Penn State laureate discusses the importance of understanding, discussing war

Carol Reardon

Carol Reardon

Credit: Penn State Harrisburg

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Noted military historian Carol Reardon, the 2015-16 Penn State laureate and George Winfree Professor of American history at Penn State, recently discussed the importance of studying and understanding war at Penn State Harrisburg. Reardon's visit was part of her statewide tour as laureate. 

In her presentation, "Why Study War?" Reardon noted that “war is something that all of us have to confront, all of us have to think about, probably now more than ever, with an election on the horizon.”

She added that the national discourse on war — how it is discussed and studied — leaves much to be desired. “One of the things that doesn’t happen nearly enough,” she said, “is discussion at the university level … war just simply is, and you have to learn how to intellectually debate about it and talk about it.”

“We all have to confront the reality of war,” Reardon said. “It behooves us to do it as smartly as we can.”

That, she added, is the reason she does this presentation.

With it being the centennial of World War I, Reardon showed contrasting images during her presentation of how war was viewed at that time, as opposed to how it is viewed today. A World War I poster urged Americans to “Buy War Bonds” and “Work for the Red Cross” because “Everyone Must Help,” while an image from a sign at a U.S. military facility in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006 reads: “America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war. America is at the mall.”

“There has been a disconnect, in many cases, between those fighting the war and us back home," she said. "For one reason or another we have not been asked to become engaged, sacrifice in any way, participate in any way, and as a result of that, we have lost a lot of our ability to feel familiar with talking about war and know what we are talking about.”

It is Reardon’s hope that with presentations like “Why Study War?” she will be able to provide “a better framework for questions, asking questions and understanding answers that allow individuals to use their mind and answer with intellect and not from gut reaction.”

During her visit, Reardon also met with Penn State Harrisburg’s military veterans. “We have a large, thriving veterans community throughout the Penn State system,” Reardon said. “At the end of my duty as laureate, I will be developing a rather substantial report of recommendations on what needs to happen with Penn State’s veterans.”

Reardon's teaching and research focuses on American military history — especially the Civil War and Vietnam eras. She is a faculty associate of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center, and has authored numerous publications, including the award-winning book "Pickett's Charge in History and Memory."

In addition to traditional classroom teaching, she also conducts "staff rides" to Civil War battlefields, manages open-air classrooms, and is heavily involved in continuing education for military personnel.

In 2007, she received the coveted George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest award given for teaching at Penn State.

The Penn State laureate, an honorary position established in 2008, is a full-time faculty member in the humanities or the arts who is assigned half time for one academic year to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences.

For more on Reardon, visit