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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.
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Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson
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Now displaying: 2023
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 They have released two books of previously unpublished Curtis photographs.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? 

Sep 4, 2023

This week, guest host David Horton of Radford University questions Mr. Jefferson about his formation, about the path he took to national greatness. What were the particular influences of Jefferson's father Peter, a self-made man of the overseer class, and Jefferson's mother Jane Randolph, who belonged to one of the most socially and politically prominent families in Virginia? Why did Jefferson's life veer from the agrarian simplicities of western Virginia and lead him to the writing of the Declaration of Independence and later on to the Presidency of the United States? Might Jefferson have been happy if he had followed the trajectory of his closest friend Dabney Carr, who seemed content with a modest house, a few books, an amiable spouse, and a simple Virginia diet?

Aug 28, 2023

This week on Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson, Clay's conversation with his regular guest Professor Lindsay Chervinsky about Ten Historical Counterfactuals. Historians are warned never to indulge in what if history, but we cannot help it, it just such fun. What if the British had won the Revolutionary War? What if Alexander Hamilton had become the President of the United States? What if Jefferson had never owned an enslaved person?  What if the South had won the Civil War? What if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated on November 22, 1963? What if Adolf Hitler had gotten an atomic bomb for use at Moscow or Stalingrad? If some of the pivotal moments in world history had gone the other way, how might things be different? 

Aug 22, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s interview with David Nicandri in the aftermath of the disaster of the submersible Titan in the north Atlantic. Nicandi reflects on the spirit of exploration, the risks taken by those who would go where no man has gone before. Were the five men who died when the submersible imploded just billionaire tourists or adventurers in the spirit of Lewis and Clark and Captain James Cook? How can we make sense of the continuing lure of the Titanic? Where does undersea tourism go from here?

Aug 14, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with his cinephile friend Niles Schwartz of Minneapolis about the summer blockbuster film Oppenheimer. People are already saying it is one of the great films in recent decades, a certain classic like The Sound of Music, Dr. Strangelove, the Deer Hunter, and Citizen Kane. Clay asked Niles to forget about history and the character of Robert Oppenheimer, but simply to respond to the film as film: cinematography, editing, direction, the acting, the score. Niles agreed that Robert Downey, Jr., is headed for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Niles Schwartz is a tough critic, but he loved this film.

Aug 8, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson interviews Bruce Ledewitz, the author of The Universe is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life. Since Nietzsche's famous pronouncement that "God is dead," Euro-American culture has become profoundly secular--and it shows, according to Ledewitz. Without the great tradition of Christian culture, America has descended into radical individualism without any moral anchor for public or private behavior. Ledewitz rejects the Enlightenment's belief that secular culture is a sufficient restraining mechanism for humans who are, in the Enlightenment's formulation, capable of considerable perfectibility. Jefferson's belief in a "moral sense" is not enough to give American culture meaning or restraint. Ledewitz sees little hope for a restoration of a morally grounded American society.

Jul 31, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Listening to America’s Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri after viewing the blockbuster film Oppenheimer. How close did the film stay to the historical record? Was the characterization of Oppenheimer both accurate and compelling? Why does Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.) play so large a role in the film? Will the film be remembered in Hollywood history? Why is the film rated R? Is Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Edward Teller an allusion to Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove? Do the four narrative strands of the film hold together? What is the significance of the argument of the film that, once you create nuclear devices, they are sure to be used in the next existential world crisis?

Jul 25, 2023

This week, Clay Jenkinson's interview with the Thoreau of Great Salt Lake, Scott Baxter, about the possibility that the lake will die well before it dries up entirely. Baxter has spent decades monitoring the lake as its levels diminish thanks to over-allocation and more recently the prolonged drought in the American West. With his future son-in-law, Baxter circumnavigated the lake several years ago. The toxic dust that is exposed by declining lake levels represents a respiratory problem for the citizens of the Wasatch Front in Utah. That dust finds its way to the snowfields in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, damaging the ski industry and causing the snowpack to melt sooner than ever before. This interview is part of Listening to America's Water in the West initiative.

Jul 18, 2023

This week, the second of a two part conversation between Clay Jenkinson and Lindsay Chervinksy on the life and achievements of John Quincy Adams. The little known sixth President is so interesting that Clay and Lindsay decided to do a second Ten Things program about him. Did he have a sense of humor? Could he relax? What kind of First Lady was Louisa Adams? Was Adams a true abolitionist or did he prefer caution to a bold assault on slavery? Why did he dislike Thomas Jefferson so much?

Jul 10, 2023

This week, the first of a two part conversation between Clay Jenkinson and Lindsay Chervinsky on the life and achievement of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. Adams was perhaps the greatest Secretary of State in American history. He had a rough one-term presidency, but then he won a seat in the House of Representatives that he retained until his death in 1848. He was one of America's greatest opponents of slavery.

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