Military historian appointed Penn State laureate

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. --  Carol Reardon, the George Winfree Professor of American History, has been named the Penn State laureate for the 2015-16 academic year. The Penn State laureate, an honorary position established in 2008, is a full-time faculty member in the humanities or the arts who is assigned half-time for one academic year to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences.

The Penn State laureate appears at University events at Penn State campuses and throughout the state at various community programs as part of an effort to add a more human dimension to these events and locations. Reardon succeeds Susan Russell, associate professor of theatre, who has served as the Penn State Laureate in the 2014-15 academic year.

“Carol Reardon’s scholarship and teaching on military history, Civil War strategy, and leadership have helped shape our nation’s understanding of military conflicts,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “She is an engaging speaker with great stories about Gettysburg, Vietnam and other wars; she is sure to make a lasting impact on our community during her laureate year.”  

Reardon's teaching and research focus on American military history — especially the Civil War and Vietnam eras. She is a faculty associate of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. She is the author of numerous publications, including the award-winning book "Pickett's Charge in History and Memory." In this work, she used the famous Confederate assault at Gettysburg to explore the ways in which the power of memory can shape and, over time, even reshape perceptions of important events. 

“We view the past through two sets of lenses,” Reardon notes. “The first is an intellectually-centered force we call ‘history,’ one that is objective, analytical and seeks a truthful accounting of an episode in the past.” 

The second force, she adds, “is an emotionally-centered one called ‘memory,’ that — with or without premeditation — selects, sentimentalizes or sanitizes past events to create a narrative designed to satisfy a particular social need or to appease or to appeal to a specific audience.”  Much of the popular understanding of Pickett’s Charge today, she concludes, relies heavily on the pull of memory and the truth of history has suffered for it.

Reardon also has published "Launch the Intruders: A Naval Attack Squadron in the Vietnam War, 1972," a required reading at the Air Command and Staff College; "With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other" about military theory in the Civil War North; and the award-winning "A Field Guide to Gettysburg," with retired U.S. Army Colonel Tom Vossler.

A highly sought-after speaker, Reardon regularly addresses public historical interest groups including the Gettysburg Foundation, the Seminary Ridge Museum at Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania Military Museum at Boalsburg and the Smithsonian Institute. Her talks have been broadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network and on C-SPAN. She has contributed to a number of historical documentaries on topics as diverse as the history of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Civil War generalship and battle commemorations.

Reardon served as a visiting professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served two terms as the General Harold K. Johnson Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army War College. For nearly 14 years, she served on the board of visitors of Marine Corps University, including a term as board chair, and received the Department of the Navy Superior Public Service Award for her contributions to that institution. She also became the first woman to be elected to serve as president of the Society for Military History, the most noted international scholarly organization in the field.

Among her many honors, Reardon received the Victor Gondos Memorial Service award from the Society for Military History for contributions to the Society’s efforts to advance the study of military history.  In 2007, she received the coveted George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest award given for teaching at Penn State.

Reardon plans to use her year as university laureate to encourage informed reflection and open dialogue on war, peace and remembrance. 

“As a military historian, I am interested in the causes, conduct, cost and consequences of wars as well as the lessons we learn or — just as important — fail to learn from these transformational events,” she says. 

With the recent close of the War of 1812 bicentennial and the Civil War’s sesquicentennial commemorations and the start of the centennial of World War I and the 50-year anniversary of the landing of Marines at Danang to start the American combat mission in Vietnam, Reardon notes that it is an appropriate time to remember that these events touched everyone in their times regardless of political views, social position or economic status.

Reardon takes a very serious interest in leadership and decision-making in such high-risk and high-stakes moments, and she has applied her knowledge extensively in what she readily admits is her “favorite classroom” — Gettysburg. Each year, she leads leadership “staff rides” there for ROTC and West Point cadets, international officers, and even senior Pentagon officials, to analyze and critique the command decisions of Generals Robert E. Lee and George G. Meade and then to consider how modern commanders — and their political superiors and those on the home front — might respond to similar challenges today. She also developed specially tailored versions of these programs for leaders of Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and law enforcement groups; for journalists; for educators in history, literature, art history and other academic disciplines; for agriculture and forestry specialists, and more. 

As part of her laureate year, Reardon is extending an invitation to interested groups in the greater Penn State community to join her in Gettysburg to talk about war, peace, remembrance and leadership.

Barron made the final selection following a recommendation by the review committee. The committee, chaired by Vice provost for Academic Affairs Blannie Bowen included David Christiansen, associate vice president and senior associate dean for academic programs in the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses; Barbara Korner, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture; Ryan McCombie, a member of the Board of Trustees; Ken Womack, professor of English and integrative arts at Penn State Altoona and the 2013-14 Penn State laureate; Bonj Szczygiel, associate professor of landscape architecture and women's studies in the College of Arts and Architecture; and Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts.

For more details about current and past Penn State laureates, visit http://laureate.psu.edu. Additional information about the Penn State laureate program is available at http://www.psu.edu/vpaa/laureate.htm.

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Last Updated April 30, 2015