tv QA Douglas Brinkley Edna Greene Medford and Russell Shorto CSPAN December 3, 2018 5:59am-6:59am EST
now we deal in digits. and so it's a very different thing. one you could always touch, the other is a bunch of zeroes and ones. and how you tackle that is, i think, what we have to get a grip on. but when we do, i think then we'll be able to answer that very clearly. is anyone being anti-competitive? is anyone becoming mopolistic to the point where our antitrust laws take effect? and do we have to take a closer look at our antitrust laws to make sure they've adapted to meet the needs of this new internet world? >> watch "the communicators" tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span2. announcer: this week on "q&a," a discussion on what it means to be an american with historians.
brian: russell shorto, what would you say it means to be an american? russell: that is a broad question. first of all, thank you for hosting this and for inviting me. i love what you have done with the place. it is an honor to be with this panel. doctors brinkley and medford. who has done more in the past 40 years or so to shine a light on what america is then brian lamb and c-span? [applause]
russell: i am, at the risk of sounding cliché, tempted to say one nation under god indivisible with liberty and justice for all. the fascinating thing about the pledge of allegiance is it was created self-consciously at a time when the country was looking for a way -- an identity, a way to clarify its identity and impose that on children. it was created as -- to be recited in schools. the drafts of it and how it changed, i think the original said -- it began without a reference to the country. the name of the country. i pledge allegiance to the flag. later was added, of the united states of america, because there had been so many immigrants coming that they realized, they may be pledging allegiance to the flag of poland or italy. one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, that is four elements to what it means to be an american.
one nation and indivisible go together and are perfectly logical because, obviously, a nation has to be one thing. this is the 1890's. it was within living memory, the civil war. underneath that, and this is part of what it means to be an american, is a bifurcation. we talk about polarization now. there was polarization over the idea of a constitution. there was polarization after the fact. that continued through the early 19th century. it was laid bare during the civil war. and as always been there. one nation indivisible in a asone nation indivisible in a sense was a kind of, we are all together, aren't we? that is somehow elementals what it means to be an american. under god of course a lot of
people know was added much later. that was when america was facing the threat of communism, which is famously godless. they wanted to assert they were not. i think it is actually -- it has a purpose. to me, the purpose it has is, you know, thinking about the turmoil we are in the midst of now, that phrase puts things in perspective. it forces you to be humble. with liberty and justice for all, that is, if there is anything anybody, wherever they stand on these great questions can agree on, i think it is that. not that it is ever really achieved, but that is what we are striving for. brian: edna medford, what does it mean to be an american? prof. medford: it is different depending upon the time. if you are talking about the
founding of the nation, what did they consider american? it was someone who share certain beliefs. liberty, equality, opportunity, individualism as well. i think from the very beginning, not all were included. certainly minority groups were not. certain religious groups were not. and women were not considered citizens. that changes over time. over time, more people are brought into the american family. but we still struggle with it. decade after decade, we try to determine what we really want that family to look like. this is a moment in time. brian: doug brinkley. prof. brinkley i want to think the ladies of mount vernon for having me here.
[applause] prof. brinkley: i wanted to think of it from a george washington perspective. from all the great sides of george washington we talk about, one that gets undervalued is washington's sense of freedom. he truly believed you had no sense of bigotry of religion. if you came to america you could be christian, jew, muslim, he set a tone and tenor of all religious denominations, saluting them at one point. the tradition we have in this country of freedom of religion was echoed by one of my favorite presidential speeches by fdr in his famous four freedoms. freedom of religion everywhere in the world.
i was brought up in a cold war context. the early 1960's. the soviet union was my enemy. i did not like the fact you could not practice religion in the soviet union. that they banned bibles. they would not allow synagogues. it always seemed to be anti-american, anti-democratic. i do cringe when we get into debates about muslim americans today. every religion is welcome in the united states. to me that is one of the key things that defines the american experience. freedom of religion. but another is it improvisation. the american character. to be able to improvise. when you look at george washington in december 1777 at valley forge, general washington improvised to be almost a guerilla fighter to get the job done without being put into a caste system or have a
stranglehold around us. improvisation in any field in america leads to innovation. some of my heroes, i love jazz music. the great innovators, people like miles davis and charlie parker, giving one of the great gifts of the world. or a great poet, walt whitman creating free verse where you improvise, sing your own song. don't be tied to european rhyming schemes. i also think toward washington's love of the land -- in order to understand what it means to be american is the song america the beautiful, not just the pledge of allegiance. the idea, from sea to shining sea, the prairie lands in the deserts, the redwood country, loving the topography of this country we are so blessed to
have -- i would think it means you have to have a love of the land, loving the american dynamic of being able to improvise. my colleague stephen ambrose wrote very well about our citizen soldiers in world war ii improvising where the germans had their set army in their ways, our army of democracy thought of different things to do. i still think that is a fresh impulse of innovation and improvisation, freedom of religion, and the love of the physical topography of the land. washington was a surveyor. he understood this landscape. the reason we won the revolution is because he knew where the caves were, where the valleys were, where the minerals were, where the foodstuffs can be found. he had taken an investment in
the geography of the new united states. brian: edna medford, when you hear somebody say, that is un-american. what should that mean? prof. medford: it should mean that the principles we hold dear are being eroded. they are not being adhered to. of course, it means different things to different people. but i think we all can agree there are a set of principles we are supposed to live by. we don't always do that, but we intend to. when those are being discarded, i think it is easy to think that is un-american. brian: name a principal. prof. medford: the idea of equality of opportunity. that is the bedrock of what america is. when you are not ensuring that, that, to me, is an abridgment of rights for all americans. it is possible to being an
american and have different views on things. but i think we have to those original principles. if we are not living by those, if we are not at least trying to make them a reality, -- more and ideal than anything else, but we have to attempt to make that a reality. if we are not doing that, we are being un-american. brian: russell shorto, when you hear someone is un-american, what does that mean? russell: i become guarded. it generally means you go against their version of what it means to be an american. a huge part of the difficulty we are in right now is that. people have their core.
their core notion of what that means, to be an american. how many -- in the past couple of years of turmoil, how many great forums have there been where people have -- leaders of both political parties sit around together and say, we have an norma's problem we have to -- enormous problem we have to solve. how do we get to the bottom of this? what can we give up? what can we agree on? why are we not having those kinds of things? that to me is as concerning is the problem itself. the fact we seem unable to identify a common core. brian: doug brinkley, is the united states the greatest country in the world? prof. brinkley: i firmly believe so. i'm so proud to be born and raised in the united states. i believe in martin luther king
junior's arc of justice, it bends slowly. we constantly go up two steps forward, one step back. i think there has been no country like this. i love other countries. i love canada, our great neighbor. but i would not trade american citizenship or anything. i think it is the most special place with all our problems to be raised and to live. i am proud of the fact i am an american. brian: edna medford? prof. medford: i don't think i have felt more american than when i have been outside the country. [laughter] prof. medford: it does make you realize what you have. having said that, we can do better. we can do even better than what we are doing. brian: mr. shorto. russell: until a few years ago i would have said i'm embarrassed, but i have realized that. edna, you talk about being
outside the country. it is useful not just to travel, but to spend a significant chunk of your life elsewhere. i lived for a number of years in the netherlands, which is a country i love and i have a lot of respect for the way they do things. i don't mean that living there makes me more happy or proud to be an american. but being somewhere else for a significant chunk of time gives you the perspective you need so you can see the flaws more easily, but you can also appreciate both the grander, the notion of what they did in 1776 -- brian: why is there a john adams institute you ran for six years in the netherlands? russell: it has very little to do with john adams. [laughter] russell: the short answer is it is an american culture center,
independent, not affiliated with the u.s. government. it was founded to bring -- because the dutch are -- i would almost be tempted to say more than anyone else in western europe, they are really keen on america and they are not threatened by america. you hear about the french being threatened by the english language. the dutch -- you talk to people there and you would think america was right next door. you would never know germany was right next door. they are open to america and they are not threatened by us. the center, the institute, was founded to bring american speakers, american culture, and it was named after john because he was the most famous american, i think, associated with the netherlands. during the revolution he went to
obtain loans from the dutch. he was the first unofficial ambassador. >> there is also a franklin and eleanor roosevelt institute because of the roosevelt's dutch heritage and the whole judge -- dutch connection with the founding of america, new york city and the like. brian: i interviewed gordon what a couple of months ago. -- gordon would a couple months ago. he had this book, one of the clearest i have ever read, the difference between jefferson and adams. i want to read to you what he said and ask you to respond to this. as an adams expert. [laughter] brian: this is gordon wood. him andbrian: this is gordon wood. i adam was a realist.
he did not believe all men were created equal. he thought all men are created unequal. he did not believe in american exceptionalism. we americans are no different from other nations. we are just as vicious, just as corrupt. these are the things he was saying. this is not the american dream. we could not live by adams' message, according to gordon wood. it would be too much to bear. [laughter] brian: what do you think? prof. medford: are you looking at me? [laughter] prof. medford: i think he is right. both are correct. we tend to gloss over the negative things in american history. the difference is we realize, those of us who study the history of the nation, realize there are dark aspects of our past. we also know that we have committed ourselves to making things better. starting with the civil war,
when the country does commit itself to a different direction. the founding fathers may have had this image of what america could be. the civil war pushed it forward. we have been attempting to live up to that promise since then. i would agree that america has all the issues other nations to. -- do. we have committed ourselves to making a difference. we have not gotten their, but we are moving. brian: does that sound like the john adams you know? >> it is a fascinating book because those are two very different types. adams was hard-nosed, a realist, and jefferson was given to poetry. i think if you combine those, you have something special that gets at the reality is the reality has that grit to it.
at the same time, nevertheless, somehow this country has done these remarkable things by reaching, by striving for -- in my last book about the american revolution, i said the american revolution never ended because it was a promise of freedom that was remarkably achieved in a certain respect. but it was astoundingly short -- in its shortcomings because as professor medford said, it did not pertain to blacks, it did not pertain to women, to various minorities, religious groups. and yet, the playing out of american history since that time has been continuing to fight the american revolution right down to, i would say, the me too movement. that is women saying, wait, that whole promise, how are we possibly supposed to be treated equally in the workplace when
this is what we have had to deal with? prof. brinkley: i reviewed that gordon wood book for the boston globe. everyone should read it. what is amazing about america, what makes our democracy so special, is here are two of the original founders, who ran against each other in one of the most nasty presidential elections on the part american history, adams and jefferson butting horns, mudslinging, and here they are, one living in charlottesville, one living in massachusetts, corresponding all the time. they collected correspondence are one of the early treasure trove's in american history. jefferson, as wood points out, used to say the american revolution began in virginia.
patrick henry. adams would say, no, we started at in massachusetts, it was the boston massacre. they had a feud on the origins of the american revolution. but we have been slow to not just have white male history, but times are changing. they started changing in the 1960's and continuing. president barack obama during his years as president created stonewall national monument, part of the lgbt people, harry -- harriet tubman in new york, the great leader out in california, charles young, african-american soldier, national monument in ohio, native american bears ears, turning land over to tribes.
we have a long way to go but we are teaching native american history. maybe not enough. i have been angry at my state of texas trying to get helen keller out of the history books. it annoys me to no end. if i had more time i would write an op-ed. i don't like when i see people going backwards. i think we are doing that, we are at a better place now in 2018 then we were in 1948. brian: i want to remind our television audience we are at mount vernon. our audience, if you have questions for these historians, please write them down. what if all of a sudden george washington walked in here? [laughter] >> salute. [laughter]
brian: what would you say to him? what would you want to say to george washington? what would you say you like about what he did or did not like? >> i would say thank you. thank you for what you did during the revolution. thank you for being general washington. thank you for stepping down from the presidency instead of turning it into a government of tyranny. he was able to say, i have got to leave. you have got to pick a successor. i would thank him for the character he had, for the integrity. if we did not have him i do not know if we would have made it. we needed a figure people could believe in. my gratitude towards him, my cup would run over. there is this dark side of slavery which they deal with very well at mount vernon, and
they are trying over time to understand that dark spot of being from virginia in that particular period of time. we have to watch we do not get too much of the disease of presentism, meeting with think everything today has to be done hundreds of years in a certain way. i think washington is indispensable. it is hard to imagine we could have been a country without having washington's battlefield erroneous, -- he roics, they still teach him at west point. look at washington's campaign, the hudson river, etc.. it is remarkable. brian: what would you say? russell: having spent a couple of years studying him for a book, i am most intrigued about washington, his inner life, his
-- what made him tick. he is famously enigmatic and people of the time felt that, too. he had this frosty reserve. somebody described him as being like a bishop at his prayers. he did a good job of putting that façade on. you want to get underneath it. you want to understand the contradictions of slavery, rising to lead the army. the closest i got doing research for the book was in, i think a lot of what makes all of us comes out of childhood. when he was 11 his father died. that changed his life profoundly. it meant he was no longer going to be able to go -- be sent to england to be educated and his older half-brothers were.
his father was minor gentry, his mother was a countrywoman, she needed him to take care of his younger siblings. his whole course of his life changes. but he decided to invent a path. the path he would have had. he takes an etiquette manual, learns how to behave in public, all kinds of little details like when you are at a formal dinner and you are eating a fruit with pit, do not spit it loudly in your plate, do it discreetly. or how to walk with a person of quality. you can see this teenager painstakingly recording this. and famously learning to be a great horseman, and fencing. the trappings of a gentleman, but not just the trappings.
the two old-fashioned words that come into play, honor and virtue. honor is me versus the world. how the world perceives you. virtue is, how do you feel about yourself? creating these trappings, first you look into yourself, this is an 18th-century virginia gentleman. in my virtuous? am i a decent person? in order to confirm that, you want the world to confirm it. that is where honor comes in. you do the right things, you you behave properly. people treat you with honor. that confirms it. all of that he put together, inventing this himself. going back to doug's point about washington's remarkableness, then he is given command of the army.
he was a soldier, but he had not been anything like that. he learns that role. he is given the job of the first president of the united states and he invents that. he is, in a remarkable way, representative as well as a model for the country because what are americans? they are all about self invention. he does it at least three times in his life. brian: dean medford, she is a new dean and she only has 23 departments answering to her. what would you say to the general? prof. medford: i would have two questions. what advice could you give us to achieve stability in politics? [laughter] [applause] prof. medford: he would probably run screaming out of the room. [laughter] prof. medford: the other would be, why did he decide not to use
his authority to advance the cause of citizenship for women and the end of slavery? i'm sure his answer would be because it was a new nation and it was a very fragile nation and he was very much concerned about holding it together. but i think he had such tremendous moral authority he might have been able to move both of those agendas forward a little bit more. the fact that he freed the enslaved population here at mount vernon through his will, eventually they did get their freedom, -- his friends and acquaintances and the rest of the world had known he had those views. he thought slavery was wrong. he might have been a tremendous help in ending slavery throughout the south much earlier than it occurred.
brian: here is a question from the audience. what would george washington think about donald trump's presidency? [laughter] doug brinkley. [laughter] prof. brinkley: look, one of the key things, as historians, we never know what people would do or think. one can make the leap he would not be approving of donald trump's using humiliation as a weapon of destruction of opponents. washington use reconciliation as his key tool. he treated people with respect and decency and tried to find their higher nature, both as a general and as a president. in the day when washington was alive, even we talk about the founders of america, they would all make fun of washington.
adams and jefferson. they did not do that when washington entered the room. he owned the room. he owned it in the quiet way of a gentleman, of somebody who was known for character. high character. i don't think whether you like donald trump or not that high character is what we -- history is remembering him for. i think george washington would want donald trump's character to be representative of the best of the united states, not a low bar of demeaning people. russell: what was the question? [laughter] russell: again, at that time, the 18th century, washington is -- i am not a great one for taking them out of their time.
the 18th century was an age where you were a figure in public, a figure in polite society, civility was part of what that meant. it is what it meant to be a gentleman. i think washington frankly would find it incomprehensible. prof. medford: i think you would be disappointed by what our politics has devolved into. not just what donald trump stands for, but i think the way we behave toward each other in general. it does not mean politicians of his day did not do terrible things to each other. we know that they did. but he took the high ground in politics, most of the time. i think he would be terribly disappointed we have not learned the lessons of the past. brian: if you had to name one individual that had the biggest
influence on you when it comes to history, getting interested in history, learning about history, teaching history, doug brinkley, do you have somebody? prof. brinkley: the historian arthur schlesinger jr., i shook his hand and he said you just shook the hand that shook the hand of a revolutionary war general. he had this one generation removed, and that always struck me once he said that, how short our history is. so young you can trace it in a couple of generations, the whole founding. it is remarkable, the american story, how far we have come from these 13 colonies.
for something of a student with c-span, brian mentioned charles thompson, secretary of the continental congress. from scratch, they are making a homemade kit for the american flag, this experiment of the united states, could survive? the fact that it has through the war of 1812, it got through a civil war, we have gone through world war ii, and here we are, this extraordinary country. i get uplifted. you meet young people around the country, they are just fantastic. the 21-year-old, 22-year-old -- our universities and colleges are really great in this country. we have people down on congress, anti-washington sentiment, not george, but the city of d.c.
we are going to be ok. our own times are not uniquely oppressive. we are going to go through whatever we are going through and come out on top because that's the american way. edna pointed out there is a fragile this to our democracy. we have to nurture it and care for it the way george washington did, keeping those 13 colonies together. prof. medford: it is not anyone who is an important historian, but it was my sixth grade social studies teacher that really did make me become very much an make me become very much interested in history. it is not anything that it's as dynamic as anything anyone else has. it started with these weekly contests in the sixth grade where, it was like a quiz we had, and students who won got
prizes. the prize was a box of yellow number two pencils. [laughter] prof. medford: i realize very quickly i could win that. i started studying history more just to win the box of number two pencils. from there i developed a love of history. brian: did you win? prof. medford: all the time, yes. [laughter] [applause] russell: my dad. my dad is not a historian. he was passionate about history, but also about science and lots of things. for me, that is what stuck. it was not necessarily american history. he would talk about the pyramid's. he would go back to the dinosaurs. but there are certain -- maybe it does not happen for everyone. when i first went to jerusalem, i just could not believe that
this existed. that this exists and you can feel the past. i came home and i was talking to a friend and i said what i could not imagine if i was standing there in all and people are walking by. tourists are walking by like they are anywhere. he said for some people's, old stones just matter. his science lessons did not particularly moved me, but when he talked about history, it just struck. brian: i want you to name a book everybody ought to read from your perspective. here is a question from the audience. we all understand the importance of our founding fathers. should we not forget the contributions of leaders of foreign countries, especially the assistance of the france? without that, we would not exist. agreed? disagree? any nation beside france?
>> france played the instrumental role. americans tend to be myopic. drawing on my experience living in the netherlands, where everyone speaks several languages and can understand their perspective, and to some extent an american perspective and german perspective, but france was -- they did it, of course, for their own reasons. the french and the english were bitter enemies. but they were, without france, the country -- they would not have happened. brian: doug brinkley, what would you suggest to reinforce americanism in today's youth? prof. brinkley: come visit mount vernon. [applause] prof. brinkley: going back to
parents and pencils, we had a trailer, my mother and father were high school teachers, we would go around the country visiting historic sites. i have photos of myself as a young boy coming to mount vernon at george washington's grave. it inspired thinking of american history. i am a big believer in biography for young people. i love social history. i teach it for a living. but when you are young it is something to see you can work hard and be like albert einstein or thomas edison. moments where you have to step up like rosa parks, those moments when you are called upon to make a difference. i just think reading the books when you are young for people, and particularly biographies.
if you can afford it, or schools do feel trips. i used to go to field trips in ohio, it just inflamed my imagination. i have a daughter named benton after the great painter because i loved those giant murals of his. he would show all these forms of american, urban, nightlife, farming. we can be parochial america, but there is a big story going on here. it is an epic tale. brian: did you tell your daughter about time he shot somebody? prof. brinkley: it is a different benton. [laughter] i have to tell you though -- brian: doug brinkley played a major role at c-span.
a major role. i interviewed him in 1993 for a book called the magic bus. he took students around the country for a six week course. we got our own buses and went around the country introducing c-span to the country. he does not look as young as he was 25 years ago. he used to run around the country on a bus. rachel is here from c-span, and pam. they all do that. thank you doug brinkley for what you did for us. [applause] brian: question from the audience, what are we doing well? what do we need to do better in the field of educating our youth? prof. medford: let's start with what we are not doing well enough. [laughter] prof. medford: we need to make american history more central to the curriculum in the elementary and high school program. [applause]
prof. medford: i have been teaching for 31 years at the collegiate level. what i am finding is year after year, students are arriving with very little understanding of american history. it was not required after the seventh or eighth grade. we have to change that. we have to understand our history. we are doing some great things but we can do so much more. starting with american history seriously in the classrooms. russell: critical thinking -- we are living in a time when it is up in the air what a fact is. being able to discern and weigh evidence, to weigh whether a website is valid or not, i think without that we are doomed.
[applause] prof. brinkley: i agree with that. i would add in addition to american history, civics. basic civics has to be taught again, about how our government works. i think on the internet part, we need to have classes -- kids are just being dumped material, there is no screening of it. walter cronkite used to say we need around middle school if we are going to be living in an online world with a lot of misinformation, you have to train how to use it as a tool. instead, kids are just reading garbage. it is going on an unsupervised way. i mentioned rosa parks. before she died i went up with her in detroit and she was taking assisted living homes and connecting them with a buddy in elementary schools, the kids
teaching the seniors how to use telephones, being able to communicate, learning how to email. the idea that we don't to crossgenerational as well as we should. many times older people are considered in the way instead of fountainhead of knowledge. one project i encourages to have high school students do oral history projects were you interview someone from another generation. brian: the book, the book. you can name your own book if you want. prof. medford: i was going to say mine. [applause] prof. medford: absolutely. lincoln and emancipation. you can read it in a couple of days. it is a great start. or understanding.
lincoln and the african-american vote in emancipation. brian: you have done five books, russell. russell: i have to pick my own book? i will just say if you want another perspective on american founding, my book the center of the world about the dutch founding of a colony based on an island called manhattan between new england and virginia will maybe reorient you. since we are at mount vernon, to me, the most enlightening book about washington is called the invention of george washington by a man named paul longmore. it goes into how he invented himself in this virginia planter culture. it really helps to give you that sense of what he was up against, and yet, what he achieved.
i will just say when i learned that paul longmore, i think he had polio, if he typed this entire book with a pencil and a smith corona or something like that. then my admiration for him was through the roof. prof. brinkley: ron sure now's book about washington was really strong. henry david thoreau's walden. a great essay thoreau wrote called walking, that we have to be caretakers of the years, this potomac river used to be a cesspool until people like william douglas started working to clean up the potomac. now when you come to the grounds at mount vernon, the conservation effort is so remarkable. i think thoreau's notion that
you have got to love your place, make sure we have clean air and water, make sure you are not raising kids in toxic environments, there is an environmental justice movement going on with people putting toxic waste in poor neighborhoods, we need to address that. thoreau is more modern than ever in his warnings about making sure we are proper custodians of the land. brian: the ceo at mount vernon here is doug brad berg. he ran the library down the road for a little over four years. i think he wrote this question. [laughter] brian: the question is, since the letters and correspondence of the founding fathers are the basis of our understanding of history, what in the future will serve as our sources? >> delete. [laughter]
>> i talked with librarians and archivists about the fact that digital media is not as stable as you think it is. people who are really experts in preserving and do not know what to do, what is most stable. one archivists told the paper is much more secure, much more stable than digital media. i do not think we know yet what we are going to do with these mountains of information we are creating. prof. medford: i hope it ends up being digital, because there is so much more we can do that way. when you think about how earlier historians actually research their topics, and how incredibly good the great products they were able to turn out, we can do so much more now because of digitization. i'm hoping they will find a way
to solve the problem. >> think about the c-span archives. all the programs that have been saved now. one hour, to our conversations with people in american life, like a massive oral history project. brian: a question from our audience. i have read washington was very self-conscious. very tall, bad teeth, lack of education compared to his peers. is there any evidence of how large a role mrs. washington played behind the political scenes and influences she had on his opinions and actions? >> i'm sure there is. i'm not an expert. i'm hoping one of these two can answer better than me. prof. medford: let me just say, even though women were not considered citizens in terms of
voting rights, women played a very prominent role in politics because of the influence they had over their husbands. this was a woman who certainly would have, i think, to some extent, had the same role. i would think she would have tremendous influence over her husband. we know that abigail adams did over her husband. i cannot imagine martha washington would have been that much different. prof. brinkley: an inseparable couple. all you have to do is go to newburgh on the hudson and seen how often during the revolutionary war he would go to be with her. you were mentioning, he claims when he was young, he would come to mount vernon and see washington's dentures. many people used have
recollections of it. mount vernon was run a different way for a long time. people trying to figure it all out. ever since the new library here, the ability to go look at washington, not just himself, but look at the leavings of martha washington, we are getting a much fuller portrait of her all the time. abigail adams wrote so much, she gets known more. but martha washington really starting to come into her own due to the amount of material that has been digitized and available to washington scholars at mount vernon or elsewhere. russell: is it ok if i ask a question? i would like to ask professor medford as an authority on reconstruction. in this political turmoil, i
keep thinking about reconstruction. it seems to me if i had it right, basically what happened after the war was leaders from the states that lost had to participate, at least give lip service, to washington, to the forms of government. meanwhile, they were carrying out the program they wanted to back home. i feel that something similar is happening. in a way i feel like we are back where we were. prof. medford: i have to agree. we were at a crossroads during the reconstruction period. we could have gone in the direction of being more inclusive. for a time, we did. but fairly quickly the country became tired of the negro problem and things reverted.
you see the same kind of thing happening today. we might consider the 60's the new reconstruction as some people have. what is happening since then is a sort of backlash. this movement backwards. we are again at a crossroads. it is very important which direction we take in terms of american identity. that is changing all the time, but we really are at a critical juncture. we have to determine what we truly are going to be. brian: just a couple minutes left. as compared to past challenging times, what do you see as the challenge to maintaining american culture? >> that's a good question. i think you have to know your history and know your culture to want to protect it. so often things have become so corporatized. it is a kind of fast food junctions and strip malls and
often we don't do enough, i think, treasuring historic preservation. every town needs strong historical preservation. an make sure buildings are saved and kept. i live in houston. they just bulldozed so many of their buildings there. it does create commerce. you are feeling like you are not creating cities that have a sustainability to them. i'm one of the people that is very concerned about climate change and the way we are going to have demographic shifts coming from coastal areas, wildfires in the west, droughts. there seems to be a mad cloud brewing over things, partially due to the greatness of technology to create so many comforts in our life, we are living in very good times by and
large. people romanticize other eras. just think of the medical miracles we are living with right now, our longevity. but this lack of knowing what it means to be an american, understanding other cultures, caring about the landscape, it seems to be a kind of mayhem going on. if we calm down and try to preserve american institutions, values, protect the state department, the cia, justice department, we do not need to be ransacking everything and creating constant feelings of constitutional crisis in this country. instead we have to put money in education, teach history, put it back into the young people so they can understand the american heritage. brian: last comment?
prof. medford: american culture is more than one thing. it always has been. there have always been a variety of people, a variety of cultures that make up what america is. i think the more we embrace that diversity, the stronger we get. i would suggest we simply relax a little bit, not be so concerned about one person's culture taking over the country. we should be able to enjoy everything we have here. russell: the problem in achieving that, i think, and what distinguishes us from other eras of polarization, is this creation of alternate realities, alternate news sources, therefore alternate notions of what is true. failing finding a solution to that, i do not how we move forward.
this is all about american identity. i do not know how we maintain that if those paths keep diverging. brian: russell shorto is living in maryland. he has written a book called revolution song. he is currently a senior scholar fellow at the new netherlands institute and is writing another book. russell: it is about my grandfather who was a small town mob boss. [laughter] brian: doug brinkley teaches at rice. does a lot of other things including appearing on cnn from time to time, and flew over just to be here from houston, where he was teaching this morning. [applause] brian: and edna medford is currently the dean of the college of arts and sciences, spent eight years as the head of the chair of history department
at howard university, and we thank all of you at mount vernon for letting us come here. [applause] announcer: for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q&a.org. "q&a" programs are also available as c-span podcasts. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: next sunday on "q&a," the founder of public affairs
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