Jon Meacham at UNI

As part of the University of Northern Iowa's Joy Cole Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series, Presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham delivered his lecture “Finding Hope Through the Lessons of Yesterday” on Monday, Sept. 19, in the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.

“We're fortunate here at UNI to have this series and to have internationally known authors and scholars come to UNI and present to the campus community and the broader community,” said Director of the Institute for Decision Making, Drew Conrad, who attended the lecture. “So it was a great opportunity to hear him speak, and his topic, to be honest, is very timely.”

Since its inception in 2001, the Joy Cole Corning Distinguished Leadership Lecture series, which was established by former Iowa Lt. Governor Joy Cole Corning, has been a staple at UNI. The series brings nationally and internationally renowned leaders in the arts, business, education, government and the judiciary to UNI’s campus. 

With a depth of knowledge about politics, history, religion and current affairs, Meacham has the unique ability to bring historical context to the issues and events impacting our daily lives. He is the author of several #1 New York Times bestsellers and has written acclaimed books about Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George H.W. Bush and civil-rights icon John Lewis. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the Society of American Historians, Meacham is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, where he holds the Rogers Chair in the American Presidency. His latest book, “And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle,” will be published this fall.

During his lecture, Conrad said Meacham drew parallels between today’s political and social environment and the environments the country has experienced at other points in history. He described the current era as ‘the age of unreason.’ At similar points in our history, Meacham explained that people — including average citizens — showed leadership to overcome these challenges. 

“The question Meacham raised is are we as a nation once again going to be able to do that?” said Conrad. “We’ve become so polarized. That’s a challenge. We’re talking past each other. His overall theme was that even if we disagree with people on whatever it is, we need to at least have a dialogue  — a civil conversation — because at the end of the day that’s what makes our system work. Our country was built on compromise. If you read the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, they were put together with compromise.”

In Meacham’s closing, Conrad said the speaker asked the audience to do three things: be curious about the issues, have candor and show empathy to others, including those who have different points of view.

Conrad described the lecture as “very appropriate” for the state of our country today.

“Whoever selected Meecham really did a nice job of understanding the tenor of what's going on in our society,” said Conrad. “I think if you’d sat down and thought long and hard about who you’d want to hear from right now from an intellectual scholar standpoint, he was the right person at the right time.”