Douglas Brinkley: What will set the Bush library apart

Acclaimed historian Douglas Brinkley talked with The Dallas Morning News Points about how presidential centers have transformed over the years and what will set the Bush library apart.

On Thursday, the George W. Bush Presidential Center will officially open. President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend, along with all living former presidents. The center is the latest in a growing line of complexes for ex-presidents across the country. Points asked acclaimed historian Douglas Brinkley to comment on how these presidential centers have transformed over the years and what will set the Bush library apart.

Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University in Houston, has written widely on presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. He once headed the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans and now serves as a fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy; he also comments on the presidency for CBS News. In February, Brinkley was in Dallas for an SMU Tate Lecture Series forum on presidential legacies. During that visit, he toured the new Bush library.

As a historian, what was your assessment of the new Bush Presidential Center when you saw it a couple of months ago?

I am a great admirer of Southern Methodist University, so I was excited about what the center could bring to the school. SMU is a beautiful campus and a wonderful setting for students. As a history professor at Rice, I am keenly aware that universities are supposed to cater to the students. They come first and foremost.

The Bush presidential library will be a great resource for the students at SMU. For one thing, the Robert Stern-designed building is a wonderful brick-and-mortar addition to the campus. The architecture is significant. You couldn’t ask more for a new structure on a campus. It is a treasured landmark not only for SMU but also for Dallas.

How so?

The building has a modern design but is built largely with Texas material. It is noticeable, but it also is proportional. The center is not overwhelming. It fits perfectly into the meticulously landscaped campus environment.

You mentioned SMU students. How will it help them?

It will be a great source of archival material pertaining to the Bush presidency. Anyone wanting to do a research paper or senior thesis on the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the rise of conservatism, 9/11 and hundreds of other topics can do it right there.

The center also will bring talented thinkers to campus. It will host many lectures. SMU students will hear a smorgasbord of opinion.

Read the full Q&A by Dallas Morning News editorial columnist William McKenzie..