Info

Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson

Listening to America aims to “light out for the territories,” traveling less visited byways and taking time to see this immense, extraordinary country with fresh eyes while listening to the many voices of America’s past, present, and future. Led by noted historian and humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson, Listening to America travels the country’s less visited byways, from national parks and forests to historic sites to countless under-recognized rural and urban places. Through this exploration, Clay and team find and tell the overlooked historical and contemporary stories that shape America’s people and places.
RSS Feed
Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson
2024
February
January


2023
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2022
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2021
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2020
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2019
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2018
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2017
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2016
December
November
October
September
August
July


All Episodes
Archives
Now displaying: Page 1
Feb 26, 2024

Guest host David Horton of Virginia leads a discussion with Clay Jenkinson about the difference between Constitutional requirements and what are called presidential norms. George Washington, for example, did not shake hands with the American people. He held formal levees once a week. Jefferson regarded those as monarchical habits and he performed a series of acts of political theater to tone down the presidency during his two terms. Nothing in the Constitution requires the outgoing president to attend his successor’s inauguration, but it is an established American norm, and when that norm and others are violated, it weakens the fabric of the American republic. David and Clay talk about the presidencies of the two Roosevelts, both of whom enjoyed expanding the powers of the presidency, and of course the disruptive events of the last ten years.

Feb 19, 2024

Clay Jenkinson and guest host David Horton discuss the history of executive orders. Even though they are not authorized by the U.S. Constitution, every president except William Henry Harrison has issued at least one. David and Clay review the most important executive orders in American history: the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; the Japanese internment camps brought on by FDR in 1942. Truman integrated the U.S. military and JFK created the Peace Corps using executive orders. Clay argues that they should not be used by the president in lieu of letting Congress hammer out public policy, particularly when tax dollars are at stake. And now, in this disruptive age, each president rescinds some of the executive orders of his predecessor, and the process repeats itself at the next election. 

Feb 12, 2024

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular contributor Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky for a spirited conversation about Margaret Bayard Smith, one of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest admirers. Mrs. Smith, who was 35 years younger than Jefferson, was the wife of the editor of the National Intelligencer, the first Washington, D.C. newspaper. Her letters and journals, printed as The First Forty Years of Washington Society, contain some of the most interesting details of Jefferson’s presidency, beginning with his inauguration on March 4, 1801. What she noticed and admired was the peaceful transfer of power in this our happy republic. Because Jefferson was a widower, Margaret Smith and Dolley Madison served as hostesses at some of Jefferson’s White House functions. Smith and Jefferson shared a love of nature. In fact, when Jefferson retired he gave Mrs. Smith a geranium plant she coveted. She and her husband Samuel Harrison Smith visited Jefferson at Monticello in August 1809, just a few months into his 17-year retirement. 

Feb 6, 2024

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky to talk about one of the strangest and most extraordinary people of America’s Early National Period, John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia. Randolph was a brilliant and flamboyant man, hairless with the voice of a soprano  and locked physically in a pre-pubescent state. Yet he was a brilliant orator, an outstanding Congressional floor manager, with a wicked tongue and a vituperative spirit. Randolph was a radical Republican who broke with President Jefferson when the third President behaved like a pragmatist rather than an ideologue. We discuss a number of episodes from Randolph’s colorful life, including his manumission of more than 300 slaves and his role in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase.

Jan 29, 2024

Clay is joined by Dr. Kurt Kemper of Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota, and our west coast Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri. Both are deeply interested in American sports, both for the sport per se, but also for the window they provide on the larger dynamics of American life. This week’s topics: outsized college coach salaries; the madcap world of Bill Walton; the problematic temperament of Draymond Green; and the death of intercollegiality in American college sports. Dr. Kemper is the author of College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era. David Nicandri has written highly regarded books on Lewis and Clark and Captain James Cook.

Jan 22, 2024

Clay is joined by two guests, David Nicandri the West Coast Enlightenment correspondent for Listening to America and Dr. Kurt Kemper of Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. Kemper is the author of College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era. Kemper and Nicandri believe that larger themes in American culture find expression in the world of sports. Much of the discussion surrounds the famous 1962 Rose Bowl—in which the faculty of Ohio State University voted not to send the football team to the celebrated New Year’s game because it would distract from the academic mission of the university. The result was a riot in Columbus, Ohio, with lots of property damage and in which faculty members and the university president were burned in effigy. In the end, UCLA played the University of Minnesota in the Rose Bowl. The program also explores the ways in which the Civil Rights Movement roiled college football in the 1950s and 60s.

Jan 15, 2024

This week on Listening to America, Clay Jenkinson’s follow-up conversation with Russ Eagle of Salisbury, North Carolina, about following the trail of John Steinbeck. Russ is a former high school teacher and administrator with a vast love of the writer. After his report on the arrival of Steinbeck’s heralded boat, the Western Flyer, in Monterey, we talk about the other must-see places and objects in the Steinbeck universe: Rocinante, his truck camper at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California; Sag Harbor, his home on the eastern edge of Long Island; the original manuscript of the Grapes of Wrath at the University of Virginia; Doc’s Laboratory in the heart of Monterey; and the hand-carved box which he fashioned to deliver the manuscript of East of Eden to his editor in New York.

Jan 8, 2024

Clay talks with Jeremy Gill of Hays, Kansas, about former Vice President Henry Wallace. Wallace served several presidential administrations, some Republican but more Democrat. He was FDR’s New Deal Secretary of Agriculture, then FDR’s vice president in his third term, 1940-1944. The Democrats dropped Wallace as too radical in 1944, nominating Harry S. Truman in his place. So, Truman became the accidental president on April 12, 1945, not Henry Wallace. Wallace ran for the presidency against Truman as an independent in 1948 but lost badly. Wallace was a serious agrarian who experimented with new corn varieties and had a Victory Garden in Washington, D.C., during his tenure as vice president.

Jan 1, 2024

This week on Listening to America, Clay’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about two of the greatest of the Founders, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson knew of Hamilton’s war heroics and his importance as aide-de-camp to George Washington, but he didn’t actually meet Hamilton until the spring of 1790 when they were two of the four members of George Washington’s cabinet. They were yin and yang. Jefferson was an agrarian and a strict constructionist, a man who was obsessed with peace. Hamilton was an urban man who wanted the government to support American industry, a broad constructionist of the Constitution who believed war could bring glory to himself and to the nation. They crossed swords in the Washington Cabinet but each found a good deal to admire in the other. In the end, Hamilton helped secure the Presidency for Jefferson, not because he thought Jefferson was right for the job, but because he knew that Aaron Burr was an unstable demagogue.

Dec 24, 2023

Clay checks in with a few of his favorite Listening to America guests to hear about their own holiday traditions and their New Year's resolutions. Guests include David Nicandri, Beau Wright, and Brad Crisler. 

Dec 18, 2023

This week on Listening to America, Clay Jenkinson interviews professional photographers John and Coleen Graybill of Buena Vista, Colorado, about the life and achievement of Edward S. Curtis. Curtis took 40,000 dry glass plate photographs of Native Americans between 1900 and 1935, and published 20 volumes of his portraits, landscape photographs, musical notations, and a gigantic amount of ethnographic prose. John is the great great grandson of Edward Curtis. The Graybills are traveling the West photographing descendants of individuals that Curtis photographed, and interviewing them on video about their lives and their heritage. They have released two books of previously unpublished Curtis photographs. It’s an amazing story of love, integrity, and perseverance.

Dec 11, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with occasional guest host David Horton about the origins of the Thomas Jefferson Hour and the purpose of changing the name and focus of the program to Listening to America. Clay sings the praises of two hosts, Bill Crystal, now of Virginia, and David Swenson of Makoche Recording Studios in Bismarck, North Dakota. Clay recalls incidents that have occurred in his long career in tights and buckled shoes, and particularly the way in which Jefferson’s hypocrisy on race and slavery has been addressed by members of Clay’s audiences. Plus, what we can expect from Listening to America over the next few years as the United States reaches its 250th birthday.  

Dec 5, 2023

This week on Listening to America, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky: Ten Things about the Louisiana Purchase. In the spring of 1803 Napoleon sold the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States for three cents per acre. At 525 million acres, or 828,000 square miles, it was the greatest land sale in human history. What was Jefferson’s role in all of this? Why did President Jefferson believe that the purchase might be technically unconstitutional? What about the Native peoples who already lived in that vast territory? Why did Napoleon sell? And why didn’t Jefferson attempt to stop the spread of slavery into the American southwest? 

Nov 27, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with guest host David Horton about three remarkable moments in American history between administrations. First, the tragedy of Meriwether Lewis, who got caught between the outgoing administration of his mentor Thomas Jefferson and the incoming administration of President James Madison, who was no admirer of Lewis. This gap contributed to the nervous collapse of Lewis and probably his suicide in 1809. Then the burden that fell on the shoulders of Vice President Harry S. Truman in April 1945 when FDR died at Warm Springs and Truman learned about the existence of the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project for the first time that day. And finally, the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to fulfill JFK’s agenda on Vietnam, civil rights, and the space program.

Nov 21, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with fellow Steinbeck scholar Russ Eagle of North Carolina about the relaunch of the Western Flyer, the boat that took Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, Steinbeck’s wife Carol, and four others to the Sea of Cortez in the spring of 1940. After eighty years the Western Flyer has been completely refurbished and now takes its place as one of the principal attractions at Monterey, California. Ricketts was a marine biologist and one of Steinbeck’s best friends in life. Partly to help Ricketts (who was a mediocre businessman), partly to get away from his sudden celebrity after The Grapes of Wrath went viral, Steinbeck commissioned the boat, gathered the crew, and made his way with his fellow adventures to Baja California to collect specimens for Rickett’s lab in Monterey. Steinbeck’s marriage to his first wife Carol was coming apart at the time. He was completely exhausted after the flurry of concentration that led to the greatness of Grapes of Wrath. It was part science, part escape, part vacation, but it led to two books, The Sea of Cortez in 1941, and The Log of the Sea of Cortez ten years later.

Nov 14, 2023

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular guests Lindsay Chervinsky and David Nicandri to discuss the most overrated and underrated Presidents in American history, present company excluded. We evaluate the 46 presidencies, not the overall character or achievement. Woodrow Wilson does not fare well, but Richard Nixon has considerable support, in spite of Watergate. Lindsay heaps high praise on her man John Adams while David believes John F. Kennedy has additional luster now that our national leaders have become jaded, cynical, and openly opportunistic. We agree that Bill Clinton is one of the most disappointing presidents, given his amazing natural gifts and charisma, and Lindsay pays a moving tribute to Bush 41.

Nov 6, 2023

This week, Clay’s conversation with favorite guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. All ratified between December 1865 and February 1870, these three key amendments are in some respects the second founding of the United States. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th insisted on equal protection of all citizens of the United States, thus applying the Bill of Rights to the people of every state. And the 15th granted Black men 21 years old and older the right to vote. Unfortunately, all three were systematically undermined by the states of the old Confederacy, often with the support of the U.S. Supreme Court. We talk about birthright citizenship today, whether someone convicted of insurrection today would be ineligible to run for president, and whether the current trajectory of the Supreme Court is undermining the plain provisions of these key Constitutional Amendments.

Oct 31, 2023

This week, Clay’s conversation with Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri about four subjects: Ken Burns’ documentary on the buffalo; the solar eclipse of Saturday, October 15; a new book by former Secret Service Agent Paul Landis about the Kennedy assassination — Landis actually tampered with the evidence in the presidential limo, and now, at 88, he wants to tell the people of America his story; and a preliminary conversation about the structure of road adventures, beginning with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and ending with Nicandri’s recent trip to the Arctic Circle.

Oct 23, 2023

This week on Listening to America, after a lifetime of thinking about the third president of the United States, Clay Jenkinson has made a list of 10 insights about the great man. Clay puts these propositions to our favorite guest historian Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky. 

Oct 16, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the creation of the Constitution in the summer of 1787. What did they get right, what did they get wrong, and which issues did they simply kick down the road? Was the true divide between big states and little states, or as James Madison said, between slave states and free states? Why did the Founders work behind closed doors in secrecy? Why did they throw out the Articles of Confederation when they were instructed merely to make a few strategic amendments? Why did Alexander Hamilton give that insane five hour speech calling for the President and Senators to serve for life? How would things have been different if Jefferson had been there, if John Adams had been there, if Patrick Henry had been there? Well, Patrick Henry said he “smelt a rat.”

Oct 10, 2023

Guest host David Horton of Radford University talks with Clay Jenkinson about Ken Burns' latest documentary, The American Buffalo, which premiers on PBS on October 16. Clay has now been in five of Ken Burns' documentaries, and has been one of the historical advisers in two of the films. Among the topics of discussion: Who was William Hornaday and what role did he play in the saving of the buffalo? What was Theodore Roosevelt's role? How do you prepare to be interviewed in a Ken Burns film? Why is the buffalo so important to America's sense of its heritage? Clay also speaks of his own long association with the buffalo, first seen when he was a child in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Oct 2, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s interview with Dr. Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute about how we can turn America around from this funk of profound disillusionment and cynicism. Dr. Levin is the author of many books, the most recent of which is A Time to Build: How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream. As the United States lurches towards its 250th birthday, are we still a nation with a common history, a common set of values, and a common destiny? Dr. Levin’s view is that nostalgia for the golden age between the end of World War II and Watergate is a mistake, that we have to stop dwelling on the past and what went wrong, and begin rebuilding trust and trustworthiness in our national institutions. We need to demand more of our political leaders and ask more of ourselves if we want to recover. And, he recommends books every American should read as we get ready for July 4, 2026. 

Sep 25, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with actor Steven Duchrow about taking on historical characters. Steven has been performing as the poet Vachel Lindsay for many years, but now he is taking on the character of the poet Carl Sandburg. Where do you start? How do you figure out what has to be in any performance whether it is five minutes long or an hour and a half? Once you have done all the research, how do you turn that immense body of information into a solid and entertaining Chautauqua performance? Steven Dukrow provides several superb recitations of poems by Vachel Lindsay and—of course—performs Sandburg’s most famous poem: Chicago, Hog Butcher of the World.

Sep 18, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the agony and ecstasy of writing a book. Among the topics: Do you do all the research before you start to write or just begin and research as you go along? How do you pace yourself and not burn out? How do you know if the book is any good? What do you do to power through the gumption traps—writer’s block, the distracting dramas of real life, other professional commitments, the days or weeks when you just don’t feel like writing, or conclude that you have nothing important to say?

Lindsay’s second book is tentatively titled Making the Presidency, about the administration of the second President John Adams. Clay has authored more than a dozen titles.

Sep 11, 2023

This week, guest host David Horton of Radford University returns to engage Clay Jenkinson about the plans and purposes of Listening to America. Why the name change on the highly successful Jefferson Hour? What will the new program title enable Clay to explore over the next decade? Did the New Enlightenment Radio Network change the name because Jefferson is now perceived as toxic because of his complicities in slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans? How exactly does Clay intend to "listen" to America? How does this new program emphasis help us think about America as the republic approaches its 250th birthday on July 4, 2026? 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Next » 18