This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence. Over the course of his year as Teacher in Residence, Tom wrote regular posts exploring different aspects of audio-visual materials in the Library’s collection and their use in the classroom.
Founded in 1908, the National Press Club has more than a hundred years of history. The Library of Congress has recently made available recordings from National Press Club talks that span four decades in a presentation “Food for Thought: Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Other National Press Club Luncheon Speakers, 1954-1989.” Bringing pieces of these talks into the classroom allows students to hear a perspective on a particular event and make connections to historical events or events of today.
Each talk, usually consisting of a speech and Q&A session, can be explored by topic, allowing for a few minutes of a talk to be brought into a classroom to be analyzed using the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool. Speakers include eight U.S. presidents (George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Harry Truman), six foreign heads of state (Menachem Begin, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, Nikita Khrushchev, Anwar Sadat, and Margaret Thatcher), and such renowned cultural and political icons as Muhammad Ali (appearing with opponent Ken Norton), James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Hope, Edward R. Murrow, A. Philip Randolph, Jonas Salk, and Adlai Stevenson.
Some topics may prompt students to ask questions about an event, spurring them to explore other parts of the talk or other sources to learn more about the event. Most speakers were talking about current events, and approached them knowing that their immediate audience had contextual knowledge, something students may lack. Take Richard Nixon’s 1958 talk. A question is asked about violence against the then Vice President in Lima and Caracas being related to “Governor Faubus and his actions in Little Rock.” Students may struggle to understand the connection between an Arkansas governor and international violence. Online searches for the governor, state, and year of Nixon’s talk will reveal that the question was referring to efforts by the governor to stop school desegregation and provide context about Nixon’s answer as well as evidence of the international reach of the events in Arkansas.
Other talks show a topic’s evolution over time. Harry Truman’s 1954 talk at the National Press Club is the first in the set to mention Communism including mention of the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Topics on Communism and the Soviet Union can be found in ten different talks including a 1959 talk by Nikita Khrushchev where he explains his famous comment “We will bury you,” that he made less than a year earlier.
Many talks encourage students to explore the perspective the speaker has and how that is evident in a talk. In his April, 1959 talk, Fidel Castro gives a very clear perspective on democracy, communism, and dictatorships. Students can identify those perspectives and contrast them with Castro’s actions in the years after his National Press Club talk.
Still other talks can be used to compare to events of today. Jimmy Carter’s talk made just prior to the 1980 presidential election and George H.W. Bush’s talk from two months after being sworn into office as Vice President both speak of economic issues, addressing both what progress had been made and plans for the future. Comparing these talking points to economic issues presented in today’s presidential election can provide perspective on what has and has not changed regarding economics and politics.
A rich resource for examining political and social perspectives in the mid to late twentieth century, the National Press Club audio recordings at the Library of Congress can be a valuable resource to your classroom. What National Press Club recording are you most eager to listen to?