Last week, over 625 people attended the events included in this year’s Theodore Roosevelt Symposium. Our theme this year was Roosevelt as president. This was my first symposium as a staff member of the Theodore Roosevelt Center and I enjoyed it immensely. I appreciated being able to meet the community members and people who traveled to Dickinson to attend and I also learned a lot. My background is not in history so I relish the chance to learn more about Theodore Roosevelt and his era every chance I get. To offer you the best overview of the Symposium as a whole, this post will only discuss the lectures and panels.
Peri Arnold set the stage for considering Roosevelt’s presidency with his keynote address, “A Novel President: TR in the Progressive Era Arena.” Professor Arnold explored whether it was the man or the context that made Roosevelt so successful in shaping the presidency and achieving his presidential agenda. Arnold reviewed Roosevelt’s anti-trust actions and his management of naval modernization as two case studies, through which to analyze Roosevelt’s achievements in office. Roosevelt was, according to Arnold, the right man in the right place and time to effect change.
Friday was devoted to Roosevelt’s activities in the international and domestic arenas. Julie Greene introduced Roosevelt’s international scope with her talk on the Panama Canal, “The Work You Have Done Here Will Remain for the Ages: Theodore Roosevelt and America’s New Empire.” Professor Greene took an in-depth look at Roosevelt’s trip to Panama in 1906 to review the progress on the Canal, arguing that the trip was integrally linked to Roosevelt’s belief in the need for expansionism. Greene noted that Roosevelt was skilled at employing the “prestige of the presidency,” as well as his own personal skills to convince Americans that expansionism was not only necessary but an essential part of being American.
DSU Professor of History Frank Varney analyzed the change in America’s approach to foreign affairs during Roosevelt’s presidency, noting that earlier policy was usually focused on avoiding foreign wars but that Roosevelt embraced the idea of the United States being a major power and took the opportunity to expand its influence abroad. Dr. David Meier, chair of DSU’s department of social sciences, discussed Roosevelt and his reaction to the Russian pogroms of 1903, concluding that while Roosevelt was sympathetic to the plight of the Russian Jewish community, he understood there were limits on his power to influence affairs in other countries. Following these short presentations, the audience was able to question the panel of three scholars about Roosevelt’s actions in the international arena. Topics of discussion included the United States and their involvement in the Philippines, the difference between an empire and a great world power, and Roosevelt’s maturing ideas of war as he grew into the presidency.
The discussion of Roosevelt’s domestic policies was introduced by David Godshalk’s talk, “Theodore Roosevelt and Race.” Professor Godshalk examined the differences in Roosevelt’s race policies in his Roosevelt’s first and second terms. The lecture considered the complex nature of Roosevelt’s position on race, observing that Roosevelt held many of the prejudices of society during his time but that he also tried to judge men as individuals, according to their abilities and actions.
Additional short presentations on Roosevelt’s domestic policies followed. Amy Verone, chief curator of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, discussed the White House Renovations undertaken by the Roosevelts. DSU Professor Steven Doherty spoke about Roosevelt’s policy of a Square Deal. One facet of Roosevelt’s conservation policy was examined by DSU Professor Gary Cummisk who looked at Roosevelt’s relationship with Gifford Pinchot and the Forest Service. The panel discussion on the domestic arena included questions about the race issues raised by Professor Godshalk. One of the more interesting points to me was the conclusion that African Americans tried to turn Roosevelt into something that he simply wasn’t after his re-election. Roosevelt was perceived as an opportunity for change and growth to the African American community but at the same time, his actions and decisions, particularly during his second term, reflected that he was a man of his time with regard to racial issues.
These are just highlights of these lectures and panels. Over the next month, the Theodore Roosevelt Center will post videos and transcripts as much as we are able from all the talks on our Symposium page. I will alert you here on the blog when we do post those resources. (UPDATE: The videos from the Symposium are now live, you can find them here.)
Look for more later this week regarding our Saturday adventure!
(I also live tweeted the main lectures. Follow the link on the sidebar to the TRC’s tweet feed or you can just go here)