The New Fireside Chats

Our new television set...

We’re very excited here at Adams House to announce what we hope will be the beginning of a very long tradition: The New Fireside Chats – a series of web-televised chats with well known figures in academia and politics about the events that shaped our history, and continue to shape the world today. Set hearth-side in our extremely comfortable Morris chairs, and hosted by yours truly with a different guest each episode, segment topics will originate from some object or theme in the Suite, and move outwards from there.

The origin of this idea is comically mundane, in hindsight: a month or so back, I was hanging pictures in the Suite, and stepped down from the ladder to admire the results of my labor. “Michael,” I said to myself, “this almost looks like a television set…”

A TELEVISION SET! Indeed! What a great way to fulfill our educational mission!

So, since then I have been wearing my best PBS hat, nagging my contacts in the industry about what equipment we need to acquire (about 7K worth ahem ahem, for which we’ll need to raise large portion), how to arrange the lighting (basic three-point TV illumination, not that complicated), who’ll man the cameras & sound and edit the pieces (our students) and who our guests will be: First up, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin! (And for those of you wondering, yes, we will be inviting experts from both sides of the aisle  – out goal is to foster debate, whatever that debate might be.) Invitations have been extended to Adams Senior Common Room Members Skip Gates to discuss historical race issues at Harvard, as well as Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen to explore the ramifications of New Deal economics on today’s markets. Four-time Ambassador John Gunther Dean (Adams ’46) will be with us over his 65th in May to talk about US foreign relations, New Deal forward;, and Dr. Cynthia Koch, Director of the FDR Presidential Library, our speaker at the FDR Lecture this year (April 30, details coming Monday), will be discussing FDR as Educator in Chief. And that’s just for starters…

We hope to film our first segment in May, and release approximately one per month

So, as they say in the TV biz, stay tuned!

14 comments on “The New Fireside Chats

  1. walter rowland on

    Great idea! Suggest you interview classmate/ economics Professor Marty Feldstine. Formerly of Adams House, Marty could address US deficit issues- how serious if not reduced promptly. WSR

  2. Jane Field on

    Michael, I’m just floored by what a good idea this is for New Fireside Chats. Of course, of course! However, no one guessed at the start how far you were going to run with the idea of restoring FDR’s old room at Harvard. It’s very educational for everyone at Adams House to participate in all this, too. You’re going to make that FDR Suite a real asset for all of Harvard, which is as it should be, since Harvard and Adams House are setting aside space for the suite.

    • Michael Weishan on

      Hi Jane! Thanks for the kinds words. Yes, we are really motivated to begin the educational portion of our mission. It’s one thing, a great thing, to create a memorial but even better is to get the students involved and actually use it.

  3. claire in paris on

    Does the Suite have to pay for everything itself?
    I can see from here that this represents another labor intensive PR effort but would those PBS contacts not have suggestions about ways to cut our costs? (I mean, about other funders or in-kinders who would like to move in on this particular opportunity to further their own goals?)

    • Michael Weishan on

      No; the House has generously offered to help out with the purchase of the materials; we’re waiting to see how much we can do, the budgets are horrifically cut this year. 7K is actually a pretty draconian budget, formulated with the help of people in the know. To produce these segments, two HD cameras are required, two wireless mikes and transmitters, and special lighting. Nothing terribly complicated, but costly none the less. The labor is not to bad either, if the host knows what he’s doing…. (ho ho) . As for the equipment, the reuse value is large; filming of house activities, student productions, alumni events, etc. My idea is to almost form an Adams TV Network, and really try to get the students involved in all aspects of this.

    • Michael Weishan on

      lol If my new Garden Earth series gets stalled another season on PBS, I may have found a new job.

  4. R Kahn on

    Michael — When I resided in B-entry, from 1950 to 1952, we much enjoyed fireplace chats largely because the Adams House fireplaces produced roaring fires which, accompanied by a glass of port with a raw egg, made us feel grown up. Rumor has it that those fireplaces are no longer operative except, I gather, in the FDR suite. Please tell me that rumor is not true.

    • Michael Weishan on

      Yes, the B-Entry fireplaces are magical. Perfectly constructed. Cast iron firebacks. Never a whiff of smoke.

      But the rumor is true. All the fireplaces in Adams House (and all the other River Houses), except for a few locations like public rooms and the FDR Suite, are now boarded off. In fact, my understanding of the House renewal renovations in Old Quincy scheduled to begin this summer is that all the fireplaces and mantels will be ripped out. This is the current plan for all the houses – complete re-figurement of the floor plans. The internal flues take up a huge proportion of space, which will be rededicated to housing. Due to historic conservation rules for the City of Cambridge, the facades can’t be altered, but the interiors can.

      I’m hugely conflicted here. I live in an 1850’s house with four fireplaces; I use them constantly. When I was a student at Adams, my fireplace was always crackling. In fact, it was one of the reasons I came to Harvard: having grown up in a “modern” home with no fireplace, I was dying to hear the pop and hiss of the flames, and was enticed by all the bright hearths in the Harvard catalog. It just seemed, well, Harvard. “Grown-up,” as you say. When I was a senior, I went so far as to bribe my friends with strawberry daquiris to help me carry up wood. One load, one drink. I burned a full cord that winter.

      The fact of the matter is students of the last few years didn’t use their fireplaces. They’ve rarely experienced the joy of a wood fire, and even if so, they eye them suspiciously as un-environmental, which they are. Firewood is also unbelievably expensive in Cambridge. To their undying credit, our Masters, the Palfreys, open Apthorp House most Sunday eves to the students for cider and study time in the winter, with roaring fires in the public rooms. They get it.

      My concern going forward is that we preserve this remarkable, tangible, audible, visual remnant of 19th century American life in the Suite. Adams will one day, too, be renovated – in the not so distant future. So far, a crackling fire in the FDR Suite has NOT been guaranteed by the Administration. It should be.

      Until such time, or until such time I’m no longer around, whenever we’ve visitors to the Suite and the weather is slightly coolish, a fire crackles still.

      FDR would approve.

  5. Doug Carver on

    Almost as much fun to read the comments as to read your messages, Michael. Following the development of the FDR Suite project is like watching Google grow. Weishan for President! Of Adams? Of Harvard? Or yet higher up?

  6. Michael Weishan on

    Oh no Doug, if you’re proposing yet another pro-bono seat like President of the Foundation, my dance card is full up! lol

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