George Packer, author and New Yorker staff writer, spoke in the Riggs Library on Oct. 19. His talk, “How America Came Unwound,” marked the 30th anniversary of the Richardson American Studies Lecture Series.
Georgetown’s American Studies program hosts a Richardson Lecture each fall. The event brings an acclaimed speaker on American Studies to campus to speak to students, faculty, and American Studies program alumni.
Thursday’s talk celebrated the legacy of the American Studies program. Founded in 1969, the major is the oldest interdisciplinary program in Georgetown College, and one of the oldest American Studies programs in the country.
Program director Erika Seamon gave introductory remarks. “Majoring in American Studies [is] a really special, unique, and memorable experience here in the College, both in and outside of the classroom, while they’re on the Hilltop, and, hopefully, for many decades after students go,” she said.
Packer used his speech to give an overview of his research on what he has dubbed the “unwinding” of modern America, discussing a web of social, economic, and factors that explain the country’s present politics. He drew significantly from his 2013 book “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” connecting his past research to the Trump era.
Packer recently made headlines because of a well-publicized exchange with Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic Monthly. In his essay “The First White President,” Coates criticized Packer’s analysis of the 2016 presidential election for insufficiently discussing race. Packer subsequently responded to this criticism in a follow-up essay of his own. “Ta-Nehisi and I are friendly,” Packer said on Thursday, in response to questions about this debate with Coates. “As far as I know, there is still reasonably good feeling between us.”
Alumni had travelled across the nation to attend Packer’s talk, and several prospective American Studies majors, such as Kayla Hewitt (COL ‘21), were also in attendance.
“Universities are the place to have these conversations,” Hewitt said. “I mean, it’s called the ‘unwinding’– I don’t think there’s a way to understand how to weave it back together if we don’t understand how we got here in the first place.”