May 2, 2018
Our Ashby topic was sparked by the unexpected election of President Donald Trump and by the rise of populist movements in Europe and the United Kingdom. Although (or perhaps because) neither Dr. Zarecki or Wharton is an expert in populism, we felt that the changing political climate presented an outstanding opportunity for historical inquiry on the subject, which turned out to be true. We had very strong contributions from our interdisciplinary faculty, each of whom distributed a set of readings and led one discussion session. Some of the faculty were experts in populism (Drs. Lehoucq, Bolton, and Ali), but the rest offered different disciplinary perspectives, as did the student participants. Most sessions were held in the MHRA Lounge (room 3501), which was a very good space for discussion, and a few faculty also used classroom space for PowerPoint presentations. Our schedule was as follows:
We were able to bring Prof. Cas Mudde (School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia), an internationally-recognized scholar of populism, to visit campus on Feb. 15-16, 2018. He gave a public lecture that was well-attended by the Ashby group as well as by other students and the general public, and which sparked a lively post-lecture discussion. Afterwards we took him to dinner with several Ashby faculty and students, and the next day he visited an upper-level undergraduate Political Science class to discuss populist developments in the European Union.
We were also able to partner with the Department of Political Science, which co-advertised Mudde’s visit, and who invited our Ashby scholars to attend a related lecture by another internationally-known scholar of populism, Prof. Kurt Weyland (Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin). Each speaker had different perspectives on populism, which gave our participants excellent insight into the problems and methods involved in understanding the phenomenon.
Student participation was good, although it waned somewhat as the year wore on. However, several stalwarts attended consistently and participated meaningfully in discussions. Our ten student participants were from the Departments of Classical Studies, Political Science and History, including two graduate students and eight undergraduates.
We spent $1,996 of our $2000 budget, on travel, food, and lodging for Prof. Mudde’s visit, on copies of Cas Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasswer’s book Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2017), which was distributed to all participants, and on food and drink for each of our seven regular Ashby meetings.
We believe faculty and students alike felt that our Dialogue was consistently engaging, interesting, and informative. All the participants agreed that the Dialogue was well worth their time, and that they had learned about fields history and politics about which they previously knew little or nothing.
Submitted by David Wharton and Jonathan Zarecki
Department of Classical Studies