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UMW's Chappell Great Lives lecture series celebrates 10th anniversary page 2
UMW's Chappell Great Lives lecture series celebrates 10th anniversary

Date published: 1/17/2013


"It's a very approachable form of history," explained John Turner, assistant professor of religious studies at George Mason University, who will speak about Brigham Young, a founder of the Mormon faith, on Feb. 7. "It invites narrative and drama and storytelling, and I think those are devices that allow people to imagine and mentally inhabit another time and place."

The biographical approach has value even for serious historians, said Brian Jay Jones, a "Great Lives" program affiliate and liaison between the series and the organization Biographers International.

"A prominent historian of the Civil War once said to me that there were things he wouldn't have known about the conflict had he not read Frederick Douglass' biography," Jones explained.


Unearthing new facts about the subject's life or hidden aspects of his or her character is often the biographer's goal. This desire is what motivated Sally Bedell Smith to tackle her subject, Elizabeth II. (She will speak about the queen on Tuesday, April 7.)

When she met the British monarch in 2007, Bedell Smith was amazed by an extremely spirited conversation Elizabeth carried on with her husband about the Kentucky Derby.

"The two of them replayed the race going back and forth, and I was just transfixed," Bedell Smith said.

"What I saw was not the distant, stoic queen we think of, but someone incredibly animated and smiling and gesturing and her eyes were sparkling, and I thought 'Wow, this is a whole new view of the queen.'"

While it is unfortunately often the case that the more you delve into someone's life, the more you find to dislike about him or her, Bedell Smith said that she found the complete opposite to be true of Elizabeth.

"She has a very set image and is this very protected person, but the more I dug in and learned about how she goes about her job, what a pro she is, how she tackles all the elements of what truly is a real job--the more I found to admire," explained Bedell Smith.

Bedell Smith noted that she thinks people relish reading a fully realized and fresh perspective of someone so iconic.

"We live in a culture that over-saturates, that over-covers celebrities but on a very superficial level. If you take the time to take a deep dive, people appreciate it," she explained.

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What: Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series at University of Mary Washington When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24, to Thursday, April 25. Where: All lectures held at UMW's Dodd Auditorium, George Washington Hall, 1301 College Ave., Fredericksburg Info: 540/654-1065; umw.edu/greatlives