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History Professor Mark Summers Speaks about Gilded-Age Politics at Readex-Sponsored ALA Event [VIDEO]

Posted on 07/27/2016

With incredible energy and expertise, Mark Wahlgren Summers brought history to life with his dynamic interpretation of 19th-century political campaigns for the librarians and educators who attended a Readex-hosted breakfast during the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Orlando. Summers, the Thomas D. Clark Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, where he has taught for the last 32 years, entertained the crowd with his highly animated lecture titled “Politics is just war without the bayonets”: Dirty Politics in a Genteel Age, 1868-1892.

Here, he describes stump speeches, often delivered at train stations, across the campaign trail:


Summers didn’t just tell the crowd about the past, he helped them experience it with his lively retelling, leading attendees to make comments like this:


For most historians, the Gilded Age was the Golden Age of American politics. Well before football or baseball found a vogue, it was the great participatory sport. Families turned out for parades, rallies and barbecues. Campaign clubs designed ornate uniforms and hired brass bands to precede them as they marched. Eligible voters in record numbers showed up at the polls. Watch the full presentation to understand why Summers warned that to be wistful for those days is a grave mistake.

Summers pulled back the cover of Gilded Age politics to reveal the rough-and-tumble environment of 19th-century campaigns. He explained that Senate seats were bought and sold in the marketplace and parties nominated candidates not for their qualifications but for their pocketbooks. Several of Summers’ points rang true today, in the midst of the 2016 campaign cycle, as he discussed the price of partisanship, threats to freedom, and voters who found the candidates put forth by the two major parties so despicable they were apt to cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate.

Professor Summers has written ten books so far, including The Era of Good Stealings, The Plundering Generation and The Ordeal of the Reunion. After the presentation, Summers shared the importance of historical newspapers when researching these and other topics:


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