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Scott Culpepper

Historian / Speaker / Author

Dordt University

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Scott Culpepper serves as a historian, speaker, and author of fiction and nonfiction, creatively exploring the history and mystery of the human experience. He holds a PhD from Baylor University and specializes in the history of the Americas and Europe with a particular emphasis on the intersections of politics, religions, and popular cultures. His book Francis Johnson and the English Separatist Influence was published by Mercer University Press in 2011. He has contributed chapters to The Supernatural Revamped and Apocalyptic Chic. His academic and creative pursuits are driven by a desire to help people overcome restrictive cultural, intellectual and religious systems to embrace healthy views of world cultures, the mysteries of faith, themselves, and their fellow humans. He teaches at Dordt University and writes regularly for blogs, including The Twelve, In All Things, and Faith on View.

Popular Speaking Topics

Tales of Future Past: Apocalyptic Movements in American History

Apocalyptic language and imagery have influenced American history and cultures from the very beginnings of our shared national experiences. From the Millerites to late twentieth century prophecy popularizers like Hal Lindsey, our past and present have been shaped by apocalyptic forecasts of the future. We will explore tales of future past from the somewhat profound to the truly horrifying and also include a little bit of the ridiculous along the way.

The Devil Made Them Do It: How Spiritual Warfare and Satanic Panics Transformed American Religions, Politics, and Popular Cultures

Waves of panic and paranoia swept American cultures from the sixties through the early nineties as concerned cultural influencers warned of rising occult influence. This “Satanic Panic” affected American popular cultures in surprising ways and sparked the launching of crusades against individuals and groups deemed “Satanic” with devastating consequences. We will explore in this presentation the roots, consequences, and continuing legacy of this cultural moment in our recent history.

American Civil Religion

The concept of “civil religion” was first identified by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century and applied to American cultures in a classic essay crafted by Robert Bellah in 1967. What is American Civil Religion and why should we care? How has it been used and abused in American history? This presentation explores the complex interweaving of American national ceremonies and symbols with religious imagery and ideas in American history and cultures.

Alexander Hamilton: The Ten-Dollar Founding Father’s Journey from the West Indies to Broadway

Alexander Hamilton was one of the most gifted leaders among the American founders. He rose from humble West Indian origins to serve as George Washington’s personal aide, take his place as one of the foremost interpreters of the U. S. Constitution through his contributions to the Federalist Papers, and establish the foundations of our monetary system as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Blessed with genius and yet dogged by scandal, this unconventional founder’s story continues to fascinate audiences from lecture halls to Broadway. Come join us as we explore the life and legacy of the man who resides on the ten-dollar bill.

The Marquis de Lafayette: Lancelot of the Revolutionary Set

Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, served as a military and political leader in the most significant revolutions of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Lafayette became George Washington and America’s favorite adopted son through his dedicated service to the cause of American independence. He sought to bring the benefits of the American experience to his own country during the early days of the French Revolution. Radical leaders rejected Lafayette and his moderate course, resulting in Lafayette’s imprisonment in Austria. Lafayette continued to serve France throughout the tumultuous years following the first French Revolution that included the reign of Napoleon, Bourbon restoration, and further revolutions. His friendship with American leaders and status as a Revolutionary War hero provided opportunities to help shape the growth of the early American republic.

Thomas Paine: Voice of Revolutions

Thomas Paine wrote soaring prose that captured the spirit of the American Revolution and encouraged frustrated colonists to declare themselves American citizens. He coined the term “United States of America” and secured a place among the foremost intellectual leaders of the American independence movement. His revolutionary zeal drove him to continue his work in France, which led to a series of conflicts that dissolved friendships and complicated his legacy. We will examine the life, lessons, and legacy of this extraordinary and controversial founder.

The Man Behind the Marble: Getting to Know the Real George Washington

George Washington was one of the most admired men of his age. He has been immortalized in marble statuary and glowing prose to such a degree that we often see him as superhuman, causing us to lose sight of the flesh and blood man whose triumphs over his weaknesses were just as impressive as the frequent displays of his strengths.  In this program, we will peel back the layers of legend accumulated over the years to catch a glimpse of the ambitious young Virginian whose difficult relationship with his mother, early struggles in love, and costly lessons on the battlefield helped shape him into a leader who changed the world.

John Adams: Patriot, President, and Patriarch of America’s First Political Dynasty

John Adams took a leading role championing the Patriot cause during the earliest days of the American Revolution. He contributed his legal expertise to the work of the Continental Congress and the creation of the new American republic. Adams served as the first vice president and second president during the formative first decade of government under the United States Constitution. His presidency was marked by controversy and partisan conflict, some of it intensified by his own prickly personality. His son, John Quincy, succeeded James Monroe as the sixth president of the United States, making his father one of only two fathers in American history to see his son succeed him to the top office.

Pathfinder President: Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West

Before the expedition of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, there was a vision born in the mind and heart of an American president who seized an incredible opportunity to open new vistas for the young Republic. Thomas Jefferson’s fascination with the American west and ambition to extend the reach of the United States prompted him to make the most significant purchase in American history. This presentation will explore Jefferson’s interest in the peoples and cultures of the American west, his audacious negotiations to purchase the Louisiana territory, and his role in creating the Lewis and Clark expedition. Come and hear the exciting account of how our third president’s vision and curiosity helped transform the United States from
an Atlantic nation to a continental power.

James Madison: Father, Framer, and Interpreter of the Constitution

James Madison served the fledgling United States of America in various official capacities from congressman to fourth president of the United States. He received credit for being one of the principal leaders of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and became one of the foremost interpreters of the document through his contributions to The Federalist Papers along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. This presentation will explore his life and career in the context of the American Revolution, the political struggles of the early American republic, and the disastrous War of 1812 that unfolded during his presidency. We will see how the man popularly known as the “Father of the Constitution” struggled to implement its ideals in the midst of the difficult realties of public life.

Learning from the Opposition: James Madison’s Adoption and Cooption of Federalist Ideas

This presentation will focus on some ways in which Madison moved closer during his presidency to Federalist ideas he had opposed as a legislative leader of the Democratic-Republican Party in the 1790s. Madison implemented some initiatives such as a standing military, renewal of the Bank of the United States’ charter, and use of federal funds for internal improvements that he had questioned before his time as president. In some of these cases, Madison was coming full circle, returning to sympathies he had earlier in the days before party strife led to a hardening of the categories. In others, Madison adjusted in light of realities he faced as president that changed his perspective. Through exploring Madison’s approach to learning from and listening to the opposition, we will discuss how often presidents actually govern from the center. In our time of heightened partisan strife, Madison offers a model for recognizing and adopting the positive elements of other political views while continuing to work toward the cherished ideals imbedded in our own views.

James Monroe: Expansion, Defense, and the Art of Compromise

James Monroe’s service as the sixth president of the United States marked the end of an era as the first generation of American founders gave way to the next. Monroe served with the delegation that negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and the boundaries of the United States were extended to the South in Florida as well as to the Pacific northwest during his presidency. His push to protect the young American republic from the ambitions of European powers included service as James Madison’s Secretary of State, a number of treaties negotiated throughout his career, and his famous Monroe Doctrine which insisted on the independent sovereignty of the Americas. Monroe helped create the period known as the “era of good feelings” by encouraging compromises to defuse party rivalries and sectional disputes in a time when the divisions in American culture threatened the future of the United States.

Benjamin Rush: Doctor of Discovery

Benjamin Rush lived an extraordinary life dedicated to public service. Dr. Rush signed the Declaration of Independence, worked to improve public health, promoted public education, and served as a medical advisor to Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. We will explore the multiple contributions that the Doctor of Discovery made to secure the birth and expansion of our nation.

Who was Aaron Burr, Sir? America’s Dark Founder and His Controversial Legacy

Aaron Burr was heir to one of the most honorable family legacies in American history. Despite this rich pedigree, Burr lived a controversial life that earned him an infamous reputation. Most Americans remember him as the man who fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel. Burr deepened his infamy by conspiring to seize territory in Louisiana and Texas from 1805-1807. Who was this controversial founder? What virtues did he have to temper his vices? How did he rise so high and fall so far? We will explore all these questions together as we seek to discover the real man behind the dark reputation.

Benjamin Franklin: America’s Enlightened Founder

Benjamin Franklin served as the venerable sage of colonial and revolutionary America. He was a veritable Renaissance man living in the age of Enlightenment. Franklin’s influence was felt in a diverse array of areas including scientific inquiry, diplomacy, publishing, political theory, technological innovation, and philosophy. At the same time, Franklin earned the reputation of being the most approachable of American founders because of his stark humanity. The dispenser of trite maxims on frugality did not always manage his resources well nor does his chronic absenteeism as a husband fit the iconic image of self-discipline embedded in historical memory. This presentation will focus on the authentic Benjamin Franklin and his pivotal role in shaping our republic.

American Judas: The Life and Crimes of Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold rose to the status of an American hero at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 only to betray his comrades and his country three years later. His unsuccessful attempt to hand over the strategic fort at West Point to the British forever cemented his reputation as an infamous symbol of treachery. We will explore the man, his complex motivations, the pivotal role his wife played, and the mythologies that surrounded him in life and in death.

The First Amendment Under Fire: The Alien and Sedition Crisis of 1798-1800

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 provided one the most formidable early challenges to the protection of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Passed during a period of tense relations with France sometimes called the “Quasi- War,” these acts imposed limitations on freedom of expression and immigration that were considered necessary for national security by supporters of the legislation. Opponents of the measures attacked them as fundamental assaults on the essential foundations of American democracy. Some journalists and political leaders endured jail time as well as financial penalties due to their defiance of the Alien and Sedition Acts. We will explore the personalities involved, positions argued, persecutions suffered, and lessons learned from this divisive period of our history when Americans were just beginning to define the nature and scope of our First Amendment.

The Pilgrims at 400: Remembering the Pilgrim Experience and Reassessing Their Legacy

The English Separatist group that arrived on the shores of North America in the winter of 1620-21 established a colony, a legend, and a complicated legacy. Known to us today as “The Pilgrims,” these immigrants endured tremendous risk and hardship to secure a space where they could preserve their cultural identity and worship according to their conscience. Their interactions with Native peoples were crucial for their survival, becoming the basis for popular legend as well as a national holiday. Who were the people behind the legends? How does their memory and legacy continue to impact us four hundred years later? Join us as we remember the Pilgrims and reassess their continuing legacy.

Tough Riders: American Presidents and the Spirit of the American West

The mystique of the American frontier has captivated the imaginations of both American and international observers since the early settlements of the seventeenth century. It is no surprise that American leaders, particularly presidents, have utilized the mythic imagery of the western experience to influence and inspire. The tendency of U. S. presidents to emphasize their western image became more pronounced after the 1890 census proclaimed the “closing” of the frontier. We will explore the use of nostalgic western imagery by three “cowboy presidents.” Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush all consciously cultivated an image rooted in the rugged individualism of the American west. From the hat to the horse to the no-nonsense plain talk, each president sought to embody the spirit of the American past to chart a course for her future. Join us as we examine the influence of these executive cowboys.

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