History Professor Wins Prestigious Fulbright Award

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Dr. David Woolner at an FDR panel discussion in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee
Dr. David Woolner at an FDR panel discussion in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee

April 10, 2023 — Marist College Professor of History, Dr. David Woolner, has received the 2023-2024 Fulbright Danish Distinguished Scholar Award in American Studies. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Fulbright-Denmark, the Distinguished Scholar Awards are considered the most esteemed of the Fulbright program, which was launched in 1946 as an American public diplomacy initiative designed “to expand and strengthen the relationship between people of the United States and the rest of the world.” 

The Danish Distinguished Scholar Award in American Studies is the most prestigious Fulbright grant in Denmark. During a full year abroad, Woolner will be a scholar-in-residence at the Center for American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, the largest American Studies program in Scandinavia and one of the most respected in Europe. Dr. Woolner will divide his time between teaching and conducting research for a book focused on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership during World War II. 

His book will explore how Roosevelt’s leadership helped foster the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe that emerged after the war, best exemplified today through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He will also conduct research on the Danish response to the Holocaust and the American reaction to the successful rescue of almost the entire population of Danish Jews in the fall of 1943.

“I am quite pleased and honored to receive the Danish Distinguished Scholar Award,” said Woolner. “The Fulbright process is rigorous and competitive, so this was very welcome news. I enjoyed the time I spent at the University of Southern Denmark in 2021 and am looking forward to going back. There are also a number of important archives in Copenhagen that will greatly assist my research, including the papers of the Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, who warned both Churchill and Roosevelt about his fear that the successful development of the atomic bomb might result in the onset of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.” 

In the summer of 2021, Woolner was named a Fulbright Specialist by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Specialist program provides U.S. academics and established professionals the opportunity to engage in short-term exchanges with a host of institutions worldwide. This resulted in Dr. Woolner being invited to the University of Southern Denmark as a visiting scholar later that year, where he delivered guest lectures and public talks about FDR and the Holocaust, race and the New Deal, American leadership in World War II, and his book The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace. The book served as a baseline for the FDR Presidential Library and Museum’s recent Special Exhibit on FDR's final year in office. 

Denmark is also one of the founding members of NATO and has long served as the gateway to the Baltic and a strategic bridge between northern Europe and Scandinavia.

“Given the current crisis over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the potential expansion of NATO to include Sweden and Finland, this seems an ideal time to be in Denmark exploring the historic ties between FDR’s leadership during the war, and the subsequent creation of the North Atlantic alliance,” he said.

Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Resident Historian of the Roosevelt Institute and one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. He is known nationally and internationally, as evidenced by the fact that this is the second time he has been awarded a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award, receiving his first such grant in 2010 as a scholar in-residence at the Roosevelt Study Center in the Netherlands. Woolner has also served as a historical advisor for the recent Ken Burns film The U.S. and the Holocaust, as well as for Burns’ 2014 film The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. He has served in a similar capacity at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and is the editor/co-editor of five books, including FDR, the Vatican, and the Roman Catholic Church in America, FDR’s World: War, Peace and Legacies, and Progressivism in America: Past, Present and Future.

Studying President Roosevelt’s leadership has been a major part of Dr. Woolner’s life’s work. He notes that Roosevelt’s values and vision—as well as those of Eleanor Roosevelt—remain as important today as they were during the twentieth century. 

“When you stop to think about it,” he observed, “the world we live in is very much the world created by FDR and the generation that lived through the turbulent years of the Depression and war. There is much we can learn from that generation—about how to restore the environment, about how to promote and preserve democracy in a world increasingly under threat from autocracy, about how we might reinvigorate such key institutions as the United Nations at a time when basic human rights—including the right to an education for millions of young women—are undergoing a test unlike any we have seen since 1945. I am looking forward to the opportunity the Fulbright grant will provide for additional research into this important period in history and want to thank Marist and my colleagues on the faculty for all of their support.”

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