The two guests on this episode share a unique history that has seen them through almost three decades of working together at Concordia University. Rev. Dr. Ferry and Dr. Cario are two historians who made up the history department of Concordia in the 90s and now today they’re leading the university as president and provost, respectively. Listen in to hear from them why history matters, what it can teach us today, and how it continues to guide and inform leadership for both of them.
Rev. Patrick Ferry, Ph.D. is the president of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor where he has served since 1991, becoming president in August of 1997. His career at Concordia began in the history department where he was hired by Dr. Bill Cario.
Dr. Bill Cario is the provost and chief academic officer of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor where he ensures that Concordia’s mission is implemented in all academic endeavors. He has served at Concordia since 1990, initially starting as the chair of the history department.
- The importance of history: it’s easy to think that history is a thing of the past—and, in a way, it is—but the catalog of history is continually being added to every single year. Great historians (and citizens) never stop learning and re-evaluating the past because it is ever-changing.
- What has happened in the past hasn’t changed, but our understanding of those events changes—which makes it necessary to continually return to history over and over to gather new insights.
- Historians constantly have to reframe, refocus, and reorganize. To do so takes reflection and it’s a necessary exercise not just for historians and leaders but for all of us.
- History helps inform our current circumstance. We all use history as a way to make sense of ourselves and the world in a clear and logical way.
- In understanding history and our present day, we should each recognize that we approach questions with certain biases. Until we own that, we won’t be able to have constructive dialogue about anything. We must approach history with humility, knowing we all come with a certain perspective. Knowledge is limited and sometimes we get it wrong.
- Changing roles and going through transition: Both Dr. Ferry and Dr. Cario experienced huge transitions in their roles at Concordia, moving from the history department to high-level leadership. They share their strategies for how to make transitions smooth, how to settle into new roles, and why history should matter to leaders.
- Ambiguity in history: There are many layers to the events in history just as there are many layers to individual human beings. Seeing those events from different points of view is necessary.
A Few Mentioned Resources
- Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln
- Queen Elizabeth of England as an example of excellent leadership
- Ron Chernow at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
- Biography on Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
- Biography on Ulysses Grant by Ron Chernow
- Biography of Martin Niemoller: Then They Came for Me by Matthew D. Hockenos
- American Dialogue: The Founders and Us by Joseph Ellis
- Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
What are your thoughts on history and the role it can play in building impactful leadership and engaged citizens? We’d love to hear from you regarding your experience. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share your feedback on this episode.
Dr. Cario: That’s one of the good things about Lutheran education, this idea of humility, this recognition that we all come at learning with a certain perspective. Knowledge is limited, and sometimes, just plain wrong. We all have to recognize that. That is a good place to start, with education.
Angelina: Welcome back to the living uncommon podcast. We are back in Wisconsin after spending some time in Ann Arbor and excited to be back in the studio with our friend, Dan.
Dan: Oh, hi everyone.
Michael: Hi, Dan.
Dan: Yeah, I’m back. I had to hear my voice for the first time on the last recording. It sounded okay. I was a little mumbly. So, I’m gonna try to enunciate better.
Angelina: Did you do your warmup?
Dan: I didn’t. I actually went on to a website and looked at some vocal warm-ups for radio, or for talking, and I didn’t do a single one of them. Maybe next time.
Angelina: It’s the thought that counts.
Dan: They’re supposed to do like lip buzzing, and some things, yawning, just doing a bunch of yawning cuz that stretches out your vocal cords or something.
Michael: As a whole, you go like, “me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Then you go, “meow, meow, meow,” like a cat noise.
Dan: Ok, I could do cat noises.
Michael: Yeah, it helps.
Angelina: Did you do that this morning?
Michael: I do it every morning. Shower, vocal exercises…
Dan: Cat yoga, it’s all there.
Michael: Fresh and loose. I was a music major in college. So, yeah. I know a thing or two… about how to barely get by as a music major in college.
Angelina: Do you still do anything with music?
Michael: No. I play guitar once in a while. No one cares. I’m an old man. I have nothing to say to the world through music.
Angelina: But, don’t you get wiser the older that you get? So, wouldn’t that mean that you had more to tell?
Michael: The older you get, the worse your music is.
Dan: The more it’s stuck in the past. So, if you do something timeless.
Michael: Like, maybe acoustic music. It’s timeless. Everybody who gets older, just make an acoustic album.
Dan: You can just whip it out at the campfire, and play a few tunes.
Angelina: So, what’s new with everybody? Any new flavors of seltzer water?
Michael: No, no new flavors of seltzer water. You guys ever have the ice drink soda?
Dan: I mean, occasionally, I’ll drink a diet soda, like a Diet Coke.
Michael: Like a diet coke?
Michael: With aspartame in it?
Dan: Yes. Anything with chemicals in it to replace sugar. The sugar is really bad. You don’t need a lot of sugar, but I like the flavor of Diet Mountain Dew. It keeps me awake, especially if I’m driving late at night. I don’t really believe in the whole, “diets gonna kill you” thing. I think that’s made up.
Dan: I don’t know. I’ve just got a real feeling about it.
Angelina: Super backed by science.
Michael: You should try that Zevia stuff. I think it’s called, Zevia?
Michael: Stevia is the sweetener. The soda is called Zevia. That’s good stuff. It’s just stevia-sweetened soda. Although, I heard stevia is bad for you. Everything’s bad for you. I try to stick with seltzer. That’s probably bad for you too.
Dan: It tastes bad.
Angelina: The carbonation still wears down your teeth the same way that soda does.
Michael: There’s no winning, folks.
Angelina: Just stick to water. Even water can be contaminated.
Dan: My parents were on a trip to Israel. They just got back, and they were told you cannot drink the water anywhere because of regional bacteria. So, if you’re from a certain region, you drink the tap water, and your body is used to it, you won’t get harmed by the bacteria. But, if you’re from a different region… Now, I suspect that that’s just lines that they can sell bottled water to tourists. I think if I go to another country and drink water straight out of the tap, I’ll be fine. That’s just something I believe. I don’t know.
Michael: You just live your life on gut feelings, basically.
Dan: Yeah, I do.
Angelina: I would be buying bottled water. I’d be one of those people falling for that.
Michael: I would too.
Angelina: Better safe than sorry.
Dan: I mean, have you ever drank out of a natural spring or anything? Just like find something…
Michael: In Switzerland, when I was studying there, you walk up, everybody has little pumps, little springs, in the middle of the city.
Dan: I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a hole in the ground that I can drink out of. There’s dirt around it and everything.
Michael: No, have you?
Dan: Yeah. When I was growing up, I was up at a camp, a summer camp, and they own a bunch of land in the woods up by Shawano, in that area, and this is northern Wisconsin, and there was a natural spring on the trail through the woods. So, it would be like a thing. Everyone would hike out to the natural spring, and you’d bend down and drink water right out of the ground, and then you’d walk back. You can see it bubbling up. It was literally just a hole, maybe two feet wide, but it was always crystal clear. Sometimes, there were sticks floating in it. I’m sure those were fine. Once, I actually drank out of a river. We’re out on the peninsula in Washington State, and we were hiking, and I got really thirsty, and I drank out of just a river that was there.
Michael: Was it moving along?
Dan: It was moving along, and it was ice-cold, so I figured it was fine.
Angelina: Yeah! It’s coming down from the mountain, it’s fine.
Dan: There was not a sheep carcass ten feet away or anything, so I figured it was good.
Angelina: It’s all been dropped to the bottom. Good stuff is at the top.
Michael: That’s how it works. All the germs float to the bottom. Skim off the top. It’ll be fine.
Michael: Well, we had a very interesting discussion for a podcast today. We had the provost and the president of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor to talk a little bit about, not only their love of history, but their history together. They’ve been working together for a long time and have been a pretty strong pair, as far as leadership goes, for Concordia. Just getting to know them and learn a bit about their passions and their research. It was a good discussion. Hope you enjoy it.
Michael: All right. We are here with Dr. Patrick Ferry and Dr. William Cario, who are respectively the president and the provost of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. We’re gonna talk a little bit today about history, leadership, and also, just get to know both of you and how you’ve come up together for all these years at Concordia. So, thank you for being here.
Dr. Ferry: Sure. Thanks for having us.
Dr. Cario: Thank you.
Michael: So, first off, I’m just curious, could you tell us a little bit about, you’re both historians, so, what’s your primary area of research?
Dr. Cario: My area started out very much as colonial American history. My doctoral work was a community study in eighteenth-century Delaware, a study of failure, but it was also a study of a community made up of a wide variety of groups, religious, and social, and economic, and ethnic groups.
Michael: What drew you to that, and why did you choose that focus?
Dr. Cario: I was interested in colonial American history. I was interested in religious history. This community study provided me the opportunity to do both of those things. Over the years, now, as resources haven’t been as accessible about colonial American history, I’ve moved over to the study of higher education, especially Lutheran higher education.
Dr. Ferry: So, for me, I’m a European historian, and in particular, interested in pleaseatrical history, church history. My primary research field was actually Reformation era, which works out well for a Lutheran and Lutheran College. That worked out particularly well for me to come to Concordia because when I arrived, there was already an American historian there. They needed someone to do the other part of Western civilization. I got interested in it about the time I was also becoming interested in being a Lutheran. So, it all sort of dovetail together. I studied a little bit of it at the seminary, and then more in doctoral work after that.
Michael: So, how long have you both known each other?
Dr. Ferry: Well, I think about the same amount of time.
Dr. Cario: Since 1991? I was the history department at Concordia. I had come to Concordia in 1990, and there was a blank slate. All of the previous history faculty members had left, and here I was. I could teach the American side of things, but we needed a colleague to teach some other things. I had the great opportunity to interview any number of people along with others at Concordia at the time. Pat was one of the interviews, and he clearly stood out among the candidates for that European history position.
Dr. Ferry: So, we were the department at that time. We had to divide up the world and just the two of us. We’ve been friends and colleagues for… this is your 29th year finishing up at Concordia?
Dr. Cario: Yes
Dr. Ferry: I’m finishing up my 28th.
Dr. Cario: I have the distinction of hiring him, and also, for at least a good chunk of time, my office was above his office.
Dr. Ferry: That means that physically, the president’s office was directly below his office in Luther hall.
Michael: What was your first impression of Pat?
Dr. Cario: He was a calming presence. He was the right person for Concordia. He understood mission, he understood history, he was someone to build a department and an academic program around.
Michael: I’ll ask you the same question.
Dr. Ferry: Bill is really the true historian between us. I mean, for me, I’ve always felt like history was a bit of an avocation rather. I’ve always been interested in it, I’ve always enjoyed it, but I also kind of saw it as a way to, perhaps get involved at a place like Concordia, which was of most interest to me. Bill is, I think, more of a purist as it comes to historians. In any case, he was there, he was established, he had settled in. He hadn’t been there very long, but we hit it off right away. He and his wife, Cheryl, took me out to eat when I came for the interview, and it’s just been a remarkable relationship as colleagues for a long, long time.
Then, of course, he hired me. Then, I got to hire him back when the academic vice president’s position was open. We had really fine candidates, but Bill was and is the absolute right person for his provost role on our campus. You have two historians, and I think that there’s actually some benefit to that. We were both pretty prejudiced, perhaps, about that. I always kind of considered myself a pastor, maybe theologian, historian, sort of all mixed together, but, not so much historian specifically, or per se, like I think Bill truly is.
Angelina: So, you guys have both been at Concordia for a long time, and your roles look quite different than what they were when you first came in. Can you talk a little bit about your journey at Concordia, and what it looks like for, you know, you guys kind of got to go through that together, and be there for each other, and help each other along. Can you talk about that?
Dr. Ferry: In the department, we worked on things together, which I think we can wax a nostalgically about now. They seemed like really hard questions. They weren’t quite so bad, I suppose, in retrospect, but we were able to kind of build that rapport and relationship that has carried over to our to our current roles. I remember, though Bill is very intimately involved, when my job changed. We were, again, the only people in the department. He knew there was a good chance I would not be in the department much longer anyway because there was another opportunity that I might have pursued if this didn’t come off. None of us really expected for me to be elected president. When it happened, it coincidentally occurred at a time when he and I were traveling to Europe, to Estonia, to teach for two weeks together. So, the big surprise of that election was something that he was the only person I had to be able to process this with. He was just as befuddled as I was. I think it’s kind of a cool thing that we could just think about it together, and wonder about it together, not necessarily anticipating how it might continue to unfold in our work leading together.
Dr. Cario: My path was a little bit different. When I came to Concordia, I had the dream job of being able to teach history. To tell the truth, I had thought very little about doing anything else. I think I had chaired the history department for most of the time, and that was enough administration for me. So, moving on to the administrative side, and then into leadership, was sort of the lobster in the pot of cold water. That’s how I got into leadership and administration. Although it’s been a good journey, it has really been unexpected. I still shake my head that I’m doing this in many ways.
Michael: Can you talk a little bit more about that moment where you transition? So, both of you were academics, right? You were in history, and also churchmen, and involved in the LCMS, and then you find yourselves in administration. What kind of shocked your system most at that time?
Dr. Ferry: Well, for me, since I was had become the president, I was 38 years old, and at the place where I had been teaching and serving, it was now suddenly a different relationship with all my colleagues. It’s not bad because I had a good relationship with him, but it was different, and I think I could sense that and others could sense that as well. It took me a while to kind of figure out what that meant. So, old friends are still old friends. That wasn’t the question. I had a different connection to them now and responsibility toward them. I wasn’t sure I liked that very much. I think it was a little bit, it’s always been a little bit challenging for me, from a kind of social perspective. You know, after a while, you kind of get used to it. Everybody gets used to it. At that time, that was one of the biggest challenges. I like the idea of having a chance to have an impact and to lead, but it was that kind of personal dynamic that took a little getting used to.
Dr. Cario: I think, for me, the shock, as you described, came pretty quickly in the transition. It had to do with sort of a loss of control. One of the advantages of being a faculty member, is that one is somewhat autonomous, one has control over the classroom, and over one’s day, and you can pick your scholarship interests, and do that type of thing. Moving into administration, you’re often dealing with other people’s problems. My first entree into sort of university administration was when Pat and Dave Eggebrecht, who was then the vice president of academics, asked me to take the role of assistant vice president of academics, and I said, “Well, let me think about it a day or two.” I came back and said, “I’ll try it for a year.” They said, “Good. Here’s your first job. There’s a group of Estonian students coming in about a month, and nothing has been planned for them. Set up a plan for their learning activities over the summer.” That was a bit of a shock. I didn’t have any control over that anymore. That provides opportunities and neat challenges.
Dr. Ferry: I do remember days when I went home and felt like my work was done. I’ve finished my work, the desk is clear… That’s just a vague memory.
Angelina: You guys talk about some of these challenges that you encounter when you first step into your leadership roles. I think, sometimes, people, they look at those roles and they think, ‘That’s what I want.’ Could you talk a little bit about some strategies that you came up with, or, how you were able to say, “This is okay,” “That this feels different,” or, “It’s different,” or, “I’m having to look at my job a little bit differently.” What were the strategies that you use to kind of help make that transition?
Dr. Ferry: You know, some of them have just evolved over time. I don’t know that there were necessarily intentional strategies, but one thing that has always been important for me is to make sure I create some distance between my work and the rest of my life. So, I compartmentalize. My wife, Tammy, is also on our staff at Concordia, and she knows I don’t want to talk about work when we’re at home. She likes to talk about it. So, we do a little bit. We compromise. I am able to kind of disconnect from it. That’s always been pretty helpful to me to have other interests and other hobbies. As it relates to our conversation today, also, I think, just as a historian, most of what I read in my leisure is history, actually, and we have a group that’s interested in putting together a summer reading plan. They’re all these, kind of, how-to books. Bill and I were talking about it on the way over here. They just don’t interest me. When I read about history, I think that helps to frame things in my own way, in my own context. So, there’s an association between that and what I do, but it’s not the kind of direct, “Do this, and this one.”
Angelina: Sometimes, that can be dangerous. If I follow this formula, then everything will be perfect.
Dr. Ferry: I think the really cool things about what we enjoy studying is that the life is extremely nuanced. There was a discussion in the Academic Council the other day about transfer of credits, and should we allow a history class was taken, you know, 15 years ago, would that still apply? Someone, speaking from darkness, obviously, said, “Well, history hasn’t changed since 1864.”
Well, what happened, perhaps, hasn’t changed very much, but our understanding of those things, it’s a disciplinary discussion. I was going to speak to our anatomist, “Say, anatomy, hasn’t changed that much since 1864.” So, you know, it’s that kind of thing.
Michael: I think what you said about you’re not interested in reading these how-to books, or these self-help development books… and I think it’s partly why I think Concordia is so great is that it has a liberal arts core that teaches you how to do critical thought versus having the thought done for you, and you kind of go step by step and say…
Dr. Ferry: I don’t mean to disparage those kinds of things. For some people, that’s the kind of genre that interests them, and it just has never interested me very much. I mean, I could count on one hand the number of those books that I’ve read in my life.
Angelina: I want to go back a little bit in our conversation and talk about mentorship. You guys have had interesting paths to where you are today. Even when you mentioned when you found out that you had been elected president, and you were with Bill, and you guys got to share that time together, and process through that, can you talk a little bit about what mentorship has looked like in each of your lives as you’ve grown up into these leadership roles?
Dr Ferry: Let me start again on this one. First of all, let me just say another word about Bill. I mean, Bill’s like the Rock of Gibraltar to me. He’s dedicated, he’s committed, he’s focused on our mission, he’s thoughtful, I mean, he’s a guy that I can count on. So, even though he’s a peer, I regard his perspective with great value. So, if Bill says it, that’s gold. He’s just that kind of a person. So, that’s very helpful. I think about others along the way. I felt singularly unprepared in retrospect for my work. It’s not that people didn’t mentor me as a person, or as an academic, but for the leadership role that I assumed, I can’t really point to someone and say, “They took me under. That person took me under his or her wing and helped me along.” Again, where I was most helped was with not taking my own counsel but taking the counsel of others about whom I read. To me, that was much more significant than…I’ve taken that as a lesson and have tried to be much more deliberate about helping others to prepare for their opportunities.
Dr. Cario: I did have the advantage of slowly moving into leadership opportunities, so the vice president’s under whom I worked were helpful. One had an English background, one had an education background, and seeing their style contrasts was helpful to me. In the end, I had to find my own leadership style, which is as as much earnestness as anything else, I think, and with perhaps a little bit of competence, and in there. What I appreciate about Pat is his ability to set a vision, and move people, and gather people together to move toward a goal. That is really something that I’ve always admired.
Michael: So, I’m gonna read a quote the both of you and want to get a reaction. It’s by Ken Burns, filmmaker. “Business leaders ought to study history. You can’t know where you are or where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” First, thoughts?
Dr. Ferry: To me, that’s an axiom. I mean, it’s sort of obvious in a way. I know that it’s not for most folks. I think that’s where we often run into some great difficulty is that lack of acquaintance with history helping to inform our current circumstance.
Dr. Cario: I believe that the fortune 500 CEOs, the discipline of the largest number of them is history. What I would say is that we’re all historians. Whether we know it or not, we all use history as a way to make sense of ourselves and our world. The discipline of history helps us to think through that in a clear and logical way. Many people misuse history. I mean, we’ve all done that. We’ve all misread things. My sense is that an understanding of history helps to make things a little bit clearer.
Dr. Ferry: Every discipline has a way of looking at things in the world. One of the advantages of history and historians is that we, as Bill said, we do try to make sense of it. We connect dots. Sometimes, maybe to a fault. In any case, there is the advantage of trying to piece things together, and that’s a very important kind of thinking, a skill. You see how the dots connect, and if they don’t quite connect, then you try to figure out why and how they might connect better.
Dr. Cario: Perhaps, a difference between history and in the sciences, although, I think there’s some opportunity on the edges for these places to look together, is that the sciences tend to be binary. Either something works or it doesn’t, or it’s one way or the other. History is much grayer as life is.
Dr. Ferry: Historians have to be comfortable with ambiguity and that is kind of the real world. That’s not always easy in a context, even one like our own where people would like things always in black and white. We find ourselves not uncomfortable in a world that’s more ambiguous.
Michael: What would you say, I don’t know, if you could allocate a percentage, or, how much of history is objective fact and how much of it is subjective interpretation?
Dr. Ferry: That’s a binary question.
Dr. Cario: History is the process of taking those data points out there, of which there is an unlimited number, picking and choosing which ones are the most important to put together some sort of a narrative that makes sense. I love to use the example of the assassination of JFK. What information do we not know about what happened that day when John F Kennedy died, right? There’s been all sorts of study. There have been more books on that written than on any other event in American history, and yet, there’s not a worldwide consensus about what happened. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t truth, it’s just that it’s really hard to get at that.
Dr Ferry: Well, and there are perspectives too. I mean, you’re talking about… it’s kind of specific event, but for broader historical questions, there are many layers just like there are to each of us as individual human beings. So, it makes good sense that you’re gonna be able to see things from different points of view, and they’re legitimate. We’re not talking about some kind of postmodern relativism, but perspective is important. It’s very important.
Angelina: How do you yourself using that in your own work? You talked a little bit about how you tend to read history rather than how-to books, but can you expand on that a little bit? What does that look like practically speaking to read a book and interpret something in a way that applies to the work that you’re doing?
Dr. Cario: I think, working with people, it is really important to hear what they have to say and give people an opportunity to explore, and expand, and disagree, and communicate with each other. That has to be at the beginning. In some ways, isn’t that what higher education should be about? That always is a beginning point for me.
Dr. Ferry: Another way of thinking about it, just as an example, when we were doing a very significant Lake Shore restoration project on our campus, the bluff project we called it, I was at the same time reading David McCullough’s book on the the Panama Canal. It helped me to appreciate that this wasn’t that big a deal. I think it is helpful to to see how others wrestle through very complex situations and circumstances, realizing that things rarely take a linear path. You have to be prepared for the variations that occur, people, places, things, that kind of change directions. Again, some level of comfort with just uncertainty about how things will unfold. That, to me, is very useful.
Angelina: Is there a particular person in history, or a group of people, that you kind of draw inspiration from for your own leadership, would you say?
Dr. Ferry: There are lots. There’s innumerable examples, but one I like to refer to often, as sixteenth century historian you’d expect me to say Martin Luther, but I would say Queen Elizabeth of England. Elizabeth the first, who was young woman not prepared to become queen, who was able to build a team that had representation from very different perspectives, she was open-minded to how things might work. She was savvy about public relations and about how to present herself and present her monarchy. I mean, there’s just so many examples of ways in which I think, ‘gosh, you know, she really was a good role model for someone like me, at a certain point in my life.’ Looking in there, we could identify bits and pieces from all kinds of different individuals, I suppose.
Dr. Cario: The classic case is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, or joint biography team of rivals. He had to take these wide variety of people who had quite different ideas, who were all competing for political power, and he was able to to work with them and get them into some functioning team. Even before that, I’m fascinated by the American Founding Fathers. These young men, and that is one of the sad parts, there were any number of women who could have participated and been involved at that point, from different backgrounds, different educational levels, just a wide variety of men who had different goals, but they came together and figured out some pretty amazing things.
Dr. Ferry: I would say, I’m European historian, but most of my reading in the last five, ten years has been the framers and founders and just learning from that experience. I would agree with you. By the way, the book on Lincoln and his team of rivals is one that I had our administrative team read.
Dr. Cario:It was great.
Dr. Ferry: They were real happy. It was a pretty thick book. But, we did work through that one.
Dr. Cario: They wanted a how-to book.
Angelina: What was the result of that?
Dr. Ferry: It was actually good. I mean, I’m not sure everyone read everything. Most of them did, I think.
Michael: If you think about information today and how rapidly it is produced, and it can be hard to even make sense of what the present is, what’s really happening right now, which, I suppose, it may be always has been in a way. How do you think history is going to change because of this influx of perspectives immediately on any event happening right now?
Dr. Cario: This is something that historians are used to because every year, there’s another year of history out there. Historians have always, as part of their own perceptions, had to reframe their thinking. When I was going to to high school, and even college, history ended in the 1960s, for example. Today, students certainly need to be aware of the Vietnam era, Iraq, and all of that fun stuff. Historians have to reframe, and refocus, and sort of reorganize things. That is something that I think we all need to be able to do. We need to take all of this stuff that’s coming in and say, “Okay, what changes are happening because of this? How is the framework changing?”
Dr. Ferry: Hopefully, we will collectively grow in our appreciation for the importance of the historical perspective. I think that there’s a very tangible example of this recently at the White House Correspondents Dinner. This year, instead of a comedian, Ron Chernow the author of the Hamilton biography and a recent one on Ulysses Grant, was asked to speak. He did a terrific job for one thing, but it’s so important in the kind of crush of information that comes from media, which is, in a way, the first chapter of history, kind of current events. You have the voice of someone who can think it through in a broader way and make its application and place it into context. It’s really important for us to have a sign of some context. Many historians are trying to provide that in this particular moment. Just very quickly, and this is maybe a little political, but Journal ended with a really great quote from Mark Twain when he said that, “Politicians, like baby’s diapers, should be changed often and usually for the same reason.”
Dr. Cario: It’s also true that historians are notoriously bad at trying to forecast the future. They have not had a good track record about it. I think the historical effort is best to understanding how we got where we are today.
Angelina: I liked what you said, Bill, about how it would be great if we could all look at what’s happening and constantly be reframing and refocusing. How do we do that?
Dr. Cario: It takes reflection, it takes taking a step back and re-prioritizing things. For example, there’s been an ongoing discussion about the real causes of the Civil War. For a long time, when, essentially, white males were leading the discussions, the discussions were very much about politics, and constitutional issues, and the role of the north and south, and that type of thing. At least in the historical discussion, more recently, as more women, more people of color, have joined in this discussion and have looked at the civil war, they’re thinking, ‘maybe the civil war was about this issue of race that we have in in our country that we’re still trying to figure out.’ Being able to step back and have other people involved in that discussion is really important.
Dr. Ferry: Something else to be said, I mean, to your question is that it’s very important for all of us, and historians included, but for each of us to recognize that we approach questions with certain biases, and, until we own that, we’re not going to be able to have a sufficiently constructive dialogue about anything. Historians have to be aware of that in their own work, but all of us need to be aware of that as we approach this question.
Dr. Cario: That’s one of the good things about Lutheran education, this idea of humility, this recognition that we all come at learning with a certain perspective. Knowledge is limited, and sometimes, just plain wrong. We all have to recognize that. That is a good place to start, with education.
Michael: What about Lutheran theology lends itself to that, being okay with ambiguity in certain areas?
Dr. Ferry: Well, it’s a dialectical theology and sort of inherently. I mean, we see human beings as redeemed children of God, and yet, remaining corrupted by sin. Same time, justified, same time, redeemed. We recognize that God’s law is authoritative and the gospel is as with law and gospel. There’s a lot of “both and” in Lutheran theology that’s built in, both sin and grace. So, that’s important. I think it lends itself very well to that kind of real-life experience.
Michael: In your readings, over time, you’ve come across many great historical leaders. What have you pulled out from that? If you could say, ‘this is what makes a great leader.’ What has your reading, and your first-hand experience, taught you about great leadership?
Dr. Cario: There’s not a single step of things you can do. It is both an art and a science, just as in many things. I think there are some things that all of us can learn to be good leaders, but there are some people who just have that ability to make a difference. I think of someone like Spartacus in the ancient world. We don’t know enough about this man. His ability to forge a slave uprising into a revolt that almost overthrew the Roman Empire, the Roman Republic, it just intrigues me to think about what it was that he had that he was able to do that type of thing.
Dr. Ferry: There are many kinds of leadership styles. They all have potential to work just fine, given personality, and context, and what-have-you. I think that’s worth knowing that lots of people could be effective leaders in the right context, in the right place. I guess, if there was sort of a summary comment, I think it’s important for really good leadership that they know history. And there are lots of examples. You think about John Adams, or James Madison, or Jefferson, and as they’re working on these, I mean, these were folks who were really well-acquainted with historical precedent and brought those insights to bear as they were formulating critical documents. Even inventing something very new, that was very different, nevertheless, they were well-acquainted with what worked and what didn’t work and why. I think it’s leaders, particularly leaders in government, who don’t bring that perspective, it’s in a very obvious deficiency.
Angelina: Well, thank you guys so much for being here with us. This has been a joy to have you guys talk about history and leadership. Last question before you go, we want to know, what’s on your bookshelf?
Dr. Cario: I’m looking forward to picking up a new biography of Martin Niemoller who was a u-boat captain in the German Navy in World War I. He became a Lutheran minister and was involved in the resistance against Nazis in World War II.
Dr. Ferry: I brought a couple along, so, I’ll get the titles for you. I think this is an interesting question at an interesting time. Historians, particularly American Historians at our moment in time, are trying to help us all to frame the things that we’re observing around government, and society, and culture by presenting, for us, examples and insights from our own history that will help us to better understand, and appreciate, where we are today. So, right now, I’m reading the Joseph Ellis book on American Dialogue: The Founders and Us. He’s taking up topics like race, and inequality, and law, and foreign affairs, and he’s allowing the founders to speak, but also to place it into our own context. Doris Kearns Goodwin, who Bill mentioned earlier, she did a book recently on leadership in turbulent times. Again, the inference is that we are living in turbulent times. She draws on examples of Lyndon Johnson, and Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln, you know, so that we can see how they they managed their own experience. The first one out of the box was Jon Meacham. Jon Meacham was the eulogist at the George Bush funeral. He did the Bush biography not long ago, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. He also takes kind of a topical approach, but he reflects on some important moments in our history and how good leaders dealt with those things. I think the important thing to mention is that they’re recognizing, because historians don’t usually do this, they’re not usually trying to create these dialogues between the past and our own moment. They’re sensing that we’re living in an unusual time, and that it’s important that we as Americans, particularly, let history help us to sort our way through this. I’d recommend really all of those as examples of things that people might be interested in.
Angelina: Well, thank you so much.
Dr. Ferry: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Dr. Cario: Thank you.
Michael: Thank you.
Michael: And, we’re back. What did you guys learn about the leadership here at Concordia Wisconsin and Ann Arbor from this discussion?
Angelina: Well, since I’m so new, I’d never heard their story before of how Bill hired Dr. Ferry. Then, they worked together for a long time, and just their relationship through the years, and how they’ve gotten to walk this path together, and they’re serving in administration together, and it was really neat to hear that story from their perspective.
Michael: That’s kind of why I wanted to do the podcast with them, besides the fact that I think it’s interesting having an organization with a couple historians in charge, and their love of history is always interesting. That’s really unique that two people have been together as friends. It’s like a mentorship/relationship, or just a relationship, that’s grown together over time. I think that’s neat. It was a neat story and neat to hear them interact with each other. What do you think, Dan?
Dan: Yeah, I missed that part because I was just stuck in traffic, but, I really loved when Dr. Cario said some things speaking to the complexities of history, and the move from history to histories. Back in the day, we would have just told history from one perspective, and he talked about the broader perspective of history, and incorporating more voices, and the importance of that, especially for leaders to be able to see a more complex picture of the world, and cause and effect, and things like that.
Michael: It was also interesting talking to them a little bit about how Lutheran theology deals with ambiguity, and how they inherit ambiguity in history, and the project of history, and there’ still true at it. But, truth can be arrived almost in some ways. The phrase was used dialectically. That’s kind of a dialectical way of approaching both, in a way, which, I thought was interesting.
Dan: Now, define that for us, dialectical. I hear that thrown around a lot.
Michael: In the sense that we’re using it as far as history, and even, in some ways, theology. It can be the idea of how progress is made through opposites, and how they interact, and the kind of a synthesis between the two. Then, a new thing will appear to be synthesized, and then it’ll keep making progress. That’s how history unfolds itself. That’s how a lot of things can unfold. It’s speculative. Some people, some thinkers, have thought that there is an ultimate end to this, that they’ll be, you know, you’ll ultimately achieve truth, or some sort of ultimate aim for life, or the unfolding of history and events. So, in that sense, it’s what they used. Dan, you’re squinting off in the distance right now.
Dan: I’m just trying to take it all in.
Michael: If anyone wants to give a better definition, which I think many people could, feel free to go to our social media and just rail against us, criticize us.
Angelina: We’re open to the feedback.
Michael: Yes, speaking of things to do online, I would encourage all of you to go to online.cuw.edu to learn a little bit more about our online programs. This living uncommon podcast is presented by Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, and in particular, the online programs. So, whether you’re trying to complete your bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, whatever your career goals are, there’s a chance that we have a program that could help you with it. So, visit at online.cuw.edu today.
So, Angelina, what else stood out to you from this conversation?
Angelina: I think one of my favorite points that was made during the conversation was when Dr. Cario was talking about how history is always happening, and for as long as history has existed, historians have had to reassess, and reevaluate, and choose new frameworks through which to view history, and constantly relearn so that they can teach what had happened. I liked how he talked about, in our day and age, we all should be doing that. That’s not just something that historians should be doing, but as citizens, as just people, we should all be open to reassessing history and constantly challenging ourselves to relearn it. That kind of points to what they were talking about with the different perspectives and marginalized groups getting to have a say in relearning history through their perspective. I just thought that was really encouraging to hear, and it’s something that makes me hopeful for where we are in the world. If more of us could do that, how much more compassion could we have for each other, and what people are going through, and know what’s happened?
Dan: I think about the fact that I know it seems like we have very short memories in America, especially in the West we have very short memories. We don’t realize how young this Empire is. We don’t realize how young America is, what’s going on here, and it has a much deeper connection to the past. We tend to forget it. I think about, in Milwaukee especially, they tend to tear down buildings a lot, especially old buildings, just for no reason other than its old, and let’s get rid of it, and then everyone forgets that it was ever there. You can’t uncover the history of the place any longer because nothing exists from older than 75 years. I don’t know how that relates.
Michael: We gotta get our condos somehow, Dan.
Dan: That’s true. There’s only so many warehouses we can convert.
Angelina: It’s interesting though. It’s like, do we do that with history in general, where we’re so concerned with what’s happening right now, or where we’re going, that we forget where we’ve been? Then, are we making the same mistakes?
Michael: I often see things floating around about how people are forgetting, for instance, the Holocaust. A lot of people in America, if you were to pull students like 20 or 30 years ago about their knowledge of the Holocaust, it would be significantly more aware than students today. It seems like there is a lack of historical literacy that’s happening today.
Angelina: Well, it’s kind of like what Dr. Ferry said. They were in a meeting and someone had said something about how history hasn’t changed since 18 something. It’s easy to think, “Well, oh, yeah, history is that book that I read in high school, or this thing that I studied in middle school. It doesn’t have any purpose for me now today.” Hearing them talk about history, and not just as people, why history matters, but especially as leaders why history is so important. I don’t know, it definitely gave me a new perspective on the importance of it.
Michael: I think, in some way, with history, at one point, I’m not even that old, but I remember growing up, and there are multiple books on history for sure, but today, you can go online and you can look up a historical event. There’s 25 different narratives about what happened, and it’s hard to sort through that and try to get through what’s truth. It’s because of an acceleration, the way media can be produced, and education in a lot of cases. There’s a narrative. History is, in a lot of ways, the project of constructing a narrative around events that happened. That narrative is gonna be spun by people of different viewpoints.
Angelina: It makes me think of our episode with Dr. Laverick and how she talked about how rhetoric is all around us all the time. With all the messages that are coming at us daily, how do we decide which one’s we’re gonna listen to? Evaluating the speaker, the writer, the artist, even that can take the approach in history to people’s narratives and figure out like who’s telling the story, and what was their intent, what’s their purpose? Are they ethical?
Dan: Question, if you could go back in time to any time period and visit, maybe just be an observer for a time, where would you go, or when would you go?
Michael: I like Moses. I’d want to be around Moses like back in the day. I’d want to bring a bottled water, get dehydrated out in the wilderness, maybe some protein bars. I get lightheaded easily if I don’t have, you know…
Dan: Well, there’s quail. I mean, quail’s got good protein. It’s a little gamey, I hear. What about you, Angelina?
Angelina: Oh, man. I think I would like to go back that period where the history of the early church stops and then it picks up a few hundred years later. What happened in that in-between period? How did Christianity grow into what it became?
Dan: So, like in the 300 A.D. era?
Angelina: Yeah, like, what’s going on?
Dan: You guys have some very Christian answers.
Dan: For me, I’m fascinated with the transition points in history. So, between the Industrial Revolution, and then just prior to that. How did society adjust? If you look at how everything was insane, we had five, six year old kids working full-time in factories because their hands were tiny and they could fit him inside these weird machines that they had running constantly. At some point, someone was like, “Let’s put them in school.” It’s just this weird transition between the world we know and this world that really wasn’t that long ago. I’d love to be able to observe that transition. We have a lot of documentation on that, which is good. I think that goes back, again, to forgetting how recent a lot of that was. A lot of what we do now is a very modern invention.
Angelina: What’s the impact of it all?
Dan: Great question. The question we’ll be exploring on more adventures on the Living Uncommon podcast.
Michael: Thank you. This was a great discussion. We encourage you to leave us feedback on our social media, and we look forward to the next conversation. Thanks for listening.
This podcast is brought to you by Concordia University Wisconsin and Concordia University Ann Arbor. However, the opinions and views are not meant to be official statements on their behalf.