A Radio Lecture Series, 1931-32

The job here at Cleveland has turned out to be a very interesting one from the educational technique point of view. This town is interested in all kinds of educational experiments. I suppose they would say it is school-minded or something of that sort. Practically everyone is taking a course in something or other. One has to barricade himself in the office to keep women’s clubs and lecture dates away. But this has its advantages. I have been able to divert to my use several thousand dollars of the Cleveland Public Library acquisition funds, and have had them buying in the middle of the [nineteenth] century simply because I happen to be writing on that period, – and beginning to buy up Russian materials, although I imagine I am the only one in Cleveland who is likely to use them.1

So Binkley described the intellectual environment in Cleveland in October 1931, at the beginning of his second year at Western Reserve University; and indeed his files are full of invitations from civic groups to lecture or lead discussions, many of which he accepted. One of the courses that Clevelanders could follow that year was a series of sixteen radio lectures that Binkley delivered on European history from 1815 to the present. Though the broadcasting of lectures from universities had of course been known since the beginnings of radio, Binkley was evidently a little nervous about this new medium. The previous summer he wrote to a friend:

I am floundering on the edge of the probability that I may give a radio course in history, in order to contribute to technological unemployment of professors.2

Inauguration of the Division of Informal Adult Education, Oct. 1930.

Binkley’s course was given through Cleveland College, WRU’s extension college. Binkley’s contact there was Grazella Shepherd in the Department of Radio Education, who later headed the General Education Division at Cleveland College, with responsibility for extension programs via the Women’s Association. (Coincidentally, the Shepherds were the previous tenants of the house that the Binkleys rented at 11328 Hessler Rd., a block from Flora Stone Mather College.)3 A predecessor to the General Education Division had been inaugurated at Cleveland College in October 1930 (just after Binkley arrived in Cleveland), called the Division of Informal Adult Education. This program would call on the services of faculty:

The University is concerned that a high quality of presentation be assured in this venture, as regards both subject matter and personnel. It intends to exercise care that popularization entail no sacrifice of dignified, scholarly standards. Consequently, although the Division will use the services of teachers and lecturers not on the University Faculty, it is hoped that considerable reliance may be placed upon the members of our own Faculty for occasional service in this program.4

At its beginning, in 1930-31, the program had 15 minutes of radio time per week on WTAM. By the time of Binkley’s course the following year, it had moved to WHK and generally had twenty minutes, 4:15-4:35 on Thursday afternoons. The lectures aired after a musical or comedy program; in the first couple of weeks, the newspaper listings combined Binkley’s lecture with “Mike and Herman”, apparently a “Dutch dialect comedy team”, whose program presumably preceded the lecture.

Arrangements for the Dec. 3 lecture. Doc. 4408: Grazella Shepherd to RCB, 1931-11-24.

I haven’t found any description of the circumstances of the broadcasts. Cleveland College wanted copies of the texts5 – perhaps they survive in the university archives. It seems that the lectures were broadcast live, for when Binkley had to miss a lecture on Dec. 3 because of a meeting of the Joint Committee in New York, another reader had to be found rather than simply recording the lecture in advance. When Mrs. Shepherd wrote to ask who would read the lecture, Binkley scribbled a note to his secretary Clara Pfister across the bottom of the letter: “Please phone that they are to read it, and that you are sending revised copy.”6

Cleveland College paid $25/lecture to Flora Stone Mather College, of which $15 was to go to Binkley and $10 for expenses. As it turned out, a mix-up between WRU and Cleveland College led to Binkley being overpaid by $90, which he arranged to have deducted from his September 1 paycheck in 1932.7

This list of the lectures was compiled from the daily radio listings in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (CPD), supplemented from the Akron Beacon Journal (ABJ):

No. Date Program
1 Oct. 8, 4:15-4:30 Cleveland college program (ABJ); not listed in CPD
2 Oct. 15, 4:00-4:35 "Mike and Herman; Dr. Robert C. Binkley" (CPD); ABJ has Mike and Herman at 4:00, RCB at 4:15, and “World Book Man” at 4:30-3:35
3 Oct. 22, 4:00-4:35 "Mike and Herman; Dr. Robert C. Binkley" CPD; 4:15-4:30 Romantic Youth and the Business Men on the Road to Revolution (ABJ)
4 Oct. 29, 4:15-4:35 The Revolution of 1848
5 Nov. 5, 4:15-4:35 The Second Reaction of the Century
6 Nov. 12, 4:15-4:35 Making the New Nations
7 Dec. 3, 4:15-5:00 (typo?) Making the New Nations (read by someone else; it’s not clear whether the repeated title is a mistake or whether the topic was continued)
8 Dec. 10, 4:15-4:35 The Moral Crisis of the Century
9 Dec. 17, 4:15-4:35 The Bismarck System of Alliance
10 Jan. 7, 4:15-4:35 Imperialism in its Economic and Military Aspects: Trusts and Navies
11 Jan. 14, 4:15-4:35 The Triple Alliance and Triple Entente
12 Jan. 21, 4:15-4:35 Outbreak of World War
13 Jan. 28, 4:15-4:35 World War
14 Feb. 4, 4:15-4:35 American Participation and the Peace Conference
15 Feb. 11, 4:15-4:35 Russian Revolution
16 Feb. 18, 4:15-4:30 (typo?) Present Day Problems

As to the content of the lectures, we can make a guess based on the university courses he was giving that year. In the letter to Langer quoted above, Binkley described his current graduate course in European history from 1815 to the present. It was based on an undergraduate course he had given the year before, in which he had had his secretary make a stenographic transcriptions of his lectures. No doubt this course provided a template for the radio lectures; but it was primarily oriented to the emerging outline of the book that Binkley was writing for Langer’s series, which would be published three years later as Realism and Nationalism.

This year I am giving my graduate course on Federalism and Confederal Problems in the History of Europe since 1815. I feel the need of this to give me perspective on the rather special handling which I want to give to the politics of the mid-century. I do not recall how far I went in the discussion of this interpretation with you. I can see three trends, all interwoven of course. – The intellectual trend which is towards materialism and away from romanticism and sentiment. In art and literature it is called realism; in politics Real Politik. It colors equally the thinking of the Russian type which Turgenev depicted as Bazarov and of Karl Marx. Against the implications of this climate Fechner tried to revolt, but only succeeded in making psychology unphilosophical. The intellectual climate then is the first thing.

In the field of politics the outstanding development is the collapse of the confederal principle. This is precisely the same thing as the rise of the unitary national state or of the bureaucratic state, and the only advantage of referring it to the principle of confederation is that the latter permits a more generally applicable interpretation. I do not expect to approach this in any “de-bunking” spirit, but only to try to be above the battle where the problem of democracy is at stake and to be as cognizant of what the middle of the century lost as we are already of what it gained.

In the economic field, – developments are linked to the intellectual climate in the connection between science and technology, to politics through the consequences of improvements in transport which affected at once the free trade policies of Cobden and the unification problem in Germany and Italy. In institutional economics of the time, the development of corporate organizations alike on the side of labor and capital will be the main thread.

No doubt the radio lectures hewed closer to the narrative line than the discursive and multi-disciplinary approach that he took in his teaching (and which perhaps owes something to his reading of Spengler), and which became an important characteristic of Realism and Nationalism. It’s interesting to see that he had already arrived at the theme which he later called “federative polity” as the core of the book: setting up the transnational federation as an alternative to the national state in nineteenth-century history, against which the latter can be evaluated. If the radio lectures turn up either among the boxes of papers still in the attic or in the CWRU archives, it will be worth looking to see whether these themes also made it into his popular presentations at this time.

Binkley does not seem to have given another radio course after this.

  1. Doc. 3995: RCB to William L. Langer, 1931-10-06.↩︎

  2. Doc. 3551: RCB to Ed Clapp, c. August 1931.↩︎

  3. Doc. 4343: RCB to Mrs. Arthur Shepherd, 1930-10-08.↩︎

  4. Doc. 4663: Robert Ernst Vinson, 1930-10-31.↩︎

  5. Doc. 4408: Mrs. Shepherd to RCB, 1931-11-24.↩︎

  6. Doc. 4408; Doc. 4405: RCB to James T. Shotwell, 1931-12-09, mentions the Joint Committee meeting.↩︎

  7. Doc. 4364: F.C. Froelich (cashier at Cleveland College) to RCB, 1932-06-10.↩︎