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A Day of American History (Fairfield, CT)

September 16, 2017 9:30 AM – 4:15 PM

schedule

9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
What Would the Founding Fathers Think of America Today?

Wendy Schiller / Brown University

Over the past eight years, the United States has endured a stark economic crisis, fierce partisan political battles, and historic changes in the global political environment. The president, Congress, and the Supreme Court have taken actions that profoundly affect the scope of federal power and individual rights in our political and economic system. During this time there has been a great deal of debate as to whether these actions are in line with the U.S. Constitution and the intent of those who founded our nation.

In this class, we will address these debates with a specific focus on the writings of key founders such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and our first president, George Washington. What would these men say about the federal auto and bank bailouts, Obamacare, the Federal Reserve, illegal immigration, the size of the national debt, same-sex marriage, gun violence, and U.S. involvement in conflicts on foreign soil? We will discuss the nature of federal power in the economic and social lives of citizens at home and abroad; the role of political parties, ideology, and diversity in a democracy; and the expected versus actual power of each of the branches of government vis-a-vis each other. We will also examine the nature of the federal-state relationship, with a focus on what founders believed should be the appropriate boundaries between national and state governments, and whether the reality of 21st century American life makes those boundaries obsolete.

Wendy Schiller / Brown University
Wendy Schiller is a the Chair of the Brown Political Science Department at Brown University. She is an expert in the field of the U.S. Congress and political representation, and the recent recipient of a National Science Foundation grant to study party conflict and factionalism in the U.S. Senate. Professor Schiller has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a six-time recipient of the Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award at Brown.

11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln: What's Fact and What's Fiction?

Louis Masur / Rutgers University

Abraham Lincoln is considered our greatest President and one of the most controversial. People have debated various aspects of his personality and politics. Was he depressed? Why did he tell so many stories? Was he truly opposed to slavery? Did he free the slaves? Did the Union prevail because of his leadership or despite him? This class aims to uncover the man and not the myth. In 1922, the historian W.E.B. DuBois proclaimed that Lincoln was “big enough to be inconsistent.” To be sure, there were tensions in Lincoln’s character and ideology: he could be happy and melancholy, could promote democracy and suspend civil liberties, could oppose slavery yet have doubts about the place of blacks in American society.

Some of what DuBois saw as inconsistency had more to do with political reality, especially in regard to the issue of the abolition of slavery. Lincoln had to contend with various pressures knowing that any misstep could very well lead to the destruction of the Union. Here is where his temperament becomes so important. As we shall see, Lincoln’s storytelling had a purpose, as did his gradual approach to decision making. But once he made up his mind, he seldom looked back. In the end, it is not that he was inconsistent, but that he was thoughtful and deliberate and was not afraid to change his mind and grow in the process.

Louis Masur / Rutgers University
Louis Masur is a Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He received outstanding teaching awards from Rutgers, Trinity College, and the City College of New York, and won the Clive Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard University. He is the author of many books including "Lincoln's Last Speech," which was inspired by a talk he presented at One Day University. His essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, and Chicago Tribune. He is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and serves on the Historians' Council of the Gettysburg Foundation.

12:15 PM - 1:30 PM
Lunch Break

1 hour and 15 minute / Lunch Break

Students will have a 1 hour and 15 minute lunch break.

1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
The Impossible Presidency: From Washington and Jefferson to Obama and Trump

Jeremi Suri / University of Texas

The American presidency is the most powerful political office in the world. Surprisingly, most contemporary presidents have found themselves severely constrained in their ability to pursue their chosen agendas for domestic and foreign policy change. This lecture will explain why, focusing on the nature of government bureaucracy, the range of American challenges and commitments, and the development of the modern media.

We will begin with the founding vision of the U.S. presidency and the actions of its first occupant, George Washington. Then, we’ll examine the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and the most recent office-holders. We will focus on how the power of the presidency has changed over time and what that has meant for American society. The lecture will close with reflections for how we can improve presidential leadership in future years.

Jeremi Suri / University of Texas
Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author of six books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. His research and teaching have received numerous prizes, and in 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences.

3:00 PM - 4:15 PM
America's New Era: The Psychology of Terrorism

Scott Plous / Wesleyan University

Over the past 50 years, the number of terrorist incidents has grown dramatically. Terrorist attacks now occur in roughly 90 countries each year, claim approximately 30,000 lives, and cost the global economy an estimated $90 billion. The deadliest terrorist group, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, controls more than 20,000 square miles of territory, has tens of thousands of fighters, and is supported by billions of dollars in annual revenue. How, then, should we face the evolving threat posed by international terrorism?

This class goes beyond media sound bites and political spin to explore key questions about the psychology of terrorism. Is there such a thing as a terrorist personality? What are the root causes of terrorism, and how can terrorism against the United States be effectively reduced? How has terrorism changed since the September 11th attacks in 2001? Since the towers of the World Trade Center fell, hundreds of psychological studies have been published on the topic of terrorism. In an engaging lecture style that incorporates multimedia materials, Scott Plous offers an up-to-date overview of what these studies tell us.

Scott Plous / Wesleyan University
Scott Plous is a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University and was named "Connecticut Professor of the Year" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. His research focuses on social psychology and has been honored with a number of national awards, including the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize and the William James Book Award (for his book "The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making"). Professor Plous also serves as Executive Director of Social Psychology Network (SocialPsychology.org).

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