NORMAN — University of Oklahoma officials will open the university to the public next week for a day of public lectures about a critical period in American history.
OU will hold its second annual Teach-In on Monday. The event is a series of lectures on the Great Depression and World War II, including presentations from Pulitzer Prize-winning historians David McCullough and David Kennedy.
Kyle Harper, director of OU's Institute for American Constitutional Heritage, said it's part of the institute's mission to use higher education to promote civic education among its students and the public at large.
Each year, the program focuses on a “crucible moment,” Harper said — a period in American history that was critical to the development of the nation's identity and ideals. Last year's lectures dealt with the American Revolution and how it influenced the development of fundamental American ideas.
The Great Depression and World War II were similar to the American Revolution in that regard, Harper said.
The nation was undergoing one of the gravest crises it had seen since the Civil War. It was threatened by economic turmoil at home and fascism abroad, he said, and faced the challenge of preserving American values as the country shifted from traditional agrarian life to a more urban, industrial society.
The program deals with a period in history that resonates with Americans today, he said. Like the period from 1935-1945, the nation finds itself at war and plagued by economic concerns at home.
“We can look back to previous periods when America has faced some similar problems,” he said. “We thought this would be a topic that spoke to the present time.”
OU history professor David Wrobel will open the event at 9:30 a.m. in the Catlett Music Center's Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall with a lecture on John Steinbeck.
Although Steinbeck's work was wildly popular in its time, he never achieved the same critical acclaim as his contemporaries Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
The popularity of Steinbeck's work confounded the critics of his day, Wrobel said.
That may be in part because he was less concerned with literary innovation than with giving readers an honest portrayal of his subjects, he said.
Steinbeck's 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath” dealt with migrant farm workers from the southern plains who went to California looking for work in the 1930s. Although Oklahomans working in California saw Steinbeck as a sincere advocate, many critics dismissed his writing as overly sentimental or ham-handed, Wrobel said.
“For literary critics, it's bewildering,” Wrobel said. “It's like having a musical artist who you think is talentless again and again achieve massive popular acclaim.”
Kennedy, a history professor at Stanford University, will discuss the United States' role in the outcome of World War II during a noon lecture in the Oklahoma Memorial Union's Molly Shi Boren Ballroom. Kennedy won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for history for his book “Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945.”
McCullough's lecture will cap the event. McCullough will discuss President Harry Truman's life at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom. McCullough won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his biography “Truman” and again in 2002 for his biography “John Adams.”
For more information or to make a reservation, go to teachin.ou.edu.