I became director here at the Kluge Center about six months ago, and have been impressed by the dedication to mission on the part of everyone on the staff. It is an exciting place to be, especially with new initiatives we are pursuing under the leadership of Dr. Carla Hayden. This post is the first in what will be monthly blogs on the goings-on at the Center.
First, allow me to introduce myself. I am not new to the Library – having headed the division at the Congressional Research Service that handles research on Congress, the operations of federal agencies, tax policy, banking and finance, cybersecurity, and emergency management from 2013-2016. I have been teaching public policy and political institutions for Claremont McKenna College’s Washington Program for 17 years. Previously I was with Georgetown University, Drake University, Davidson College, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My current interests include party systems, political institutions, and larger questions of the future of democracy.
At Kluge we are moving forward on the continuing business of attracting and selecting top-notch Fellows and Chairs, plus several new initiatives. All are tied to a commitment to the mission, one that is well expressed by this distillation of the Kluge Center Charter:
American self-government was created by a small group of people who were thinkers as well as doers, engaged both in the world of ideas and public affairs. The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress revives this traditional American interaction, providing space to bridge the gap between scholarship and the policymaking community to address the challenges facing democracy in the 21st Century.
Fellows and Chairs
First, together with the National Endowment for the Humanities, we are completing our evaluation of this year’s Kluge Fellow applicants and will be awarding Fellowships in the spring. As my first look at the process, I was impressed both by the caliber of the NEH panels (including one former Fellow who served) and the vigorous engagement they had with the candidates’ applications.
As many of you know, in addition to the Fellows, we have eminent writers, scholars, and innovators in residence, including Columbia University architectural historian and creator of PBS’s History Detectives, Gwendolyn Wright, the Kluge Chair in Modern Society; Adler Planetarium astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz, the Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology; artist, scientist, and designer of the Hip Hop Word Count database, Tahir Hemphill, Papamarkou Chair in Education; and author William DuBuys, Distinguished Visiting Scholar. We look forward to featuring them in public events – stay tuned for announcements.
Our recent Larson Fellow, Joanne Braxton of the College of William and Mary, spearheaded one of the highlights of the Library’s Black History Month programming with a public event, 1619 and the Making of America back in February. Scholars and practitioners assessed the impact of the arrival of Africans that year to Jamestown, Virginia, from the perspective of the Native population, the recently arrived European population, and the Africans. The event produced an overflow crowd of about 150 people in Jefferson 119.
New Chairs at the Center
The Center has benefited from new grants to the Library from the Kislak Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. The Kislak Foundation is funding the Jay I. Kislak Chair for the Study of the History and Cultures of the Early Americas. Kluge is busy solidifying details on the first Kislak Chair, who will come to the Library this fall.
The Carnegie Corporation grant enables the Kluge Center to bring in a Chair in U.S.-Russia Relations and a Chair in U.S.-China Relations starting later this year. These chairs are part of our effort to bring cutting edge thinking directly to Congress and the larger policymaking community.
Last year Kluge brought Harvard Business School Professor David Moss to the Library to conduct in-depth seminars with congressional staff based on his book, Democracy (Belknap Press, 2017) that contains case studies of major political decision points in U.S. history. The events were attended by hundreds of high level congressional staff.
The Center is following up this year with events centered on key points in the 20th century when Congress made decisions profoundly affecting legislative-executive branch relations. These seminars, featuring Frances Lee of the University of Maryland and Eric Schickler of the University of California-Berkeley, will bring to congressional staff the relevance of those decisions on contemporary policymaking. These events are possible with the generous support of the Democracy Fund. Our grant is part of a much larger effort on the part of major foundations to enhance “congressional capacity.”
Breakfasts for Members of Congress
Also beginning last year, the Kluge Center began a series of off-the-record breakfast conversations for Members of Congress with prominent public intellectuals, including J.D. Vance, David Brooks, Alice Rivlin, and Barry Posen. In March the Center brought in Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and astronomer Amy Mainzer to discuss with Members the dangers of “near earth objects” – asteroids and comets. After the Members meeting I interviewed Nye and Mainzer on the same topic in front of over 200 congressional staff and Library leadership in the Coolidge Auditorium.
David Ignatius, author and journalist focusing on the Middle East, intelligence, and national security, will meet with Members later in April, and in May we will have a discussion on the mechanics of redistricting with experts from the Cook Political Report.
Conversations on Democracy
The Kluge Center is enhancing its reputation as the place for conversations on the future of democracy by sponsoring the following events this spring:
• Professor Martin Hilbert on Big Data and Democracy (April 26)
• Author and columnist Anne Applebaum on Disinformation and the Threat to Democracy (May 9)
• Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance, Seth Masket, together with Elaine Kamarck from the Brookings Institution and Yuval Levin from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, on The Future of Political Parties, on May 21
• Professor Bruce Jentleson (a former Kissinger Chair on Foreign Relations) will speak to his new book, The Peacemakers: Leadership Lessons from Twentieth Century Statesmanship (W.W. Norton, 2018), on May 22
• Walter Isaacson on the impact of innovators he has written about (Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, and others) on June 13.
All of these events are open to the public and to congressional staff.
All of us at the Kluge Center welcome your suggestions as we work to bring in scholars and public intellectuals who can contribute to the dialogue on the challenges facing self-government in the 21st Century.