Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ted Widmer to Discuss His New Book, 'Ark of the Liberties,' at Washington College

Chestertown, MD — Ted Widmer, founding director of Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, returns to campus on January 28 to speak about his provocative and engaging new book, Ark of the Liberties: America and the World. A former foreign policy speechwriter and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, Widmer currently directs the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

The talk will take place at the College's Casey Academic Center Forum on Wednesday, January 28, at 4:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public. A booksigning will follow the lecture.

Ark of the Liberties is a cautionary tale about the powerful notion of "American exceptionalism"—the belief that America has a unique destiny and role as the dispenser of liberty—and the way that credo has influenced foreign policy throughout our history. Widmer's text is both serious and entertaining, and brims with fascinating and witty digressions, as well as literary allusions; the title of the book itself comes from a line in White Jacket, an adventure story by Herman Melville: "And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people—the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world."

Writing in the Washington Post, historian David M. Kennedy described Widmer's book as "an old-fashioned jeremiad" in which he uses "the lantern of history to illuminate an increasingly menacing future." Widmer is well suited to ponder both past and future—his previous books include Martin Van Buren; Campaigns: A Century of Presidential Races, which he co-authored with Alan Brinkley; and Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City. In addition, he edited the two-volume American Speeches anthology published by the Library of America, and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The New York Observer, and The American Scholar.

At Washington College Widmer helped launch the C.V. Starr Center in 2000, and during the six years of his stewardship established many if its major programs, including the annual George Washington Book Prize, which, in conjunction with Mount Vernon and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, awards $50,000 to the author of the best book each year on the nation's founding era.

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