After a lapse in 2020 as part of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida History Lecture Series has returned this semester with a three part series that began on Sept. 29.
The Florida History Lecture Series has six total events planned over the course of the 2021-2022 school year. The series features Florida historians and authors and their narratives on different aspects of Florida.
The event on Sept. 29 at the Branscomb Auditorium featured New York Times best-selling author Craig Pittman, who’s books on Florida have received large amounts of acclaim. Pittman also reports for the Florida Phoenix on environmental issues.
“I love telling people Florida stories, because to me Florida is such a fascinating place to live,” Pittman said. “The great thing about going around telling Florida stories, as I found when I was doing book talks about ‘Oh, Florida!,’ is how many people came up to me afterward to tell me their Florida stories. Everybody has at least one, and some of them you can even repeat in polite company.”
Pittman spoke about his book “The State You’re In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife” and presented stories to the audience about the people of Florida. These stories ranged from a Florida Fish and Wildlife commissioner who had been investigated for wrestling an alligator to how the “mermaids” of Weeki Wachee springs are considered state employees.
The lecture series first began in 1996 and was created to introduce students, faculty and the public to Florida’s history and culture. When the Lawton M. Chiles Jr. Center for Florida History was created at FSC in 2001, the lecture series expanded further. Speakers at the event have included governors, Pulitzer Prize winning authors and historians.
Dr. James Denham is the executive director of the Lawton Chiles Center for Florida History and has been working as a professor at Florida Southern since 1991.
“As a professor and scholar of Florida history and culture it is extremely gratifying to produce the Florida Lecture Series for my students, college community, and the greater Lakeland-Tampa Bay area,” Denham said.
This year features several authors, including Jason Vuic, Boyd Murphree, Janis Owens and Robert Taylor. These authors have written several books centered on Florida and its history. Legal professor Mary Adkins will also appear to speak about famous Florida lawyer Chesterfield Smith. Florida Southern’s own Jose Garcia will appear alongside Victor Triay on Cuban refugees escaping to Florida.
The next event in the Florida History Lecture Series will occur on Oct. 28 at the Branscomb Auditorium with Jason Vuic, author of “The Swamp Peddlers” which details how cities developed in Florida’s wetlands. The last event of the semester will be on Nov. 4 and feature Boyd Murphee and Robert Taylor at the Polk County History Center in Bartow.
“The insights have been interesting, sometimes controversial, and I think the series adds to [the] overall academic environment on campus,” Denham said.