“The proper method for the study of politics is biography,” wrote a distinguished academic. Yet the lives of eminent statesmen, though often the subject of great (and popular) books, are rarely the subject of college syllabi. This virtual fellowship, led by national security scholar Vance Serchuk, will use the rigorous study of great biography to investigate a wider set of questions about geopolitics, leadership, and human character.

The inaugural seminar of this fellowship series will be devoted to Charles de Gaulle, the mythic general who rallied the Free French during World War II and later founded the Fifth Republic of France.  The seminar will be organized around the acclaimed one-volume biography of de Gaulle by British historian Julian Jackson. Subsequent seminars in this series will explore similar larger-than-life leaders.

Through readings and seminar discussions, fellows will explore the life, worldview, methods, and personality of Charles de Gaulle. In doing so, they will explore the world-historical events that both shaped his fate and that he himself shaped: the decline of French power amidst the rise of Germany; France’s pyrrhic victory in the First World War and its total collapse during the Second; its political and social upheavals from the 1930s to the 1960s; its wrenching extrications from Vietnam and Algeria; and its struggle to establish a new role for itself in a world dominated by a new set of great powers whose capabilities dwarfed its own.

The seminar will study de Gaulle’s triumphs and defeats—how he came to power, responded to crises, and pursued his objectives—and in doing so, examine the sources of his “greatness” and “grandeur.” Guest speakers will participate in the seminar, as well, including both scholars and national security leaders. Fellows will have the opportunity to reflect on the role of individual personality in history and what makes for great leadership—and also great biography.

Speakers to be announced.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Vance Serchuk on Studying De Gaulle

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

Fellowship Components


The fellowship will proceed by means of conversation and discussion, not by lecture. Fellows will meet for seven evening seminars, held on Tuesdays via Zoom.

Reflection Papers

Each fellow will be tasked with writing two brief reflection papers (1,000-1,500 words). For the first paper, each fellow will be assigned a discussion question from the syllabus and will help lead discussion on their assigned day. For the second paper, all fellows will submit a final reflection for our closing session.

Guest Speakers

Throughout the seminar, guest speakers will be invited to participate. These speaker will include both scholars and national security leaders.

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