City Lights Q&A series: 'Historical Perspectives on the USS Intrepid'

John Patishnock
May 05, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Alumni Association will speak with each of the City Lights speakers and share a Q&A for each event in the six-part series that takes place in major metro areas.

Our next conversation is with Charles D. Kupfer, associate professor of American studies and history, Penn State Harrisburg.

Kupfer will lead a presentation Saturday in New York City, during the latest City Lights event, titled, “Historical Perspectives on the USS Intrepid.” More information on the remaining two City Lights events can be found on the Alumni Association’s website.

Penn State Alumni Association: You’ve structured your presentation as “a family-friendly discussion.” How important is it for your event to be available not just for adults, but for younger adults and children?
Kupfer: It’s very important. I got interested in the topic as a child, because there were plenty of opportunities to hear what had happened in ways that were appropriate for a younger person.

Penn State Alumni Association: What message will you share during your talk?
Kupfer: I want to address the complexity of the story of the second World War. By that, I mean not that there’s moral complexity -- it’s one of those things where we know who the bad guys were -- but I want people to see that it’s OK to find aspects to something horrible that were fascinating. Amid the carnage and the horror that occurred, there are stories that are very compelling, and by learning about it, we don’t in any way lessen the aspect of the horrible aspects of the war. Actually, we understand it better and understand the whole war in its proper context.

Penn State Alumni Association: Any examples?
Kupfer: Considering the Intrepid itself, you have this fantastic machine, you have this incredible ship that does these amazing things, and it’s OK to look at that and see something that’s really interesting and cool. There will be kids who will get hooked on the airplanes and the technological aspects of war, and they can find it interesting and fascinating. Then I can explain to them what the people on the machines were doing, and the kids can come away with a mature understanding of how important the war was.

Penn State Alumni Association: You said you became interested in this topic as a child. What started you on this path, and how did it evolve into a career?
Kupfer: There were a lot of movies on television when I was a child, moves like "The Great Escape" and "Tora! Tora! Tora!" The movies were sensationalistic in some respect, but also straight forward in their message and excellent viewing. I also benefited that were were a lot of excellent books about World War II, and history, in general; books that were aimed at younger readers and other books that were accessible to younger readers. I’ve always believed that history belongs to the people and not to the professors.

Penn State Alumni Association: Is that the same approach you use as a professor in the classroom?
Kupfer: Yes. When I teach students about the American past, I’m teaching them about a past that belongs to them, and for that matter, the past of Western Civilization and the world as a whole. I want them to look at this and see how it contributed to the world that they live in. That's the ticket to relevancy and what’s relevant to them. It’s connected to Penn State’s mission, and I’m proud of our land-grant roots. Higher education belongs to the commonwealth, to the state and to the people who live in the state. In Pennsylvania, we’re lucky that Penn State has been here as a leading model for what I think is the best educational approach in the world.

  • Intrepid

    Launched in 1943, the former aircraft carrier USS Intrepid fought in World War II and was decommissioned in 1974. 

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    IMAGE: Penn State Alumni Association

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 12, 2015