Faust Discusses Civil War at Boston Public Library

President Faust at Boston Public Library
Karen Zhou

President Drew G. Faust delivered the lecture "Remembering the Civil War" to a packed auditorium at the Boston Public Library, discussing the changing narratives and interpretations of the Civil War during its sesquicentennial and the broader implications of studying and depicting war.

Speaking before a crowd of more than 400 people, University President Drew G. Faust discussed the evolving perceptions of the Civil War and the ties between war and the humanities at the Boston Public Library Tuesday evening.

“Most Americans have approached the Civil War anniversary with attitudes quite different than those who attended 50 years ago,” said Faust, pointing to the way in which the United States honored the centennial anniversary of the war in the 1960s. “Race has moved from the margins of Civil War history to the center.”

She broadened her discussion of the Civil War to include her explanation for human fascination with battles.

“It’s terrible, and yet we love it,” Faust said. “We must acknowledge both its horror and its attraction, if we hope to understand the difference, and the contradiction at the heart of its presence in human lives.”

Faust’s talk was the penultimate speech in a lecture series created as part of Harvard’s ongoing 375th anniversary celebrations to emphasize the ties between the University and the broader community. By the conclusion of the series, the University will have brought educational programming to all 34 Boston and Cambridge public libraries in the form of college prep classes, book readings, and speeches by notable Harvard faculty members and alumni.

Faust gave the inaugural talk in the series at the Cambridge Public Library in January. Other speakers in the series included Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds and Professors Maria Tatar and Steven Pinker.

President of the Boston Public Library Amy E. Ryan said that she thought Faust’s lecture Tuesday epitomized the mission of the BPL.

“This was so meaningful because there were people here from all walks of life, all of Boston, here to see President Faust,” Ryan said. “This is the sort of thing that breathes life into the mission of the library—the advancement of learning.”

Harper C. Sutherland ’14, who attended the event, said that the lecture was not what she was expecting.

“I thought it was going to be more based on the Civil War and not as much about war in general,” Harper said. “I think her book is more interesting.”

Isabelle Barnard, a visiting pre-frosh who accompanied Sutherland to the event, said she found the lecture to be “fascinating.”

“Obviously, it’s always a plus when the president of the college is brilliant,” Barnard said.

Elizabeth Saltonstall, who attended the event, praised the accessibility of Faust’s lecture.

“She brought it alive in such a relevant way,” Saltonstall said. “People from all different walks of life could relate.”

Harvard Overseer and New York Times bestselling author Walter S. Isaacson ’74 will conclude the series with a lecture on Steve Jobs at the end of May.

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at