With the 2016 presidential election just over a year away, most of the nation is fixated on who the next president will be. But when Hiram College’s Garfield Presidency Scholars traveled to New York and Washington, D.C., from Oct. 7-11, 2015, they were thinking about the nation’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, and his relevance to many issues confronting the country today.
Each year, the James A. Garfield Center for the Study of the American Presidency, one of Hiram College’s seven Centers of Distinction, selects 20-25 students from across all majors to study one especially significant U.S. president over the course of the year: through readings, travels, discussions, guest speakers, and more. This year, the group, led by Associate Professor of Political Science Douglas Brattebo, Ph.D., is examining former President Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy.
The trip began in New York, highlighting two important aspects of the former president’s life: his conservation efforts, through a visit to Niagara Falls, and his impromptu inauguration, which took place in Buffalo after the assassination of the nation’s 25th president, President William McKinley. This set the tone of the rest of the trip, as the scholars explored the meshing and juxtaposition of Roosevelt’s many faces: the conservationist, Manhattan elite, military hero, proponent of naval reform and power projection, and political crusader.
From western region of New York, the group then traveled to Long Island to visit Roosevelt’s estate, Sagamore Hill – or the “Summer White House” as it was known during his time in office. Then, in New York City, students visited the American Museum of Natural History, where they explored the impact of Roosevelt and his family on the museum, as well as the impact the museum’s scientists have had on his national conservationist policies. Noted writer Richard Zacks, author of “Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York” addressed the group, speaking on how Roosevelt’s quest to make the Big Apple more moral failed by any measure, yet it boosted his political career.
The group spent the final two days of the trip in Washington, D.C. There, they visited Theodore Roosevelt Island, site of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, for some Roosevelt-inspired fun centered upon hiking through and kayaking around the 88.5-acre island. The students also visited:
- the United States Navy Memorial, which honors all who have served or are serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine
- Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S.S Maine Mast Memorial, which pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the sinking of that vessel, an event that touched off the Spanish-American War
- the Rough Riders Memorial, which honors the cavalry regiment in which Roosevelt served during the Spanish-American War
- the Tomb of the Unknown Solder, where students participated in a wreath laying ceremony, offering a wreath on behalf of Hiram College
Presidency Scholar David Platt ’16, environmental studies major, said the trip offered context to what the group has been studying so far this year.
“Because the Presidency Scholars have read deeply about T.R. and debated his policies and legacy, this trip offered a nuanced look at the many facets of this remarkable but imperfect historical figure as a man, leader, president, and champion of his country’s interests,” he said.
Despite being rooted in the study of the American presidency and politics, the group flourishes because of its interdisciplinary nature. Students studying political science, English, communication, history, nursing, and many other disciplines, all learn together. Dr. Brattebo considers that fact crucial.
“This group amounts to far more than the sum of its parts,” he said. “Each student brings to the endeavor something crucial and unique.”
“I’ve never felt out of place not being a political science major,” said Presidency Scholar Lisa Lazar ’17, chemistry major. “My interdisciplinary approach and science background can bring a different perspective to the group, and the program has helped me think about things in medicine and policy a different way.”