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CSPAN to air lecture by GFU history professor

Kerry Irishs lecture on the presidency of George Washington will be featured as part of the networks Lectures in History series


George Fox University history professor Kerry Irish likes to tell compelling stories in his lectures, setting them against a rich background of information so as to make them both informative and memorable.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - 'Master lecturer' -- George Fox professor Kerry Irish regales his students with a lecture on American history as videographers from CSPAN record the event for an upcoming series on the network show.

Irish has been doing that at George Fox since 1993, but earlier this month was given the opportunity to share one of his favorite lectures with a national audience.

Thanks to a friendly recommendation from a colleague, C-Span visited the Newberg campus to record Irish’s lecture on the presidency of George Washington during his American history survey course.

“I was obviously excited to do it and I consider it to be a high point of my lecture career,” Irish said. “I’ll probably never be filmed like that again, so I put a lot of effort into making sure that the lecture was as well crafted and accurate as possible.”

C-Span travels across the country to record lecturers for its “Lectures in History” Series, which airs on its C-Span3 channel, and pursuing a theme on founding fathers first approached GFU political science professor Mark Hall following the release of his book,“The Old Puritan and a New Nation: Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic,” by the prestigious publisher Oxford Press this year.

Hall wasn’t interested in doing a lecture, but happily recommended Irish as an alternative.

“Kerry was a natural choice for C-Span,” Hall said. “He is a master-lecturer. He makes history come alive.”

As it was the only lecture on a founding father, Irish’s George Washington presentation was his only real choice, but luckily was also one of his favorites.

In it, Irish chronicles the accomplishments of Washington’s two terms in office, exploring the theme, among others, that his presidency is underappreciated by many historians.

To set the stage, Irish explains how Washington’s serious illness early in his first year in office cast doubt on the viability of the fledgling republic.

“The people of the day thought his presidency was essential to the establishment of the new nation,” Irish said. “There were many factors at that time that were dividing the states one from another and Washington was the glue, so to speak, to hold the nation together during his first two terms.”

One of the possible reasons Irish points to as a cause for the historical underestimation of Washington is a subconscious tendency on the part of academics and historians to admire figures that are similar to themselves, basically intellectuals like the more heralded Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

“(They) were all intellectually driven and George Washington’s dominant characteristics are his character, his selflessness, his determination to see the republic succeed, but he’s not the guy who crafted the ideas that are in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution,” Irish said. “Washington was the hero of the revolution, but there again he’s a man of action, a military leader. His courage and determination are what set him apart, whereas the other founding fathers are men of letters.”

Irish also believes the context of Washington’s presidency, especially compared with American leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, was not one to promote historical greatness because it is harder for historians to understand the problems he face.

“The Civil war and the crisis of the union and Lincoln’s managing of the crisis, that’s obvious,” Irish said. “Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression and World War II are great moments in American history, or world history for that matter, so his greatness in negotiating those two crises is easily recognized.”

The episode is tentatively scheduled to appear in early December and when Irish watches it, it will be the first time he’s ever seen himself lecture.

“It’s kind of like an athletic event where, if you’ve played athletics, you know after the first few minutes of play the butterflies are gone and then you just play,” Irish said of the experience of being recorded. “It is very much like that.”



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