Dr. Luke Nichter’s Unexpected White House Call
May 10, 2023
The Voice of Wilkinson sat down with Dr. Luke A. Nichter, Professor of History and James H. Cavanaugh Endowed Chair in Presidential Studies, to talk about his time serving on the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC. After getting an unexpected call from the White House in 2020, notifying him of his appointment, he knew it was an opportunity he could not pass up.
From August 2020 to April 2023, Nichter served on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) as the Communications Education and Outreach committee chair. The ACHP is an independent federal agency with 24 presidentially appointed members. During his term, Nichter hosted “Preservation Perspectives”: a podcast featuring a variety of guests from all over the country who are involved in Historic Preservation. Over the course of his term, Nichter completed 11 episodes and interviewed people like Lawson Nwakudo (pictured right), a park ranger at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park; Dorothy Walker, site director of the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery; and Desiree Aranda, Co-Chair of Latinos in Heritage Conservation.
“Historic Preservation is a unique field,” said Nichter, “its archaeology, sociologists, architects, attorneys, Native American groups, climate change specialists.” Nichter comes at it from the “academic history angle.” When asked what he enjoyed about hosting the podcast, Nichter responded, “I was the one learning, to learn about what somebody does for a living, and what they are passionate about. I never get tired of that. Even if it’s not my passion, there’s something about hearing someone that is passionate about what they do talk about how they got into it. I love those kinds of human stories.”
Some of his most favorite episodes focused on Native American issues.
“I gravitate towards things I don’t know as much, and it taught me more perspective. To Native Americans, this is nation-to-nation consultation. Which is not something that you always think about.”
In addition to teaching, Nichter is a New York Times bestselling author of seven books, the former founding Executive Producer of C-SPAN’s American History TV, and the creator of nixontapes.org. He also currently sits on the Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee at the National Archives.
What’s up next for Nichter, now that his term on the ACHP has come to an end?
“I never imagined I’d be doing the things I am doing. To me, there really is a lesson that you just cannot predict what happens tomorrow. I have one more federal appointment right now for the Freedom of Information Advisory Committee, and I have a book coming out in the fall on the 1968 presidential election, so right in the heart of Johnson and Nixon, and then I just signed a contract for a new book, The LBJ Presidency, which will be the biggest thing I have worked on, since it is a book on the entire presidency, not just a subject. That book will really be at the heart of the 1960s, so I will be living in the 1960’s for the next three or four years.”
Throughout his research, Nichter has focused intently on the political history of the 1960s, and has, over the past decade, collected the most complete private collection of the White House recordings from FDR until Nixon – roughly 4000 hours of recordings. Because of his expertise on Nixon, authors and filmmakers often seek his guidance. Nichter even pitched a Nixon scene for the 2013 film “The Butler,” after producers reached out to him for advice. Over the years, Nichter has developed relations with cabinet members, secretaries, and family members from several presidential administrations. His relationships have gained him access to White House staff reunions, making him one of the only historians of his generation to attend.
As soon as the school year ends, Nichter plans to get back out in the field and spend time in the archives. Since 2013, Nichter has traveled over 100 nights a year for archives research and interviews. “I am very hands-on. The way I do research is I pretty much travel to any person to see any record or anywhere in the world to see a historic site.” This summer, Nichter is planning over six trips to the countryside in Vietnam, to do field research for his next book.
“My goal as long as I have air in my lungs is to try to contribute to a new history that is better researched, and less based on political ideas and preconceived notions. Most historians have a time period and run out of things to write about, I don’t think I’ll ever not be living in the 1960s.”
To check out the Preservation Perspectives Podcast, go to https://www.achp.gov/taxonomy/term/510
Look out for Nichter’s book, The Year That Broke Politics: Collusion and Chaos in the Presidential Election of 1968. to be published by Yale University Press on August 1, 2023,