Mark Boulton, PhD, Associate Professor of History, is the faculty chair of the 2017 Hancock Symposium. His work with veterans of the Vietnam War informed his first book, Failing Our Veterans: The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation. In May of 2018, he will lead a travel study course in Vietnam for Westminster students and alumni. Get to know Dr. Boulton below.
How have you found “the power in your purpose” at Westminster?
It is definitely through my teaching and my interaction with students. As I tell them at the beginning of my classes, if you don’t like history, you don’t like life! History is, I would argue, one of the most foundational subjects for understanding the world and gaining a sense of purpose within it.
We can only make enlightened and informed policies to make society stronger if we know how such policies have worked in the past. We can only have informed and productive interactions with other people if we understand their historical experience and culture. We can only be prepared for change and complexity if we know the full range of the human experience. We can only test our own values and morality if we know the consequences of certain courses of action.
If our students are to find an authentic voice and purpose in this world, an understanding of history is truly empowering.
Could you tell us about your research and writing on the Vietnam War and Vietnam War veterans?
Throughout my academic career, I’ve been privileged enough to be able to work with veterans. I recently started a Veterans Oral History Program at Westminster, through which I hope to record and archive life-course interviews of veterans from the Blue Jay nation.
Hearing firsthand veterans’ experiences led me to my first book. Failing Our Veterans is a legislative history of the Vietnam-era G.I. Bills which exposed the ways in which political ideologies and party politics conspired to cheat Vietnam veterans out of the kinds of benefits their World War II predecessors enjoyed.
The story of Vietnam is so Shakespearean, with larger-than-life personalities on both sides, all with altruistic intentions which ultimately lead to disastrous outcomes. You can learn just about everything you need to know about global politics and human nature from studying that conflict.
The most rewarding thing I have done at Westminster is taking 20 students—and some alumni—to Vietnam in 2016. Seeing the country firsthand and hearing from veterans of the war “in country” was life-changing for me. We had some incredible experiences, and the students were fearless on that trip—they really did Westminster proud. We’re going again in May of 2018, and alumni are welcome to join us.
What has your experience been like as faculty chair for this year’s Hancock Symposium?
The students, staff, and faculty on the Symposium committee are passionate about bringing the best speakers we could find—all the credit goes to them. It has been an honor to help put the program together because it has provided us with a chance to give something special to our students and the Westminster community.
What do you think of this year’s speakers?
With such a broad topic in “Activism,” we couldn’t hope to cover every subject or social movement, so we spent a lot of time making sure that those people we did bring in are captivating speakers doing astonishing work. We’ve got a strong legacy of great talks at Westminster, and I think that we’ve been able to create a little bit more history with this year’s speakers.
What is the significance of the Hancock Symposium?
Everyone talks about Churchill’s visit to Westminster–and quite rightly—but he was just the beginning. If you look at the list of presidents, prime ministers, dignitaries, musicians, and even royalty that we have brought to campus over the years, I can’t think of another college our size that is able to attract such global names.
The Symposium allows us to keep up the tradition of groundbreaking speakers. I’m sure that our students appreciate this—the Symposium positions us as a world-class liberal arts college. We are so grateful for the generosity of the Hancock family for making this happen. They have given us all an incredible gift.