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Leadership’s Obligation to the Humanities

My first week on campus was a dream. Beyond the ability to share a living space with like-minded people of similar age to me, I had the opportunity to get to know one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. However, for all the beauty the University of Richmond has to offer, the amount of goose poop often turns the brick-lined sidewalks into minefields. The feces, while annoying, serves as a reminder — a history if you will — that geese call this campus home too. While humans often do so in a more sterile way, Penelope L. Corfield reminds us in All people are living histories – which is why History matters that we too leave our marks on history. In order to leave a better mark than our geese neighbors, Corfield encourages us to study history. In the process, we connect ourselves to the shared story of humanity by gaining an understanding and appreciation of the factors that shape our society which prevents us from living destructive lives. Thus, the study of history helps us add to humanity in a helpful, rather than harmful, way.


Like history, leaders have a shrewd role in helping us live connected, positive lives. In Bernard M. Bass’s Concepts of Leadership, he asserts that leaders have “rights and privileges, duties and obligations.” Certainly, among a leader’s obligations is an understanding of how history leaves a scar — for better or for worse — on our institutions, jobs, and personal lives. Thus, excellent leadership requires an astute understanding of and appreciation for the humanities. This does not mean that all leaders exhibit said qualities. As Corfield notes, Henry Ford — who undoubtedly was a leader in the automobile industry — claimed to find history “bunk”, or useless. However, later in his life, Ford collected antique automobiles, suggesting that he did, after all, understand the impact history had on his industry and, furthermore, his role in shaping that history. That understanding, whether or not it is explicit, ties leadership and the humanities together in an inseparable bond.


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  1. Samuel Hussey Samuel Hussey

    First of all, I was impressed by your ability to connect the geese poop on campus to why we should study history. Secondly, I also found Henry Ford’s comment on History and the following breakdown of his claim to be very interesting. Ford is most famous for mastering the auto assembly line, where each person only focuses on completing one step of the assembly process very well as opposed to building the whole car and having to know about every process and step. Ford saw how much more efficient his factories were if the workers had no overall knowledge of the rest of the cars’ functions and only focused on screwing in a single bolt. I believe this is why Ford saw History as “bunk” because based on his small sample size of his factory, his workers were more efficient when they were uninformed and not well rounded in the other manufacturing steps.

  2. Julia Leonardi Julia Leonardi

    I found the geese anecdote very interesting, and honestly it worked really well with the overall message. We have to do better than the geese, we can’t just sit around and poop around. History serves as a guide to us and we need to use it.

  3. Alexandra Oloughlin Alexandra Oloughlin

    The analogy between geese and history was very original and honestly, stuck in my mind. It reminded me of how in the article about why history matters, the author describes the dangers of our mark if we dont continue to study history. He tells of how history is needed to give people roots, so that they dont feel so disconnected which means they would live a rootless life in which it is very easy to leave a damaging mark. Yet with roots, one has the ability

    • Alexandra Oloughlin Alexandra Oloughlin

      (that accidently submitted)
      with roots one has the ability to look back at others in history as a model on how to leave a good mark on the world

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