NEW YORK, NY.- The New-York Historical Society
and CUNY TV commemorate Presidents Day with a dynamic new educational video series, Opening the Oval with David M. Rubenstein: Understanding American Power. Presented in a distinctive pop-art, comic-book style that is engaging and accessible for students from middle school through college, Opening the Oval explores the history of American power through the lens of the presidency.
Consisting of five episodes, each one approximately 8-10 minutes long, Opening the Oval features commentary from host David Rubenstein and experts in the field such as author Elaine Weiss, historian Michael Beschloss, filmmaker Ken Burns, and journalist Jia Lynn Yang, who illuminate the many ways that the role of the presidency has shifted to reflect political and cultural changes in the country at large. The series premiered on CUNY TV on February 14 at 5 pm with weekly episodes to follow. It will also be available on New-York Historicals website and YouTube page.
Also launched is a special companion curriculum developed by New-York Historicals education department, which includes primary sources, photographs, life stories, and vocabulary lists that connect to each video, as well as suggested discussion questions and activities educators can use to create engrossing, thought-provoking classroom lessons. The materials are aligned to the new Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, a bi-partisan framework for strengthening civics education in K-12 classrooms nationally.
Episode 1: Presidential Leadership
Scholar Douglas Brinkley outlines the leadership qualitiesmoral character, honesty, courage, and teamwork that make a strong president. Examples like George Washington giving up office, Lyndon Johnson pushing for civil rights legislation, and Ronald Reagan comforting the nation after the Challenger space shuttle disaster illustrate how these traits have been effectively deployed. Author Jia Lynn Yang also explores how Johnsons immigration reform was a vital turning point in U.S history. Moments of hardships in other American presidencies are also shown throughout the video to demonstrate ways that these qualities have been manifested in real life. The video ends by inviting students to consider qualities that they think are necessary in an effective leader.
Episode 2: Presidential Power in Wartime
Rubenstein talks with historian Michael Beschloss and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about the risks and rewards of high-stakes decision-making during times of crisis. This video explores how leaders make wartime decisions, focusing primarily on conflicts from the Korean War to the present. The episode reflects on the impacts of war on the roles and responsibilities of the office and the powers gained during wartime. Beschloss and Burns further examine Trumans relationship with Congress during the Korean War and the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Episode 3: Lincoln and Emancipation
Along with historians H. W. Brands, Eric Foner, Drew Gilpin Faust, and David W. Blight, Rubenstein discusses Abraham Lincolns policies during the Civil War with a particular emphasis on how his attitudes towards slavery and abolition shifted over the course of the war. A highlight of the episode is the relationship and interactions between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass as they worked towards emancipation, which included significant diplomatic exchanges over the treatment of Black soldiers in the Union army.
Episode 4: The Road to Womens Suffrage
With a focus on womens rights, this video explores how womens advocacy for the right to vote started with early ties between the abolition movement and the womens rights movement. After the 15th amendment passed and gave all male citizens the right to vote, regardless of color, the womens suffrage movement continued to grow through the activism of women like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony. With insights from the late journalist Cokie Roberts and author Elaine Weiss, the episode traces the womens suffrage movement from the early days of civil disobedience to the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Episode 5: The Role of First Ladies
Journalists Cokie Roberts and Jonathan Alter and historian Annette Gordon-Reed explore the evolving role of the First Lady and the ways that the office has been continually redefined based on the specific personalities and changing social mores of the day. Examples include Dolley Madisons informal political influence as a hostess in Washington, D.C., during Thomas Jefferson and James Madisons tenures and Rosalyn Carters essential role as one of the people Jimmy Carter first looked to for advice. The episode also considers the different causes that recent First Ladies have championed while in office and how the women in presidents political and personal lives can teach us new lessons about their presidencies and the nature of power.
Visitors to New-York Historical can explore the history of the presidency with Meet the Presidents and the Oval Office, a special permanent gallery that features a detailed re-creation of the White House Oval Office. Artwork and objects also trace the evolution of the presidency and executive branch and how presidents have interpreted and fulfilled their leadership role.