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.
UPDATE: On March 11, 2020, the Oregon Historical Society announced that the March 17 lecture with Joanne B. Freeman has been postponed due to travel restrictions for Yale faculty related to COVID-19. OHS is in contact with Dr. Freeman and she is enthusiastic about rescheduling this event for next spring. For the latest series news, visit ohs.org/hatfield.
This year, the series kicks off on March 17 with what promises to be a powerful and relevant lineup of speakers. Joanne Freeman, best known for her scholarship on Alexander Hamilton (and her work advising the blockbuster musical Hamilton), will speak on her latest book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to 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.
Erika Lee, one of the nation’s leading historians on immigration, joins the series on April 28 to speak on her new book, America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States. Former TIME and Newsweek editor and veteran journalist Evan Thomas will talk about his book, First: Sandra Day O’Connor, on May 19. Rounding out the series is Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., best known for his role as host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots. His talk (date to be rescheduled for Fall 2020) will cover his book Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.
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 the bestsellers list, 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. Lectures begin at 7 p.m. at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and tickets are available online through portland5.com, by phone at , and in person at the Portland'5 Box Office (1111 SW Broadway Avenue).