Pulitzer Prize-Winning Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Speaks at Drew Forum

Goodwin has been a visiting professor at Drew University for the spring semester

February 2024 – Drew University welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to campus for an illuminating and inspiring Drew Forum event.

In a conversation with Drew President Hilary L. Link, PhD, Goodwin told stories and imparted lessons learned from her research and writing biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.

Early in the conversation, Goodwin, who is serving as the Thomas H. Kean Visiting Professor at Drew this semester, touched on her time in Drew classrooms as a reason for hope that the teaching of history—and learning the critical lessons from it—remains at the heart of a liberal arts education.

“I’ve been so glad to be in these classes. The kids love this place, they really do. The teachers are teachers and that’s the main thing that they’re doing and the kids feel that they’re learning. They’re excited. It’s alive here at Drew,” she told a sold-out crowd at the Concert Hall, to full applause.

Goodwin garnered applause after a number of thoughtful and hopeful answers to questions of what she’s learned from historical comparisons to the country’s current turmoil and political division.

“We’ve been through difficult times before. The thing that’s important to remember is the people at the time didn’t know how it was going to end,” said Goodwin, noting the Civil War, class division at the turn of the 20th century, the Great Depression, and World War II. “They lived with the same anxiety we’re living with now.”

“But I suppose,” she added, “the other side of that is that we get to write the chapter—our own chapter—and it’s up to us to make this a different ending than it might feel like we’re having now. So, yes, this may seem like a really bad time, but America’s come through hard times before and I wouldn’t bet against us right now, coming through this somehow, even if we can’t quite see how it’s going to happen. I have this optimistic view that something will make it work.”

In a last thought on leadership, Goodwin told a story of Leo Tolstoy sharing with a band of barbarians in Russia about historical leaders. They most wanted to know about Abraham Lincoln rather than Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and others.

“His greatness persisted in his character and the moral fiber of his being,” Tolstoy explained.

Goodwin took it further and applied this teaching to today’s world.

“That is what we need in our leaders today: character. It’s people who can acknowledge errors and learn from mistakes, who have humility, who have empathy, who have resilience, who have accountability, who have an ambition for something larger than themselves.”

In addition to her remaining classroom visits, Goodwin will appear in a virtual Drew Forum event on March 14. Register here.

The Thomas H. Kean Visiting Professorship brings an individual of exceptional national or international distinction in their field to serve as a member of Drew’s academic community and lead public programs for Drew’s local and worldwide constituencies.

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