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Best-selling authors bring unique perspective to Harding Symposium

Annual event celebrates 29th president

Hundreds of people from across Ohio and around the nation descended on Marion, Ohio, the weekend of July 14-15 to be part of The Ohio State University at Marion’s annual Warren G. Harding Symposium. 

Launched by Ohio State Marion in 2010, the Warren G. Harding Symposium is an academic, social and cultural exploration of the life and times of America’s 29th president. The symposium presents in-depth analysis and research by authors, historians, researchers and experts on the Harding era and related areas of interest.

The theme this year was “Through the Photographer’s Lens: Exploring the United States Presidency.” The weekend-long event explored the unique history of presidential photography in the U.S. from the perspective of two best-selling authors: famed Reagan- and Obama-era presidential photographer Pete Souza, and University of Illinois communications professor Cara Finnegan.

Ohio State Marion Dean and Director Gregory S. Rose, who attended the workshop sessions, felt the featured speakers each contributed something special to the symposium.

Dr. Richard Harding, great grandnephew of President Warren G. Harding, shares a moment with author and presidential photographer Pete Souza while Souza signs a copy of his book.“This year’s Harding Symposium was a great way to spend a muggy and rainy Saturday. The combination of Cara Finnegan’s research tracing the evolution of presidential photography, Pete Souza’s captivating insights about the process of documenting a president’s activities and especially the stories behind many of the photographs, and Sherry Hall’s presentation about David Edmonston, who photographed President Harding’s campaign, made for a highly educating and entertaining day,” said Rose.

The event kicked off with tours of the Warren G. Harding Presidential Library and Museum, as well as the Harding home. Later that evening, attendees were welcomed at the presidential library and museum for an opening reception and a meet-and-greet with the weekend’s featured presenters, including a book signing.

On behalf of the White House, the Unites States Army conducted the annual wreath-laying ceremony Saturday morning at the memorial in Marion honoring Harding. Saturday afternoon workshop sessions were held on campus featuring the perspectives of two of the country’s foremost authorities on presidential photography. The event concluded Saturday evening with a dinner and presentation by author, researcher and Harding Presidential Sites Manager Sherry Hall, who gave a talk entitled “Candid Camera: David B. Edmonston and the Harding Campaign.”

According to Hall, Souza’s whole perspective on documenting history was unique. 

“He was working for the future. He wasn’t doing promotion. He was documenting history for the future,” said Hall. “I thought that most of the participants really enjoyed both Pete Souza and Cara Finnegan. It was a different perspective on the presidency. It was really a lot of depth on how the presidency really works. We rarely see that perspective of the presidency and learn about a job that we don’t hear that much about.”

Cathy Gerber, Ohio State Marion director of development and community relations, was extremely pleased with the turn out for the event and the insights Souza and Finnegan provided those in attendance. 

“Through the lens of creativity, two best-selling authors captured the essence of evolution, reflecting the changing photographic landscapes of the United States across the presidencies,” said Gerber.

The 2023 Warren G. Harding Symposium was a collaboration between Ohio State Marion, the Harding Presidential Sites and the Ohio History Connection. The next symposium will be held July 19-20, 2024.

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