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President Barack Obama and the Lessons of Antiquity

Posted on March 20, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — What can ancient history teach President Obama about the modern world? What part of his political worldview is inherited from the ancients? These questions and more will be answered by classical scholars from around the country who will gather in Grand Rapids for the conference, “President Barack Obama & the Lessons of Antiquity.”

The conference is being organized by Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. “One of the lessons of history is that people don’t learn the lessons of history,” said Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center. “Ancient Greece and Rome saw it all — large-scale economic troubles, distant wars that drained morale and the treasury, and terrorism that spread from the Middle East. Our conference brings together renowned classicists who can articulate important lessons for the current administration and concerned Americans.”

The two-day event is Thursday and Friday, April 16 and 17. The conference schedule is as follows:

Thursday, April 16, 7 p.m.
Keynote address by J. Rufus Fears at the Gerald R. Ford Museum Auditorium, Grand Rapids
“What President Obama Needs to Learn About Freedom - Ancient & Modern”

Friday, April 17
All Friday events will take place on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Grand Rapids campus, DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton St. Unless otherwise noted, they will be in the Loosemore Auditorium.

9 a.m. “Diplomacy & Appeasement: Philip II and the Loss of Greek Freedom”
          Morning keynote address by Dr. Bruce Thornton
10:15 a.m.: Panel I: “Lessons of Ancient Greece and Rome”
          Robert Garland, Colgate University
          Walter Nicgorski, University of Notre Dame
          Charles Pazdernik, Grand Valley State University
          Kelli Rudolph, Grand Valley State University
12:30 p.m.: Panel II: “The Founding Fathers & the Lessons of Antiquity”
          Jeremy McInerney, University of Pennsylvania
          Tracy Simmons, Hillsdale College
          Gleaves Whitney, Grand Valley State University
2 p.m.: “Classical Heroes and Villains of the Founders”
          Luncheon keynote by Dr. Carl Richard
3 p.m.: Concluding Remarks


J. Rufus Fears is a David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he holds the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. Fears earned his doctorate from Harvard University and is a fellow of many distinguished organizations, such as the American Academy in Rome, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His research has been supported by institutions such as the American Philosophical Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Fears is the author of four books, including The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology, and has published a three-volume edition of Selected Writings of Lord Acton, the great British historian of liberty. He has also published more than 100 articles and reviews, and other writings on ancient history, the history of liberty, and the lessons of history for our own day.

Carl Richard is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. His research and teaching focus on early American history and U.S. intellectual history. He earned his doctorate from Vanderbilt University in 1988. He has authored several works, including Twelve Greeks and Romans Who Changed the World (2003), The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment (1994), “The Classical Roots of the U.S. Congress: Mixed Government Theory” in Inventing Congress: Origins and Establishment of the First Federal Congress (1999).

Bruce Thornton earned his bachelor’s degree in Latin from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1975, and his doctorate in comparative literature from UCLA in 1983. He is the author of numerous essays and reviews on Greek culture and civilization and their influence on Western civilizations. He also has written on contemporary political and educational issues. Among his books are Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age, with John Heath and Victor Davis Hanson (2001); Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (2000); and Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (1999).

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