UC Berkeley News


A grand stage for our lives and times
The National Mall is the focus of this year's Jefferson lecture

| 14 March 2007

Like Mexico City's Constitution Square, the Tuileries and its Palace in Paris, and Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the Washington Mall is a great civic space, arguably this nation's greatest and most venerated. However, the mall as visitors have know it since the 1960s was not inevitable, but the result of much neglect and serendipity over several centuries' time.

The National Mall has served as a gathering point for numerous expressions of civic concern over the past 40 years, from civil-rights marches to antiwar demonstrations.

American historian Michael Kammen, of Cornell University, will discuss the history of the mall - from the early plans sketched out in the late 1700s to its role as the site of major antiwar and civil-rights protests in recent decades - in a Jefferson Memorial Lecture set for Monday, March 19.

How did the Mall "come to be the kind of space with the associations that have evolved since the March on Washington in 1963?" asks Kammen. Founding father Thomas Jefferson and Washington's early architect and urban planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant "certainly did not envision what has transpired in the past half century," he notes. "I think that Jefferson would be quite pleased, actually. I'm not so sure about L'Enfant; he imagined the mall as a ceremonial site that would foster love of country, not a site where vast numbers would gather to plead for (even demand) changes in governmental policy."

Titled "From Thomas Jefferson to Forrest Gump: How the Mall in Washington Became the Nation's Most Venerated Civic Space," his talk takes place at 4:10 p.m. in Barrows Hall's Lipman Room.

A celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a faculty member at Cornell since 1973, Kammen started out as a specialist in colonial American history and has gone on to publish extensively on 20th-century and contemporary American popular culture. He was awarded a Pulitzer for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (1973). Other books include A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture (2004); Robert Gwathmey: The Life and Art of a Passionate Observer (1999); American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the Twentieth Century (1999); and In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture (1997). Kammen has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and as a trustee of the New York State Historical Association.

The Jefferson Memorial Fund, established in 1944, supports an annual series of campus lectures on topics concerned with Jefferson or his times, with the development of the American governmental system, or with civil liberties and the Jeffersonian tradition. Past speakers include Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Alan Simpson, Thomas Foley, Walter LaFeber, and Archibald Cox.

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