The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Art of Talking and Walking
Seminar - UHON 401

Instructor(s): Ryan Swanson

Course Description

This course uses the life and era of Theodore Roosevelt as a launching off point to consider the art of verbal persuasion, and how personal practices such as walking (TR’s favorite mode of exercise – he saw it more as romping) can lead to a balanced life.  So, to put it more succinctly, this class is a look at the power of talking and walking.  

The class will start by analyzing America’s chaotic transition at the turn of the 20th century into a nation filled with booming cities and large, powerful companies.  It will simultaneously consider Roosevelt’s life and story.  Here was a man born into extreme wealth, who suffered from debilitating asthma, who fancied himself a cowboy, and who, eventually, became one  of America’s most pivotal politicians. 

In particular though, the course will study how Roosevelt used the “Bully Pulpit,” through speeches and writing, to get his way and shift public sentiment. Roosevelt was a master communicator.  During his lifetime, he wrote more than 150,000 letters.  Certainly, Roosevelt had a way with words.  The “Man in the Arena” and the “Strenuous Life” are just two of Roosevelt’s catch phrases that resonated with his contemporaries and have endured for more than a century as well. 

 The course will then transition mid-semester to consider and test out modern means of persuasion.  What does it mean to create Instagram stories, Tik Toks, podcasts, and “content” more generally?  Is this something more or less (or just a different) than TRs letters and speeches?  In the end, students will embark on a quest to solidify their own voice, and their own personal practices.  Students will end the semester by asking, and hopefully answering this question: What does it mean to me to live a “Strenuous Life” today?      


Candice Millard, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey 

Primary documents (Letters, speeches, etc.) from a host of early 20th century thinking, including: Jane Addams, Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois, Charles Eliot, Samuel Gompers, JP Morgan, John Muir, Francis Perkins, Theodore Roosevelt and Family, Margaret Sanger, Anna Howard Shaw, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells



  1. Class participation 
  2. Famous Speeches (memorization, contextualization, and analysis) 
  3. Op-Eds/Letters 
  4. Personal Practices Project

About the Instructor(s): Ryan Swanson

Ryan Swanson is a Professor and Chair in the Honors College at UNM. He also serves as the Director of the Lobo Scholars Program.  Ryan earned his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University 2008.  His last book, The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete, came out in 2019.  In the classroom, Ryan teaches courses on sports, history, and the legacy of failure.  During the pandemic, Ryan was one of those professors who frequently forgot to unmute himself while talking on Zoom.  Ryan and his wife Rachael have three children.  They reside in Corrales, NM.