Gene Pisasale ’78
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
Gene Pisasale ’78
Making History
by Matt Zencey

After working for 30 years, first as a petroleum geologist, then as an energy industry analyst and portfolio manager, Gene Pisasale ’78 “semi-retired” in 2010 to help with a family-run software business. The move allowed him to embrace his “true love — writing, lecturing and pursuing history,” he says. Living in the Philadelphia region, with its rich Revolutionary War-era history, Pisasale has studied the period extensively and sometimes delivers lectures in character as Alexander Hamilton.

Q: When did you realize that history is your true passion?
I’d enjoyed history from a very young age — third or fourth grade — especially the Civil War. In 1998, I took a trip to Gettysburg. I’d never been there before. It’s just a fantastic place. That was the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It really sparked a strong interest in writing and pursuing history.
Q: So many Americans are fascinated, even obsessed, with the Civil War, while the Revolutionary War doesn’t draw as much interest. Why?

In the Civil War, we were fighting ourselves. Fathers were fighting sons, brothers fighting brothers. The country was literally tearing itself apart. It would have been tragic if the Confederacy had succeeded. The war was the ultimate defining event for whether we could continue to exist as a nation.

I became interested in the Revolutionary War because we live right down the road from Brandywine Battlefield. The Battle of the Brandywine was the largest land battle of the American Revolution. Not a lot of people know about it because we lost.

I think the Founding Fathers era, the Revolutionary War era, is such a critical part of our history to understand. If you don’t get that right, it’s hard to get much else right.

Q: What sparked your interest in Alexander Hamilton?

I always thought he was very underrated and misunderstood. I thought Hamilton was really due for a reawakening. When I got my master’s degree in American history in 2017, I did my thesis on him.

I thought Hamilton was the most fascinating and probably the most gifted of the Founding Fathers. He was very independent. He was an immigrant. He didn’t own slaves. He had no allegiance to the North or the South, to business interests, to Southern plantations. He created the country’s banking system. We wouldn’t have the United States of today if Hamilton hadn’t done that. We’d be a [developing] country.

Q: Have you seen Hamilton, the Broadway musical?
Oh yeah. The music is not my cup of tea, but it’s a very engaging play. The most important thing is that it makes Hamilton come alive for the public. The picture of him as a bright but arrogant guy who died in a duel is long gone.
Q: What’s the most interesting reaction you’ve had to your history lectures?
I got one question, from about a 9-year-old: “Why didn’t the Founding Fathers abolish slavery?” I explained that, as a historian, you have to try to suspend your present sensibilities and sense of morals and understand the world as they saw it. Twelve American presidents owned slaves, eight of them while in office. It’s abysmal, it’s abominable, and it’s not acceptable. But we would not have America — we not would have had the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution — if we had abolished slavery. Representatives of Southern states never would have agreed to it.
Q: Any parting thoughts for Bucknell readers who might be thinking about a big life change?
It doesn’t matter where you are in life. What matters is the direction you’re headed. If you are truly pleased with what you’re pursuing in life, if it gives value to your life, if you get a sense of fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment and you feel you are actually giving something back to your family, your friends, your community, then you’re doing the right thing. I hope with my books, my lectures, my efforts throughout the community, that I do add value to people’s lives.