On any given evening in downtown Portland, cultural aficionados have many options for entertainment. Live music, spoken word, and thought-provoking lectures on myriad topics spill out of theaters and performance venues across the city. With so many options to fill your calendar, you’ll want to leave space for one particular hidden gem.
The Oregon Historical Society’s Mark O. Hatfield Lecture Series has been a well-kept secret for more than two decades. The series began in 1998 when the program’s namesake, the late Senator Mark Hatfield, collaborated with the Society to create a lecture series featuring presidential historians. Authors spoke in a venue so small that tickets sold out within days to those in the know (Oregon Historical Society members and series subscribers) without much of a public announcement—let alone advertising.
In recent years, the series has expanded from its presidential history niche to invite authors and historians to share stories of the many people and events that have shaped American history. And, after back-to-back sellouts, OHS decided in 2019 that it was time to take the series to the big leagues and move to a new home: the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
As with so many cultural events and performances this year, the Hatfield Lecture Series has not been immune to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally set to launch in March 2020, OHS has postponed the series to fall 2020—and, as we all work to stay socially distant to keep our community safe, the first two lectures in the series will be delivered virtually via Zoom.
The series kicks off on September 8 with historian Erika Lee, speaking about her recently released book, America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States. Many of us like to think of the United States as a nation of immigrants. But the phrase “a nation of immigrants” dates only from the mid-20th century, and it has served to paper over a much darker history of hatred of—and violence against—foreigners arriving on our shores. Dr. Lee shares a brief introduction to her lecture in this video, which promises to be a timely and powerful discussion.
We look forward to hosting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., best known for his role as host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, on Zoom on October 27 as he discusses his book Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow. Former TIME and Newsweek editor and veteran journalist Evan Thomas will talk about his book First: Sandra Day O’Connor on January 12, 2021 (at this point, scheduled to be delivered in person at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, though this is subject to change as we monitor the current public health situation).
Joanne Freeman, best known for her scholarship on Hamilton (and her work advising the blockbuster musical of the same name), rounds out the series on March 16, 2021, with a talk on her latest book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War. Sometimes hitting a bit close to home in the current political climate, as Freeman writes in the book’s introduction, this work details the physical violence (think knife fights and dueling) that occurred in Congress in the mid-1800s and ultimately led to the Civil War.
While not every name on the series roster may be broadly recognizable, the Oregon Historical Society has earned a reputation for hosting compelling and provocative historians and authors. Some past speakers, like David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, are familiar names on best-seller lists, while others, like former Portlander H.W. Brands, delight audiences with their breadth of knowledge and passion for making connections between the past and present.
In 2013, OHS hosted Isabel Wilkerson, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns, a powerful look at The Great Migration, when six million African Americans moved out of the southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West between 1916 and 1970. In 2016, Seattle-based author Daniel James Brown shared the triumphant story of The Boys in the Boat, a history of the University of Washington rowing team that won the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The following year, an enraptured audience learned about the Capital Dames who helped forge the early American government from late broadcast journalist Cokie Roberts.
This year promises to be no different. Tickets for the full series are still available, as are single lecture tickets, which start at just $30; all can be purchased online through portland5.com or by phone at 800-273-1530.