Yale News

What parallels can be drawn between J. Edgar Hoover’s 48-year-long term as FBI director and President Donald Trump’s relationship with the FBI today?

History and American Studies Professor Beverly Gage attempted to answer this question and others in her Tuesday night talk at the Ives Main Library, a branch of the New Haven Free Public Library.

The event — which is a part of a monthly series run by Yale’s Public Humanities program — focused on Gage’s biography on Hoover and his role in the FBI. Gage gave remarks to those gathered in the performing arts space of the library before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

“[The FBI] takes its own identity as a professional agency seriously enough to resist these encroachments on its autonomy and it’s quite a lot like what we have seen today,” said Gage. “There is a longer history of [resisting presidential encroachment], for better and for worse.”

Gage’s talk was the third event held at Ives Main Library and the fifth event of the program this academic year. The series has expanded this year to also host events at the Wilson Library branch in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood.

About 30 people gathered in the library to hear Gage share her knowledge of Hoover and his relationship with the three major Presidents he served under: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. Audience members asked about Hoover’s political inclinations, the fragility of the federal government’s institutions and how Gage gathered information for the biography.

Gage decided to participate in the series after American Studies Professor Matthew Jacobson — the co-director of the Public Humanities program — invited her to come speak. Jacobson said he contacts scholars whose work holds significance in today’s political climate.

“Public libraries are important public institutions, and the NHFPL provides a ready-made venue (with a ready-made public) for mounting programming that is meant to reach beyond the walls of the University,” Jacobson wrote in an email to the News. “This has been a successful partnership over a number of years (pre-dating the Democracy program by many years), and has benefitted both the NHFPL and Yale by bringing together people for different communities and generating discussions across an engaged, multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-vocal public.”

This is the second year of the “Democracy in America” series at the NHFPL. It was founded last year by Jacobson, Associate Professor Elihu Rubin and Professor Emily Greenwood. It aims to facilitate events that spur intellectual conversations and debate for all members of the New Haven community, residents and Yale students. The series also features movie showings, art installations and research projects.

Seth Godfrey, the manager of Reference and Adult Learning at NHFPL, noted that a “great deal of civic-minded folks” come to the library for the talks and that the other events have received very positive feedback.

Jacobson and Public Humanities Associate Director Karin Roffman have expanded the program for this academic year, with at least five lectures set to take place at the Wilson Library this fall alone.

“It’s a great way for the community to engage with topics in ways that relate to their needs,” said Luis Chavez-Brumell, who is the branch manager at Wilson Library. “It really helps the community see how they themselves fit within the greater democracy, so I’ve been happy with [the program].”

The series falls under the Public Humanities at Yale, a degree certificate program for graduate students who are pursuing a Masters of Art with a concentration in Public Humanities and are en route to a doctorate in American Studies. The program seeks to share the University’s research with people outside the Yale community and involve more non-academics in on-campus research and projects.

Professor Jennifer Klein will give the next talk in the set at the Wilson Library on Nov. 12 at 6:00 p.m.

Jose Davila IV | jose.davilaiv@yale.edu