's what worries me during the day. [ applause ]
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>> katherine? >> i would definitely he cecho point. now when you do research at these presidential libraries, you have to look at what other people have foiled as well. there is already this pattern that the material isn't as widely available as it was once if you go to, say, the truman library. it's a challenge we deal with. i guess what keeps me up at night is just wanting to see our field become, and continue to become, more relevant. and i love what you're doing and what you're doing. i'm privileged also of visiting the massachusetts historical society. there was a wonderful exhibit there about these people who lived in -- i guess it was south boston, right, and they were setting up this community and they were workers, and they were, you know, around the time of the adamses, but they were average people and they sure drank a lot of wine, let me tell you. those were the wealthy ones. i thought, this really makes the
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story relevant to all of us, right? these are real people. and the adams, by the way, the adams stories are wonderful because there's great exhibits. if you're going to put up pictures of old people, have great captions, because it really was quite striking to learn about these people and connect with them. i sleep well, too, so i don't know that anything really keeps me up at night. but i would love to see this room in 50 years much more colorful than it is right now. let's hope we can get more people involved. >> so with stewart about to give a final closing comment on if it doesn't keep you up at night, what's your biggest concern in question? >> my biggest concern is civic literacy, but more than that, what are we going to look at as a country in 2026? and what is our role in making sure we're doing everything we can to fulfill jefferson's belief that only an educated citizenry can govern itself? >> with that, thank you all for
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helping educate all of us as e citizens. it's been a real honor. [ applause ] >> thank you very much, bill, and another extraordinary panel. we now will go to lunch. again, consult your name tag. if it says willard room, that's where you're having lunch. if it says crystal room, that's where you're having lunch. very important. the buses leave to go to the national archives at
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