The Presidency, the Media, and the Public: a Short History



David M. Kennedy, Stanford University

Date and Time

March 16, 2017 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Encina Hall, 2nd floor

Abstract: The formal constitutional character of the presidential office – that is, the method of electing the president, and the powers both granted and denied to the president -- was defined by the men who drafted the Constitution in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 and has, for all practical purposes, remained largely unchanged ever since.

The presidency’s place in American political culture, however, is another matter, because in the 230 years since the Constitution was framed, that culture has evolved -- in many ways dramatically -- along with the society and the economy it reflects.

The tension between the static constitutional character of the presidency and the dynamic political culture, society, and economy in which it is embedded – and especially the technologies, even more especially the communication technologies that have emerged over the last century -- will be the main focus of this paper.

About the Speaker: David M. Kennedy is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford University. 

His teaching has included courses in the history of the twentieth-century United States, American political and social thought, American foreign policy, national security strategies, American literature, and the comparative development of democracy in Europe and America.

Reflecting his interdisciplinary training in American Studies, which combined the fields of history, literature, and economics, Kennedy's scholarship is notable for its integration of economic and cultural analysis with social and political history, and for its attention to the concept of the American national character. His 1970 book, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, embraced the medical, legal, political, and religious dimensions of the subject and helped to pioneer the emerging field of women's history.  Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980) used the history of American involvement in World War I to analyze the American political system, economy, and culture in the early twentieth century. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (1999) recounts the history of the American people in the two great crises of the Great Depression and World War II. With Thomas A. Bailey and Lizabeth Cohen, Kennedy is also the co-author of a textbook in American history, The American Pageant, now in its sixteenth edition. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and other publications and media outlets.

Birth Control in America was honored with the John Gilmary Shea Prize in 1970 and the Bancroft Prize in 1971. Over Here was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 198. Freedom From Fear won the Pulitzer and Francis Parkman Prizes, in 2000.

Professor Kennedy has been a visiting professor at the University of Florence, Italy, and has lectured on American history in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Scandinavia, Canada, Britain, Australia, Russia, and Ireland. He has served as chair of the Stanford History Department, and as director of Stanford's Program in International Relations, as well as Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. He founded Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, was its Director from 2003-2013, and remains a member of its Advisory Council. In 1995-96, he was the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University. He is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Philosophical Society. From 2002 to 2011 he served on the Board of the Pulitzer Prizes (chair, 2010-2011) joined  the Board of the New York Historical Society in 2008, and in 2013 became a Trustee of the California Academy of Sciences. Since 2000, he has served as the Editor of the Oxford History of the United States. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in 2015 appointed Kennedy to the Advisory Council for the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, which will run from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific shore in Washington State.