Speaker teaches audience about history of populism

AJ Fournier, Campus Reporter

Students, staff and the public got the opportunity to learn about populism in American history at the 12th Annual Barry D. Riccio Lecture.

The event started with Riccio’s wife giving a history of how the event started and its history at Eastern.

Michelle Nickerson, associate professor of history at Loyola University, gave a 45-minute lecture on populism and how it has affected America’s history.

Nickerson said she prepped for the event by thinking of the 2016 presidential election, and thinking back and researching from the American Revolution and all the important aspects to highlight.

“I had been thinking about this election and ways in which it was bringing back all this history I had written and taught. I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson said the most important part for her to highlight was how Americans came to identify themselves as victims and spark an opposition to elites over the last 200 years.

“I thought of what parts of American history would be most useful to talk about the president and the latest developments of the last few months,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson said those parts of American history were what she used to base her lecture off of, such as speaking on topics about Andrew Jackson, the Stamp and Sugar Acts and Shay’s Rebellion.

Nickerson said the lecture’s biggest takeaway for a student is for people to ask questions to become better critical readers and listeners of the media.

“One of the things I try not to do is to tell students this happened, that happened and therefore you should think this way and that way,” said Nickerson. “What I try to do is help students ask questions.”

Nickerson said her message is primarily for when students watch the news and hear their government officials talk. They can think about how earlier political movements played roles in how America’s changing history.

History professor Ed Wehrle said this event benefits students because talking about how history helps understand the present.

“There is a lot of confusion about politics today, and it is both something new and has historical context, so talking about it helps us understand,” Wehrle said.

Wehrle said this event every year has a different subject, but the context is always about 21st century America.

After reading Nickerson’s works and knowing about her interest in the 2016 election, Wehrle said she would have interesting topic to discuss.

Clara Mattheessen, who is currently getting her teacher certification for history, said she enjoyed the seminar and would attend another to further her knowledge of different areas.

The most interesting part of the lecture for Monica Burney, a graduate student studying history, was Nickerson speaking on the idea of populism not being a strictly conservative issue on both political sides.

AJ Fournier can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]