The National History Center of the American Historical Association provides a venue in the nation's capital for all who care about the human past to make history an essential part of public conversations about current events and the shared futures of the United States and the wider world.

4/3: War Against War: The Rise, Defeat, and Legacy of the Peace Movement in America, 1914-1918 with Michael Kazin

Historian Michael Kazin narrates how a group of Americans tried to stop their nation from fighting in one of history’s most destructive wars, and then were hounded by the government when they refused to back down. It was the largest, most diverse, and most sophisticated peace coalition up to that point in US history. Members of the coalition came from a variety of backgrounds, and their political ideologies ranged from socialist and anarchist to populist and white supremacist. They mounted street demonstrations and popular exhibitions, attracted prominent leaders from the labor and suffrage movements, ran peace candidates for local and federal office, and founded new organizations, some of which, like the ACLU, endured beyond the cause. For almost three years, they helped prevent Congress from authorizing a massive increase in the size of the US army—a step advocated by ex-president Theodore Roosevelt. Soon after the end of the Great War, most Americans believed it had not been worth fighting. And when its bitter legacy led to the next world war, the warnings of these peace activists turned into a tragic prophecy—and the beginning of a surveillance state that still endures today.

Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent magazine. He received his PhD from Stanford University. His most recent books are War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 (2017); American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011), and A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (2006). He is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, Politico, and other publications and websites.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments with Jenna Weissman Joselit

Ever since the mid-19th century, modern America has made much of the Ten Commandments.  Although its citizens may not have been able to get the ancient dos and don’ts quite right, honoring them more in the breach than anything else, they insisted all the same on seeing them everywhere:  in stone, paper, cardboard, stained glass and Technicolor.  In her illustrated lecture, the distinguished cultural historian Jenna Weissman Joselit explores the nation’s fascination with the Biblical text.

Jenna Weissman Joselit is the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History at The George Washington University, where she also created and now directs two graduate programs in Jewish culture and the arts, the first of their kind in the country. She is the author of The Wonders of America, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History, and of the critically acclaimed A Perfect Fit:  Clothes, Character and the Promise of America. Joselit also writes a monthly column on American Jewish culture for The Forward newspaper, which is now in its 17th consecutive year of publication. Her latest book, Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments, will be published next month by Oxford University Press.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

3/20: Radium and the Secret of Life with Luis Campos

Long before the H-bomb associated radioactivity with death, many scientists at the dawn of the twentieth century believed that radium might somehow hold the secret to life. The swirl of provocative metaphors surrounding Marie Curie’s newly discovered radioactive element not only transformed physics and amazed the public, but also ultimately led to key insights into the origin of life, the nature of heredity, and the structure of the gene. From the creation in the test-tube of half-living microbes to the earliest emergence of genetic engineering, in this talk historian of science Luis Campos will explore the long half-life of radium’s biological legacy.

Luis Campos is the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress and Associate Chair of the History Department at the University of New Mexico. Trained in both biology and in the history and philosophy of science at Harvard University, Campos’ scholarship brings together archival discoveries with contemporary fieldwork at the intersection of biology and society.  He has written widely on the history of genetics and synthetic biology, and is the author of Radium and the Secret of Life (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Making Mutations: Objects, Practices, Contexts (Berlin, MPIWG, 2010), among numerous other articles. Campos is the newly elected Secretary of the international History of Science Society.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.