HC 101H: Epic Leadership and Lyric Poetry

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

4.00 credits

• CRN 16604: Monday & Wednesday, 0815-0945 @ ALL 140

What do Lincoln, Churchill, JFK, Wangari Matthai, Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Victor Havel, Pablo Neruda, and Barack Obama have in common? An unlikely story: poetry. Based on the historical record, the acts of reading and writing poetry shaped their and others' leadership thinking and destiny. Our class investigates the actual poetry that inspired leadership in facing and turning around “the impossible"--the poetry leaders read and themselves wrote. With Abraham Lincoln, we consider his readings of Robert Burns, Edgar Allen Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, and the Bible for such writing as The Gettysburg Address, and decisions relating to war, civil rights, and the environment, including the landmark Yosemite Grant of 1864. We examine the influence of President Obama’s study of Harlem Renaissance poets and writing of poetry in his own transformation as a leader. We research the origins of Winston Churchill’s classics-inspired speeches to rouse a country enduring Nazi aggression and to engineer a return to political power so effectively that he won the Nobel Prize for literature. We study the origins of “Invictus,” written by a British teenage amputee, credited with saving the life of an embattled young black civil rights activist who in turn changes the destiny of South Africa. We study how poetry going back to Mesopotamian epic informs Homer and the Bible, and changes the course of world history, including the independence of India, and the U.S. civil rights movement. We will read a Supreme Court case (“do trees have standing?”) argued on the basis of the poetry of John Donne and Aldo Leopold. 
Written assignments provide students the opportunity to research poetry’s historic role in diverse individual leaders’ resilience, effectiveness, and development. Primary readings are from an anthology of poetry and poetic outcomes in speeches and laws developed for this CHC course, “The Leader’s Reader”—“the improbable role poetry famously played in leaders’ lives for creativity and helpful new ways of thinking for the long run and big picture optimism—and respite and solace from the often lonely challenge of leadership. Our reading provides chapter and verse of leaders who lay it on the line to inspire resilience and resolve for oneself and the communities one serves.”