Henry Adams, Fellow Virginian

This blog post is the text of my welcoming remarks to incoming first-year students and their parents delivered on move-in day, last Saturday.

On behalf of the College of Arts & Sciences, its faculty and staff, let me welcome you, on this glorious and cloudless day, to our extended family. We have gathered in Cabell Hall today to participate in a tradition that began nearly two centuries ago: to offer the finest education to our students. Two thirds of you are from the Commonwealth of Virginia. One third of you come from others states and nations. Regardless of your origin, beginning today, you will always be Virginians. And so I begin my remarks by reflecting on the life of a fellow Virginian: Henry Adams.

Henry Adams was one of the greatest historians this country has produced. He was the American Gibbon, who witnessed and chronicled not the decline and fall of an empire but the rise of a great civilization. His grandfather was John Quincy Adams, the sixth President, and his great grandfather, John Adams, the second President, both from Massachusetts. He was something of a rebel in his own family and took a dim view of the achievements of the elder Adamses. For Henry Adams, America’s greatest presidents were Virginians—especially Washington and Jefferson, whom he considered paradigms of what is best in our national character and its aspiration.

In his study of Henry Adams, author Garry Wills argues that by temperament and choice, Henry Adams was a Virginian; and that his emotional and ideological compass pointed south since he was a child. At Harvard—where, Adams said, the Unitarian clergy produced in its students a mind “on which only a water-mark had been stamped”—his favorite fellow students were Virginians, although there were only three. One of them was a son of Robert E. Lee.

In his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, Adams says that he recognized in the younger Lee a kindred spirit—an anachronism, just as he thought he was—an untimely man: Lee was a quintessential Virginian of the eighteenth century, he wrote, much as Adams was a Bostonian of the same age. And Adams delighted in Lee because everything he represented was the obverse of the Puritan Adams family—warm, accepting, genteel, tainted but forgiving. He admired in particular Lee’s “liberal openness toward all he liked,” and his “Virginian habit of command,” taking “leadership as his natural habit.” Virginians could be indulgent, and he went to some lengths describing their vices, but his affection remained unbroken and warm.

Henry Adams’ conception of himself as a walking anachronism formed the basis of his brooding autobiography. His life spanned much of the nineteenth century, but his education, based on the classics, was quintessentially eighteenth.  Reflecting on his education at the turn of the twentieth century, the American Gibbon felt that as an historian he had little to teach his students because he could not comprehend the spirit of the new age. Science and technology would require a different kind of mind, he thought.

It was in Chicago that Adams expressed the full measure of his bewilderment at the American engine of progress. Walking among the wonders of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, he decided that even Harvard dons would be reduced to the level of “retarded minds” trying to fathom “a watt or an ampere or an erg” (just as many are today with terabytes and nanobots). Barely was the Columbian world’s fair a memory before X-rays came along, and then radium and atoms—“absolute, supersensual, occult” discoveries.  By 1904 Adams had himself become “a howling, steaming, exploding, Marconing, radiumating, automobiling maniac.”

A man of the twentieth century, Adams wrote, would “think in complexities unimaginable to an earlier mind. To him, the nineteenth century would stand on the same plane with the fourth—equally childlike—and he would only wonder how both of them, knowing so little and so weak in force, should have done so much. Perhaps he might go back, in 1764, to sit with Gibbon on the steps of Ara Coeli.”

I understand that fear. Adams heard the roar of the rushing waterfall at the turn of the last century. I hear it today, coming even faster, bringing with it a similar fear, terror, and exhilaration at the speed of new knowledge. In what complexities will the Class of 2014 think? We don’t know, but we do know they will be twenty-first century men and women, people for whom (quite unlike us) the twentieth century is of the past.

Meanwhile our College is showing them the way. In the Chemistry department we make fundamental molecular-level discoveries to help the world change rapidly from a petroleum-based energy model to an accessible system based on a combination of natural gas, wind, biomass, nuclear and solar energies.

Our biologists are leading a major shift, studying life as an integrated network spanning multiple levels of biological organization.  Formerly disparate disciplines are becoming more interconnected by discerning a common set of theoretical principles. Collaborations are already occurring in structural biology, proteomics, and combinatorial chemistry. High performance computing, complex theory, and statistics will increasingly form the conceptual basis for exploring the universe of new data.

Our psychologists work in and with sixteen departments and units to build on their strengths in electroencephalography and fMRI to study human behavior from childhood to dotage, from cradle to grave; and in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrochemistry, our scientists are at the forefront of understanding the interstellar chemical processes that produce the molecules that form planets and may be responsible for seeding the universe with the chemical components that produce life.

In the College we endeavor to give our students, whether they study the sciences or not, the scientific vocabulary for the new century, the language they need to develop the kind of contemporary mind—powerful, complex and subtle—that terrified Mr. Adams.

In another sense, however, the mission of the College of Arts & Sciences is far less time-bound, and less transitory.  At the most fundamental level, our job is familiar enough: we receive our first-year students—at  eighteen and nineteen still adolescents—and we work with them as they grow, turning twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. When they leave Grounds, I hope they will leave as better human beings than when they entered: more aware, ethical, compassionate—more like Henry Adams.

In their four years our first-year students will learn how to think for themselves, and above all, to think critically. I hope they will learn how to examine their assumptions and behaviors, and that these reflections will guide their every action.

The first-year students now join a community larger than they have known in their lives. In that exhilarating and often bewildering context, they will have to learn how to be both straightforward and nuanced in their relationship to the community: not just to go along and get along, but to grasp the complexity and genius of human relationships, how to build them, how to sustain them—also when to repair them and when to step back from them—and how to end them when they become destructive.

Henry Adams marveled that Virginians had the finest social instincts; he admired their irresistible grace and generosity. As Virginians—and Virginians in the larger sense that I have used the term today—this is our virtue. It is not ours alone, but one we identify with, a virtue we will always husband and uphold.

In the next four years our new students will not always experience the kind of hopes and aspirations and possibilities they feel today. There will be times of loneliness, uncertainty, doubt—and even a terrifying sense that the only thing inevitable and predictable is failure. These are the pangs of growth, of moving from adolescence to adulthood. In those moments, we will do our best—faculty, staff, fellow students—to be present, providing support, guidance, and advice. But there are limits to the College being “in loco parentis,” the Latin phrase for “in the place of parents.”  The task of educating our Virginians here today extends then beyond the College and includes their parents—their active participation, dialogue, and constant communication with their children.

No matter how big the College may seem, its soul remains an intimate one, cloistered around hearth and home, visually represented by the Lawn, the Rotunda, the pavilions and the little rooms in between. Today we celebrate the birth of new members of our extended family, working toward the singular goal of taking from Virginia the best four years of their lives, striding confidently into the future beyond the Lawn.

29 Responses to “Henry Adams, Fellow Virginian”

  1. Charles Mathewes says:

    I’m so delighted to see you talking about Henry Adams–he’s truly an amazing writer & thinker, not without his blind spots but so impressive. Maybe one day we can assign the Education of Henry Adams to all the incoming first years! A great book.

  2. Samuel Roth says:

    Despite having left the University (and the CLAS) in 1980, I remain absolutely rooted in my belief that the basic skills acquired obtaining a liberal arts degree remain critical. How to think, how to write, how to relate to others are just some of the “hows” that are independent of today’s technology and the speed by which information travels. These skills will continue to set a young person apart as employers and others look for bright, intelligent and creative candidates to fill the important positions of tomorrow. Anyone can text, tweet or email. But how many can write, think critically and express themselves in writing or verbally?

    Samuel A. Roth
    CLAS 1980

  3. Will Jones says:

    Perhaps reading Mr. Jefferson “direct,” rather than one of his admirers, might inspire a more Jefferson-centric greeting to Mr. Jefferson’s University. With extant writings and a known burial site, he was, after all, a true Prophet of G-d: America’s Author and Founder.

  4. W. F. (Rooney) deButts says:


    I had to laugh at your diplomatic allusion to, but avoidance of describing, the vices Adams attributed to his Virginian acquaintances. It could have led to a wholly different homily on the need to balance the academic opportunity of a lifetime with the vices any college, and particularly the University, provide. Maybe a subject for another time.


    Rooney deButts (College ’81)

  5. Your remarks were a wonderful introduction for the First Years in attendance. I will never forget my first year at UVA. It was a combination of excitement, curiosity, and intelectual wonder with a dose of social swirl. Thanks for including the alumni on your email list.

  6. Scott Landa says:

    Dr. Woo: I wish I had been there in person as you delivered your remarks welcoming first year students and their parents. Even after all these years, I remember the welcome given to me and my parents by Edgar Shannon in the fall of 1966. I have considered myself a Virginian ever since! And, two of my three children would agree (classes of 1998 and 2007). In these 40 years since my graduation, the rush of so many advances and so much knowledge growth are truly “complexities unimaginable to [my] earlier mind.” At age 62, I am excited to go to work every day for a company that is dedicated to its Mission Zero — “getting off oil by the year 2020.” As we stretch the boundaries of our learning here, we’ll find a way. This is the kind of thing that started for me in Charlottesville many years ago. Good luck to the class of 2014 and please continue to provide the atmosphere of virtue that is Virginia.
    Scott Landa, Col 1970

  7. George P. Yeonas says:

    As an undergraduate history major in the College I was assigned to read the Education of Henry Adams for, I believe, Professor Kett’s Intellectual History class. The book impressed and influenced me greatly and I have promised myself over the many years since to re-read this great work. Dean Woo’s remarks were excellent especially in linking the transforming world of Mr. Adams with the rapidly evolving world we live in today. I wish I could have attended move-in day and come to think of it, I wish I could turn back the clock and move back into a dorm as a student once again. I promise that this time I would read every book assigned by every professor.

  8. Bill Crump says:

    Dr. Meredith Woo, you are are true Virginian, a new Virginian, a public expression of character, scholarship, and gentility, clearly not by ancestry.

  9. A great writer indeed! I’m almost disappointed that our son is a first Engineering student as we therefore missed this address to the College. However, as a graduate of the College, I hope you’ll offer the discussion again to everyone else. Think “webinar”?!

  10. Your references to Henry Adams in your welcome to incoming University students reminds me of the most influential professor I had while an undergraduate in Charlottesville — Charles Vandersee. Mr. Vandersee died in 2003 at the young age of 63, but he will forever be remembered fondly by his students and advisees not only because he loved learning, but because he exemplified many of the qualities you ascribe to Henry Adams. In fact, he was the professor who introduced me to Adams, because he devoted much of his life to Adams, writing articles and publishing books. Not only was Chuck Vandersee my advisor and professor, but he became a friend with whom I stayed in touch long after graduating years ago. Thank you for rekindling the memory and inspiration of Chuck Vandersee through your reflections on Henry Adams.
    Don Jay Smith
    (College 1969)

  11. Richard Samuelson says:

    Thank you for mentioning Henry Adams. Thanks to Don Jay Smith for remembering Charles Vandersee, who was kind enough to sit on my dissertation committee for my work on the Adams family. We should also note all the fine work done by Jack Levinson on Henry Adams. He’s the reason why the Letters of Henry Adams were edited in Charlottesville.

    On the other hand, I can’t say that it’s reasonable to call Henry Adams and Virginian. Garry Wills is not the most reliable scholar. He gets fixed ideas in his head, and is not too careful about letting contrary facts get in the way of his story. (His thesis is always the one he learned from his teacher, Wilmore Kendell. That Lincoln transformed America. Kendell thought that was a bad thing. Wills came to diagree with that. But Adams, following his own ancestors, thought that Lincoln simply followed the true understanding of the founding. Lincoln did not create, as Wills claims, unlimited government). Here’s my review of Wills’ book on Henry Adams:

    More broadly, Adams called Virginia (as a slave society), “the sum of all wickedness” in the Education of Henry Adams. He addressed “the moral problem that deduced George Washington from the sum of all wickedness.”

    In fact, Henry Adams regarded himself as John Adams’ last legatee. On the centennial of John Adams’ last day as President, March 3, 1901, Adams wrote Elizabeth Cameron, “I look over to the White House wondering what my old friend Thomas Jefferson would say. It is just a hundred years since he turned my harmless ancestor into the street at midnight, and I think he must wish he hadn’t, for there is mighty little left of him; whereas my venerable ancestor has at least me.”

    In the 1890s, Adams wrote, that “he thought it probably his last chance of standing up for his eighteenth-century principles, strict construction, limited powers, George Washington, John Adams, and the rest.” In short, Adams thought that the Federalist had the best reading of the founding (the Washington and Adams federalists, not the Hamilton and Ames federalists)

    Henry Adams’ had a more mixed opinion of his grandfather. He wrote: “I have turned myself inside out like an india-rubber ball to make a case for everybody, and especially for J.Q.A. whose case is the weakest of the lot, at least for me to defend, because I am most interested in profiting by the defense. The result is what you see. All I ask is to be civil. I will not be as big as brute as J.Q.A. was, but I am ready to go all lengths for his father.”

    Henry Adams, does, however, have much to teach us. He realized that amid all the changes that took place, the fundamentals of the human condition never change. He also realized that Americans are a people that chafes against that truth. When he described the failure of the embargo, the lynchpin of the entire system of Jefferson’s statecraft in Adams’ account (I would say correctly) Adams wrote, “”America began slowly to struggle, under the consciousness of pain, toward a conviction that she must bear the common burdens of humanity, and fight with the weapons of other races in the same bloody arena; that she could not much longer delude herself with the hopes of evading the laws of Nature and the instincts of life; and that her new statesmanship which made peace a passion could lead to no better result than had been reached by the barbarous system which made war a duty.” If we are not moving toward the Kantian dream of perpetual peace, we need to prepare our future statesmen to deal with that reality, and not to wish it away. Adams faulted Jefferson for being a dreamer. He was more sympathetic to Jefferson than was someone like Henry Cabot Lodge, but Adams was not a Jeffersonian.

  12. Will Jones says:

    John Adams, in their rightfully vaunted “post road correspondence,” conceded the Founder’s was the higher vision. It was through the mind of Thomas Jefferson, with Congress preparing to panic and flee from Philadelphia, faced with the English war-fleet’s invasion for military conquest debarking eighty miles away on Staten Island, that divine Providence anointed his annealing draft of American Independence – which left unedited would have peremptorily ended slavery. The actual Father of Our Country, Mr. Jefferson has been blessed with thousands of descendants, of hopefully, many hues, Henry Adams’ line is, like Reagan’s, cut-off for all eternity. After Mr. Jefferson, in American history, there is really no one of importance until his spiritual heir Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose Jeffersonian exegesis of America’s presence in Indochina at Riverside Church incurred, as earlier against the signer of NSAM263, the agents’ wrath of that which Mr. Jefferson termed “the real Anti-Christ,” 365 days later.

  13. Tyler Healey says:

    Dr. Woo,

    Thank you for the informative essay. You’ve sparked my interest in Henry Adams!

    Also, thanks for mentioning Robert E. Lee without commenting on his choice of the South in the Civil War. You exhibited the great class emblematic of a true Virginian.

    Tyler Healey

  14. Brawner Cates says:

    America is crying for leadership in a very complex world.Hopefully some of it will come from the students you addressed last weekend.Certainly they are fortunate to have a leader like yourself.

  15. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Dr. Samuelson,

    Thank you for your long and thoughtful response that highlights the Virginian vices that Henry Adams denounced, and to which I merely alluded; I did not think it was useful or appropriate to the occasion. But I do take exception to what you say about Gary Wills. Of course I am not a historian, but I learned much from his acclaimed book, “Henry Adams and the Making of America.” Beyond that, Mr. Wills has written extensively and cogently about Mr. Jefferson. Above all, he did us the great favor of devoting another of his many books just to this university–”Mr. Jefferson’s University.” He also exemplifies in our time the qualities of Henry Adams–learned, engaged, an apostle of the virtues. I wanted to impress upon the new students a truth that both Adams and Wills recognize: that a unique American civilization, distinct from Europe and from the older colonial universities like Harvard and Yale, arose on the very spot where they were sitting.

  16. Dr. Woo–your remarks brought me back to my own orientation at UVa in 1977. Unfortunately, the only line that stands out from that day is when the speaker–a University administrator (maybe the president?) looked out over the crowd of first years and said solemnly, “Look to the person on your left, look to the person on your right. One of you won’t be here in four years.” I think this was meant to impress upon us the seriousness of our quest for a degree from UVa and that not everyone would cut it.

    Thanks for elevating the level of orientation for the students (including my daughter).

    Best wishes,
    Richard Wells
    CLAS 81

  17. Captain Rick says:

    Honorary Virginian? This is a guy who hid out in London with his daddy while the country was embroiled in the most devastating conflict in our history – especially in Virginia, whose sons and daughters bore the brunt of many horrific struggles. In fact, he made it a point to interfere and defeat the efforts of other Virginians to negotiate with the British. At least his brother joined the US Army, learned something about logistics, and actually contributed something to society in terms of his expertise in running railroads. Although he served as the president of the American Historical Association, his writings are peppered with anti-semetic remarks and his crackpot misapplication of Maxwell’s principles of thermodynamics to the teaching of history embarass all professional historians. His ideas about the elites ruling the country are particularly anti-Jeffersonian. His remarks calling for the execution of Lee, perhaps one of the most revered of all Virginians, reveal his true character… His wife, Clover, committed suicide, after which Adams spent much of his time cavorting around the world. He had tickets to Europe aboard the Titanic – too bad he did not embark as he planned. Just because this guy had good connections does not justify making him an honorary Virginian; he’s just another Yankee.

  18. Richard Samuelson says:

    Adams’ comments about “the sum of all wickedness” are not just a comment on Virginia’s vices. They are directed at the essence of Virginia, in his eyes. They supported what he regarded as treason. Washington was an exception. That was the puzzle. His praise of Virginia’s virtues is part of effort to give everyone their due. It is not a sign that he thought of himself as a Virginian.

    I have never seen a book’s thesis so thoroughly destroyed as that of Wills’ “Inventing America” was by Ronald Hamowy’s “Jefferson and the Scottish Enlightenment” in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1979. (Wills misunderstands the nature of the “Scottish Enlightenment.” The paraphrases of Locke in the second paragraph of the Declration are pretty clear. Etc.) As for Wills’ Henry Adams book, if you can get your hands on Brooks Adams’ bio of John Quincy Adams, you’ll see that Wills is often not the most careful scholar in his work on Adams. In both books, Wills follows Kendall’s thesis, with the inverted lesson that I noted.

  19. First Year Parent says:

    We appreciated Dean Woo’s attempt to cite to Henry Adams rather than the predictable Thomas Jefferson in her welcoming address to the parents and incoming First Year students of the Class of 2014. But we question the insensitivity of the Dean referring to the Confederate, pro-slavery Robert E. Lee son(he was after all a Confederate General also) as models of “quintessential Virginians” to the parents of the approximately 1000 of the 3200 incoming First Year class who are African American, Hispanic or Native American.- A Concerned First Year Parent.

  20. Tyler Healey says:

    Captain Rick,

    Robert E. Lee is one of the most revered of all Virginians, but I believe George Washington stands apart from him and all others as the greatest Virginian because of this paragraph I read in The Great Virginia Triumvirate, written by John P. Kaminski:

    “Washington once told a visiting Englishman ‘that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.’ If, however, slavery divided America, Washington revealed to Edmund Randolph, ‘he had made up his mind to move and be of the northern.’”

    I know I may take some heat for not choosing our university’s founder as the greatest Virginian, but Mr. Jefferson agrees that Washington “was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.”

  21. Tyler Healey says:

    I think to disapprove of the high regard held for Robert E. Lee as a great Virginian is a mistake. This is coming from someone who voted for President Obama who, incidentally, has honored the Confederate Memorial as president.

    While I completely disapprove of General Lee’s choice of the South, I understand his refusal to take up arms against his home state of Virginia.

    Consider the high regard in which Ulysses S. Grant held General Lee, exemplified in his recounting of the surrender at Appomattox:

    “As [General Lee] was a man of much dignity, with an impassable face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter [proposing negotiations], were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

  22. Meredith Woo says:

    Your point is very well taken. However, in my address it was not possible to present a full and balanced picture of Virginia’s history. I was attempting instead to identify some of things that being a Virginian has meant, drawing from the words of Henry Adams, a person (and a Yankee) of surpassing intellect and sensibility. Adams admired many of the qualities of Virginians, and to him, Robert E. Lee and his son exemplified those virtues. As many readers have pointed out, Adams also condemned Virginians for various sins, the most heinous of which was slavery. The history and legacy of slavery in Virginia and in the South (including William Faulkner’s views described in June’s blog) are things that the University can never forget. But we cannot educate our students in the complexities of history by presenting Virginians like Robert E. Lee as one-dimensional figures. Our students need to understand history in its fullness, and grasp the many dimensions of human predicaments and motivations. (Admittedly, this can be difficult to do in our increasingly partisan and polarized culture where it is assumed that there are only two answers to every important question–the right one and the wrong one.)

  23. Dr. Woo,

    I greatly enjoyed your welcoming remarks. People like Henry Adams and books like his have had lasting influences. I hope that this year’s First Year students take to heart your remarks. I hope they start reading Mr. Adams right away.

    Henry Adams (and brother, Brooks Adams, with books like _The Law of Civilization and Decay_) had a profound influence on college-age Americans a hundred years ago–influence whose strands reach down to the present.

    My grandfather, Whittaker Chambers, and his classmates at Columbia University (class of 1924) formed one small strand. All of them read _The Education of Henry Adams_ in college–it had just won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919. Each classmate went his own way, with lasting influence, including: Lionel Trilling, literary critic; Meyer Schapiro, art historian; Clifton Fadiman, book publisher; Herbert Solow, magazine editor; Louis Zukofsky, poet; and Guy Endore, novelist and screenwriter.

    My grandfather’s road proved darker but eventually led him in part to imitate Adams — even leading back to Garry Wills, as well. After serving in the Soviet underground in the 1930s, working at Time Magazine in the 1940s, and testifying in the Hiss Case (1948-1950), Whittaker Chambers wrote a best-selling autobiography. This book, _Witness_ (1952) shows much influence from both Adams brothers, whose works my grandfather admired greatly. In the latter 1950s, he became a founding editor of _National Review_. A 23-year-old Garry Wills became drama critic then as well. As mentioned above, Mr. Willis penned an excellent book on Henry Adams–and so those branching strands intertwined. (In fact, as Mr. Wills has told me, he inherited my grandfather’s tiny office at NR’s first headquarters.) In short, great works like those of Henry Adams continue to deserve attention: who knows how they will influence us? Better to read and know them; otherwise, they may touch our lives in ways we otherwise cannot see or understand.

    Further, I think today Adams has much to teach us, as do successive historians. As a “walking anachronism,” he represented continuity of thought — important to us of the 21st Century, following two centuries of Great Transformation (to use Karl Polanyi’s term — another favorite author of my grandfather’s). As to the spirit of the new age, science and technology may require a “different kind of mind,” but, sadly, the overall Human Situation (Aldous Huxley’s term and another great book) has changed little. It is important to read Adams, if only to measure which concerns have changed–and which have not.

    This month, America lost another great historian, Dr. Tony Judt of New York University. (Their books tend to appear on recent reading lists, e.g., http://www.brooklynrail.org/2010/07/books/2010-summer-reading-list) In his final book, _Ill Fares the Land_, Dr. Judt notes of his latest college students:

    “We have entered an age of insecurity – economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity… The last time a cohort of young people expressed comparable frustration at the emptiness of their lives and the dispiriting purposelessness of their world was in the 1920s.”

    (Recently, I reviewed this book for The Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/21/book-review-ill-fares-the-land/)

    That was the generation of my grandfather. If the similarities hold true, thenthe current generation, as Dr. Judt insinuates, may go on to effect America profoundly — also driven by insecurity and uncertainty like the 1920s and akin to the “fear and terror” that Adams experienced a century earlier. If I may then, I would add for First Year students Dr. Judt’s magnum opus, _Postwar_ and his final work _Ill Fares the Land_ as must-reads for the 2010-2011 academic year. These are two of many books that continue to examine the human situation.

    I hope the writings of historians like Adams and Judt shake them, stir debate, and help drive them to active participation in this new century. Virginians have had a profound impact upon our nation. At the University of Virginia, I hope First Year students will strive to enrich their understanding of our nation and world. I hope that such understanding may help them master “fear and terror” and transform it into informed “exhilaration.” Such is the example bequeathed to us by our University’s founder, Thomas Jefferson.


    David Chambers
    CLAS 1985

  24. George Snyder says:

    When I entered the university in 1977, I knew that I did not want to be a scientist. It bored me. It appears that you are mostly interested in science, and think it is the future for U.Va. Personally, I think science is what has gotten us into the mess of global climate change and the nuclear bomb, to name a couple of negatives. Progress must be made in our interactions as human beings, rather than in science. I believe it would be better for students at U.Va. to study things like history, literature or politics. Then, if they were writing the instructions for leaving this reply, they might indicate whether “Mail” means email or postal mailing address. I don’t believe you learn this as a scientist.

  25. Tyler Healey says:

    Science will get us out of the mess of global warming and the nuclear bomb ended World War II – two reasons to endorse the Sciences part of the “College of Arts and Sciences.”

  26. Melanie Howard says:

    I agree with Dr. Woo. I think we often miss opportunities to truly analyze past leaders, viewing them as either heros or villians. History is not a comic book and than can only hamper our ability to deal with critical issues like race and class as we move forward in the 21st century. Read or, especially, watch the news and one can see the same process occuring daily with our current leaders who are celebrated or demonized depending on the political views of their critics.

    My children’s school instituted a very interesting project in the 7th grade – history trials – where students are divided into defense and prosecution for figures ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Nat Turner and John Brown. My son spent a good deal of time pondering whether Brown and Turner could still be considered heroic in light of killing unarmed people, including children. It was a taxing mental and emotional exercise for both of us (and we came out on different sides of the issue.)

    These are not easy questions, whether they’re addressed by middle schoolers or university students. Lee’s legacy is yet more complex. But a great university such as ours is the proper forum for research, discussion and scholarship, even when the topics are controversial. I believe that an honest look at the past is the best way to prepare for the future and feel proud that the University continues to engage students’ hearts and minds in that quest.

    Melanie Howard
    CAS, ’79

  27. First Year Parent says:

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful reply. We understand of course that you did not have enough time to go into the subtleties or nuances of your topic. However, we still think the focus on a pro-slavery, Confederate General, Fitzhugh Lee, was not the most appropriate choice to make a positive impression on incoming students and parents about a third of whom are African American, Asian-American, Hispanic and Native American.

    The Adams-Lee family connection would be fine to examine in a separate lecture series perhaps entitled “Views of Virginians.” But at least to this family, the Adams-Lee connection as the centerpiece of an orientation and welcoming speech to one of the most racially and ethnically diverse classes in UVA history was both surprising and unsettling.

  28. Armistead Talman says:

    In his recently published GRAND STRATEGIES Charles Hill, the former executive aide to US Secretary of State George Schultz, offers a fascinatingly comprehensive argument for world literature as a useful, and even necessary, “tutor for statecraft.”
    Hill devotes 7 pages to The EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS and states that Adams likewise fostered
    “awareness that some ‘sixth sense’-literary sense- is needed in statecraft.”
    It is a notable plus for The University that the current Dean of the College, in addition to her recognized advocacy of the Sciences, is also obviously an appreciator of the Arts as well.
    Armistead Talman
    Col ’54- Med ’58

  29. Chris Goff says:

    I do not believe that John Brown killed any children.