New-York Historical Society and CUNY TV Launch Educational Video Series in Anticipation of Presidents’ Day
The New-York Historical Society and CUNY TV commemorate Presidents’ Day with a dynamic new educational video series, Opening the Oval with David M. Rubenstein: Understanding American Power. Presented in a distinctive pop-art, comic-book style that is engaging and accessible for students from middle school through college, Opening the Oval explores the history of American power through the lens of the presidency.
Consisting of five episodes, each one approximately 8-10 minutes long, Opening the Oval features commentary from host David Rubenstein and experts in the field such as author Elaine Weiss, historian Michael Beschloss, filmmaker Ken Burns, and journalist Jia Lynn Yang, who illuminate the many ways that the role of the presidency has shifted to reflect political and cultural changes in the country at large. The series premieres on CUNY TV on February 14 at 5 pm with weekly episodes to follow. It will also be available on New-York Historical’s website and YouTube page.
Also launching on February 14 is a special companion curriculum developed by New-York Historical’s education department, which includes primary sources, photographs, life stories, and vocabulary lists that connect to each video, as well as suggested discussion questions and activities educators can use to create engrossing, thought-provoking classroom lessons. The materials are aligned to the new Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, a bi-partisan framework for strengthening civics education in K-12 classrooms nationally.
Episode 1: Presidential Leadership
Scholar Douglas Brinkley outlines the leadership qualities—moral character, honesty, courage, and teamwork— that make a strong president. Examples like George Washington giving up office, Lyndon Johnson pushing for civil rights legislation, and Ronald Reagan comforting the nation after the Challenger space shuttle disaster illustrate how these traits have been effectively deployed. Author Jia Lynn Yang also explores how Johnson’s immigration reform was a vital turning point in U.S history. Moments of hardships in other American presidencies are also shown throughout the video to demonstrate ways that these qualities have been manifested in real life. The video ends by inviting students to consider qualities that they think are necessary in an effective leader.
Episode 2: Presidential Power in Wartime
Rubenstein talks with historian Michael Beschloss and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about the risks and rewards of high-stakes decision-making during times of crisis. This video explores how leaders make wartime decisions, focusing primarily on conflicts from the Korean War to the present. The episode reflects on the impacts of war on the roles and responsibilities of the office and the powers gained during wartime. Beschloss and Burns further examine Truman’s relationship with Congress during the Korean War and the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Episode 3: Lincoln and Emancipation
Along with historians H. W. Brands, Eric Foner, Drew Gilpin Faust, and David W. Blight, Rubenstein discusses Abraham Lincoln’s policies during the Civil War with a particular emphasis on how his attitudes towards slavery and abolition shifted over the course of the war. A highlight of the episode is the relationship and interactions between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass as they worked towards emancipation, which included significant diplomatic exchanges over the treatment of Black soldiers in the Union army.
Episode 4: The Road to Women’s Suffrage
With a focus on women’s rights, this video explores how women’s advocacy for the right to vote started with early ties between the abolition movement and the women’s rights movement. After the 15th amendment passed and gave all male citizens the right to vote, regardless of color, the women’s suffrage movement continued to grow through the activism of women like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony. With insights from the late journalist Cokie Roberts and author Elaine Weiss, the episode traces the women’s suffrage movement from the early days of civil disobedience to the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Episode 5: The Role of First Ladies
Journalists Cokie Roberts and Jonathan Alter and historian Annette Gordon-Reed explore the evolving role of the First Lady and the ways that the office has been continually redefined based on the specific personalities and changing social mores of the day. Examples include Dolley Madison’s informal political influence as a hostess in Washington, D.C., during Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s tenures and Rosalyn Carter’s essential role as one of the people Jimmy Carter first looked to for advice. The episode also considers the different causes that recent First Ladies have championed while in office and how the women in presidents’ political and personal lives can teach us new lessons about their presidencies and the nature of power.
Visitors to New-York Historical can explore the history of the presidency with Meet the Presidents and the Oval Office, a special permanent gallery that features a detailed re-creation of the White House Oval Office. Artwork and objects also trace the evolution of the presidency and executive branch and how presidents have interpreted and fulfilled their leadership role.
About David M. Rubenstein
David M. Rubenstein is co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group. Mr. Rubenstein is chairman of the Boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Gallery of Art, and the Economic Club of Washington; a Fellow of the Harvard Corporation; a Trustee of the World Economic Forum; and a Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among other board seats. Mr. Rubenstein is an original signer of The Giving Pledge; the host of The David Rubenstein Show and Bloomberg Wealth with David Rubenstein; and the author of The American Story, How to Lead, and The American Experiment. He is a 1970 graduate of Duke University and a 1973 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School.
About New-York Historical Society
Experience 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibitions, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations among renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum A great destination for history since 1804, the Museum and the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library convey the stories of the city and nation’s diverse populations, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we came to be. Ever-rising to the challenge of bringing little or unknown histories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new annex housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help forge the future by documenting the past join New-York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, and Center for Women’s History. Digital exhibitions, apps, and our For the Ages podcast make it possible for visitors everywhere to dive more deeply into history. Connect with us at nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr.
About CUNY TV
The City University of New York’s television station, CUNY TV, has been educating and informing viewers for more than three decades. Established in 1985, the station has steadily increased its ambition and scope, in 2009 transitioning to high definition and adding over-the-air broadcasting to its existing cable distribution. Now reaching 7.3 million broadcast households in the New York metro area, CUNY TV is committed to extending the academic mission of the university to offer lifelong learning opportunities to all New Yorkers. The station is the recipient of 28 New York Emmy® Awards and over 100 nominations, as well as other prestigious industry honors including the Telly Awards and Communicator Awards.
CUNY TV is available over-the-air on channel 25.3. The broadcast signal can be received within a 35-mile radius from Times Square, including areas of Long Island, Westchester County, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Cable subscribers in the five boroughs of New York City receive CUNY TV on Ch. 75 (Spectrum and Optimum), Ch. 77 (RCN), and Ch. 30 (Verizon FiOS). More than a thousand hours of CUNY TV’s original programming are archived online for national and international access at our website, tv.cuny.edu, as well as on our YouTube channel.