- The Third World, Harold Isaacs and Abraham Lincoln
I regret that it took me much longer to become actively involved in the ATWS than the other executive directors because it delayed me in getting to know Harold Isaacs. He and I had much in common—university professors transplanted to the Deep South, but our different worlds weren’t linked before the ATWS. He lived in Americus, Georgia; I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. Among Shreveport’s claims to fame: it was the last Confederate capital of the South and its only militarily undefeated one during “the Late Unpleasantness Between the States.” In retrospect, I believe that Harold and I lived parallel lives in the South in many ways and he enriched me from afar. While he was founding the ATWS, I was establishing the first independent “Washington Semester” at a public university in the South. Louisiana State University in Shreveport brought me to its young campus to teach American government and political theory even though I had majored in comparative politics and worked in the U.S. Department of State Operations Center. Two decades later, the ATWS returned me to my academic roots.
Shortly after LSU Shreveport launched its first “Washington Semester” in 1983, I attended a NEH Summer Institute at Harvard University where I met A. B. Assensoh, who was teaching in southern Louisiana. Through his urging, I joined the ATWS as a life member, enjoying its Journal, especially its book review section, for fifteen years. One of the many lessons that Harold and the Third World unknowingly instilled in me is to avoid assumptions, for I had erred in my conclusions about him, assumptions based on the geography [End Page 55] of his university and his interest in the Third World. My ATWS/Harold education had just begun.
At LSU Shreveport I had only one political science colleague, Norman Provizer, who arrived in Shreveport a number of years before me and had initiated the Third World course there. When he left in the 1980s for a new position at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, I inherited his course and incorporated it as part of the LSU Shreveport “Washington Semester.” The nation’s capital was then transforming itself into a genuinely international city. By 1992 the late spring “Washington Semester” and the LSU Shreveport annual fall lectures had also transformed and expanded into a triennial presidential conference series largely following the rankings of America’s presidents. Appropriately, Abraham Lincoln was the topic for the first conference in 1992. The river city noted as the last Confederate capital is one of the most isolated metropolitan areas in the nation—the last to have a National Public Radio Station and difficult to access for air travelers. Local wisdom was that our two-day Lincoln conference would attract no one outside the metropolitan area. Those local prognosticators were proven wrong. A.B. and Norman came, so did at least fifty others. By now it is a well-attended three-day international conference using Lincoln’s leadership as the touchstone against which to measure other presidents. It now holds the distinction of being the oldest presidential conference series in the South.
The new millennium brought further changes in my academic life. The “Washington Semester” morphed into the International Lincoln Center for American Studies, an academic euphemism to capture its shift from the national to the international realm. The Center became the only such entity in the United States that focused on Lincoln’s contemporary legacy beyond its borders. A Lincoln center in the heart of Robert E. Lee territory drew certain detractors, including [End Page 56] Sons of Confederate Veterans’ protestors and a local physician railing against “bubble-headed ultra-liberal college professors insisting on perpetuating the Lincoln myth.” But it also has produced positive outcomes for the LSU Shreveport campus, like the creation of our Lincoln Abroad Collection.
Ironically, it seems that most modern scholars unintentionally have contributed to limiting the awareness of Lincoln’s legacy abroad. Many are immersed in a Civil War time warp. Historians focus on that era while modern political scientists most often date the modern presidency only from FDR. Both of these misleading...