Conversations at the Washington Library
Conversations at the Washington Library is the premier podcast about George Washington and his Early American world.
Conversations at the Washington Library is the premier podcast about George Washington and his Early American world.
229. A Final Conversation with Dr. James Ambuske
In this final episode of Conversations at the Washington Library, Drs. Anne Fertig and Alexandra Montgomery bid farewell to former Digital Historian and host, Dr. James Ambuske, through a retrospective of his time and work at the George Washington Podcast Network.
228. Editing the Adams Family Papers with Dr. Sara Georgini
The Adams Family is one of the more prominent families in American history. They were at the center of the American Revolution, they helped create a new republic, shaped the young nation’s foreign policy, and later were central to the development of the history profession. Fortunately, we know much about their lives because of the countless letters and diaries they’ve left us. And it is up to a team of editors at the Massachusetts Historical Society to help us make sense of it all. On today’s show, Dr. Sara Georgini joins Jim Ambuske to talk about what it’s like to edit the Adams Family Papers and the questions they help us answer. Georgini is Series Editor for The Papers of John Adams, and she is also the author of Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family, published by Oxford University Press in 2018. We’re joined today by co-host Dr. Anne Fertig, the Washington Library’s Digital Projects Editor.
227. Welcoming a Deserving Brother with Mark Tabbert
In 1752, George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was just twenty years old. Despite his early interest in masonry, Washington was not as active in the organization as some might imagine, but Masonic Lodges became important sites of social gathering for men in early America. And while masons and masonic rituals played important roles in the American Revolution and in the early days of the Republic, you won’t find any conspiracy theories here. On today’s show, Mark Tabbert joins Jim Ambusketo discuss his new book, A Deserving Brother: George Washington and Freemasonry, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2022. Tabbert is Director of Archives and Exhibits at The George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.
226. Cross-examining Washington's Heir with Prof. Gerard Magliocca
When George Washington wrote his final will in the months before he died in December 1799, he named Bushrod Washington as heir to his papers and to Mount Vernon. He took possession of his uncle’s Virginia plantation when Martha Washington passed away in 1802. But Bushrod was not as interested in agriculture as George had been. He was a lawyer who later became an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court, where he became a staunch ally of Chief Justice John Marshall. Yet, like George, Bushrod owned numerous enslaved people and became one of the founding members of the American Colonization Society, an organization dedicated to resettling freed people in Africa. On today’s show, Professor Gerard Magliocca joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, Washington’s Heir: The Life of Justice Bushrod Washington, published by Oxford University Press in 2022. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University.
225. Doing Public History with Dr. Anne Fertig
Why is the way that we remember the past oftentimes different than historical reality? And how can we use public history to inform conversations in the present about events that took place centuries earlier? On today’s episode, Jim Ambuske introduces you to Dr. Anne Fertig, our newest colleague here at the Washington Library, who will help us think through some of these questions. Dr. Fertig is a specialist in eighteenth century literature, historical memory, and women’s history. She’s the founder and co-director of Jane Austen & Co., a lecture series about Jane Austen and her broader world, and she is our new Digital Projects Editor at the Washington Library.
224. Unpacking the Slave Empire with Dr. Padraic Scanlan
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the British Empire began dismantling the slave system that had helped to build it. Parliament banned the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, and in 1833 the government outlawed slavery itself, accomplishing through legislative action what the United States would later achieve in part by the horrors of civil war. Abolition has long been a cause célèbre in the British imagination, with men like William Wilberforce receiving credit for moving the empire to right a moral wrong. Yet as our guest today argues, there were other, equally powerful motivations beyond morality that fueled British efforts to abolish slavery. On today’s show, Dr. Padraic Scanlan joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, Slave Empire: How Slavery Made Modern Britain. Scanlan is an Assistant Professor of History at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto. And as you’ll hear, there was as much money to be made in the abolition of slavery as there was in slavery itself.
223. Attending a Lecture on Female Genius with Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder
In May 1787, George Washington arrived in Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention. One afternoon, as he waited for the other delegates to show up so the convention could begin, Washington accompanied some ladies to a public lecture at the University of Pennsylvania by a woman named Eliza Harriot Barons O’Conner. Eliza Harriot, as she signed her name, had led a transatlantic life steeped in revolutionary ideas. On that May afternoon she argued in favor of the radical notion of Female Genius, the idea that women were intellectually equal to men and deserved both equal opportunity for education and political representation. On today’s show, we dive deeper into Harriot’s story as Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder, who joins Jim Ambuske to discuss her latest book Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2022. Bilder is the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College Law School. And as you’ll learn, Harriot’s performance that day may have inspired the new Constitution’s gender-neutral language.
Introducing Intertwined Stories: Finding Hercules Posey
We're delighted to bring you one of the bonus episodes from our other podcast, Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In Intertwined Stories, we're featuring extended interviews with some of the expert contributors to the main Intertwined show. Today, you'll hear part of the conversation that Jim Ambuske and Jeanette Patrick had with Ramin Ganeshram about Hercules Posey. Posey was the Washington’s enslaved chef, and for more than 200 years old we didn’t know happened to him after he self-emancipated on George Washington’s birthday - February 22, 1797. But now we do. We hope you enjoy this episode, and to hear more Intertwined Stories, search for your favorite podcast app for Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon or find us at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com
222. Winning a "Compleat Victory" at Saratoga with Dr. Kevin Weddle
The Battle of Saratoga in September and October of 1777 was a decisive turning point in the American War for Independence. The American victory over the British in northern New York put a stopper to London’s dreams of a swift end to the war, and convinced the French to openly declare their support for the colonial rebels. It was, in the words of one American participant, a "Compleat Victory." Yet, if we focus on the battles alone, we lose site of the entire campaign, the colorful personalities on both sides who developed the strategy, and the key role that geography played in shaping the choices that field commanders and civilian authorities made as their armies traversed forests, lakes, and rivers. On today’s show, Dr. Kevin Weddle joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution, published by Oxford University Press in 2021. Weddle is Professor of Military Theory and Strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and he’s a West Point graduate who retired as a colonel after 28 years of active services in the United States Army. And as you’ll learn, the Battle of Saratoga was but one single turning point in a series of contingent moments that reshaped the course of the war.
221. Reading the Political Poetry of Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin with Dr. Kait Tonti
Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin was an American poet who rhymed about some of the most important issues facing the early United States in the eighteenth century, including the British occupation of New York City during the American Revolution, the debate over the gradual abolition of slavery in the early days of the republic, and the legacy of George Washington. Schieffelin sat at the heart of the New York literary scene in these years, but until recently, most of her manuscript poetry remained undigitized and inaccessible to readers. Thanks to Dr. Kait Tonti and her colleagues at the New York Public Library, now you can read Schieffelin’s poetry, too. Tonti is an expert on early American women's life-writing and poetry. She was also the 2021 Omohundro Institute-Mount Vernon Digital Collections Fellow, which supported the digitization of Schieffelin’s poetry. She joins Jim Ambuske today to talk about Schieffelin’s life and the politics of her poetry, especially her poetical confrontation over slavery and Washington’s reputation with a mysterious opponent who may not be so mysterious after all. View Schieffelin's manuscripts at the New York Public Library here. View Tonti's digital exhibit here.
220. Educating Early Americans with Drs. Mark Boonshoft and Andrew O'Shaughnessy
In eighteenth-century America, you would’ve had little opportunity for formal schooling or an advanced education. Unless you were among the elite or at least of some means, your chances of attending a local academy or Harvard College weren’t great. But the American Revolution ushered in a new era of education in the United States that paved the way for the educational opportunities we take for granted today. Education became seen as central to the survival of the republic, with local communities, states, and the new federal government all interested in expanding educational opportunities for some Americans, though not as much for others. And in the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson would embark on last great project of his life – the founding of the University of Virginia – which he hoped would preserve the meaning of the Revolution as he understood it. On today’s show, we’re fortunate to have two old chums return to the program to talk about the crucial role of education in early America. Dr. Mark Boonshoft is the Executive Director of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and he is the author of Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic, which was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2020. We’re joined by Dr. Andrew O’Shaughnessy, the Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, who recently authored The Illimitable Freedom of the Human Mind: Thomas Jefferson’s Idea of a University, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2021.
219. Negotiating Federal-State Relations with Dr. Grace Mallon
For years after the ratification of the Constitution, Americans debated how the Federal Government and the several states should relate to each other, and work together, to form a more perfect union. The success, if not the survival, of the new republic depended on these governments cooperating on any number of issues, from customs enforcement to Native American policy. But where there was collaboration there was also friction among them over matters like state sovereignty, slavery, and land. Unsurprisingly, many of the same questions about government relations that American leaders like George Washington or Gouvernor Morris faced in the eighteenth century remain evergreen in the twenty-first. On today’s show, Dr. Grace Mallon joins Jim Ambuske to chat about how the federal government and the states did, or did not, get along in the republic’s early days, and how personal relationships among American leaders often meant the difference between policy victories or defeats. Mallon recently received her Ph.D. from the University of Oxford and she is the incoming Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University. She also hosts the "Conventions" podcast on constitutional history for the Quill Project at Pembroke College, Oxford. Look for it where ever fine podcasts are available. About Our Guest: Grace Mallon received her doctorate in History from Oxford University in 2021. Her dissertation project explored the relationship between the state and federal governments in the early American republic and its effect on policy. She is the incoming Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University, and is a 2021-22 Washington Library Fellow. She hosts the 'Conventions' podcast on constitutional history for the Quill Project at Pembroke College, Oxford.
218. Finding Washington at the Plow with Dr. Bruce Ragsdale
In the 1760s, tobacco was one of Virginia’s chief exports. But George Washington turned away from the noxious plant and began dreaming of wheat and a more profitable future. Washington became enamored with new ideas powering the agricultural revolution in Great Britain and set out to implement this new form of husbandry back home at Mount Vernon. His quest to become a gentleman farmer reshaped Mount Vernon’s landscape and altered the lives of the plantation’s enslaved community, and his own ideas about slavery, forever. On today’s show, Dr. Bruce Ragsdale joins Jim Ambuske to chat about his new book, Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery, published by Harvard University Press in 2021. Ragsdale is the retired Director of the Federal Judicial History Office and he’s one of the leading experts on agriculture in the early republic. And as you’ll hear, Washington the revolutionary farmer had more in common with Farmer George in England, that is King George III, than you might think. Please take a moment to rate and review the show on your favorite podcast app. It helps other people find us and the new insights our guests bring to the table each episode.
217. Exploring Star Territory with Dr. Gordon Fraser
In the 18th and 19th centuries, North Americans looked up at the sky in wonder at the cosmos and what lay beyond earth’s atmosphere. But astronomers like Benjamin Banneker, Georgia surveyors, Cherokee storytellers, and government officials also saw in the stars ways to master space on earth by controlling the heavens above. And print technology became a key way for Americans of all stripes to find ways to understand their own place in the universe and their relationship to each other. On today’s show, Dr. Gordon Fraser joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, Star Territory: Printing the Universe in Nineteenth-Century America, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2021. Fraser is a Lecturer and Presidential Fellow in American Studies, University of Manchester in England, and Fraser and Ambuske were joined today by Dr. Alexandra Montgomery as guest co-host, who is heading up the Washington Library’s ARGO initiative. And yes, they talk about aliens.
216. Digitally Deconstructing the Constitution with Dr. Nicholas Cole
When delegates assembled in Philadelphia in the Summer of 1787 to write a new Constitution, they spent months in secret writing a document they hoped would form a more perfect Union. When we talk about the convention, we often talk of the Virginia Plan, the Connecticut Compromise, the 3/5ths clause, and other major decisions that shaped the final document. What’s harder to see are the long days the delegates spent haggling over numerous proposed amendments, precise words, phrases, and ideas that contorted the constitution into its final form. It’s a process that helped create many of the political institutions that we too often take for granted these days. On today’s show, Dr. Nicholas Cole joins Jim Ambuske to chat about using the Quill Project to demystify the past moments that shaped our political and legal futures. Cole is a Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford, where he is the director of the Quill Project, a digital initiative that investigates the historical origins of some of the world’s foundational legal texts. And as you’ll learn, little moments in the constitutional process can mean a lot. With this episode, we close the books on 2021. Thanks for joining us this past year, we appreciate the opportunity to be in your ears, and we look forward to seeing you in 2022. Have a safe and happy holiday season.
215. Reading Thomas Paine's Rights of Man with Dr. Frances Chiu
For most Americans, Thomas Paine is the radical Englishman, and former tax collector, who published Common Sense in early 1776. His claim that hereditary monarchy was an absurdity and that the “cause of America was in great measure the cause of all mankind” galvanized American rebels into thinking more seriously about independence than they had only a few months before. Paine would go on to publish The American Crisis and other writings during the America Revolution before trying to find his place in the new United States after the war. But in the early 1790s, Paine took up his pen once again, this time to defend the French Revolution, from its British critics, including his frenemy, Edmund Burke. The result was a two-part work entitled Rights of Man, a treatise that imagined a world that in some ways looks very similar to our own. On today’s show, Dr. Frances Chiu joins Jim Ambuske to chat about her new guide book to Paine’s Rights of Man, published by Routledge in 2020. Chiu, who teaches at the New School, is a historian of 18thand 19th century Gothic horror, as well as British reform and radicalism. Her guide book is a handy tool for understanding Paine’s ideas and their origins, with some far older than you might imagine.
Previewing Episode 1 of Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington's Mount Vernon
On this week's show, we bring you Episode 1 of Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Entitled "Passages," it features the life of Sambo Anderson, who was just a boy when he was captured in West Africa, survived the Middle Passage, and purchased by an ambitious George Washington sometime in the late 1760s. During his years of enslavement at Mount Vernon, Anderson became a carpenter, a husband, and a father. In this episode, we tell the story of Anderson’s life to explore the rise of slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region, George and Martha Washington’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade, and the laws that marked the boundaries between slavery and freedom in Virginia. Featuring: Full transcripts, show notes, and bibliographies available at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com.
Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington's Mount Vernon (Coming November 15, 2021)
Intertwined tells the story of the more than 577 people enslaved by George and Martha Washington at Mount Vernon. Told through the biographies of Sambo Anderson, Davy Gray, William Lee, Kate, Ona Judge, Nancy Carter Quander, Edmund Parker, Caroline Branham, and the Washingtons, this eight-part podcast series explores the lives and labors of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community, and how we interpret slavery at the historic site today. Intertwined is narrated by Brenda Parker and is a production of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and CD Squared. Find Intertwined on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Learn more, subscribe to the show, and find full transcripts, show notes, and bibliographies available at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com.
214. Weaponizing Settlement in Nova Scotia with Dr. Alexandra Montgomery
Although you might not realize it, in the years before the American Revolution, Nova Scotia was all the rage. People concocted various schemes to settle it, and the British government saw it as one of the keys to its new vision of empire after the Seven Years' War. Nova Scotia has a fascinating, often troubled history. Indigenous peoples and European powers competed for the land, and access to the colony’s lucrative fishing grounds, drawing maps to stake their claims, making war, and in the case of the British, using settlers to box out other competing interests, in a strategy that our guest today calls “weaponized settlement.” On today’s episode, Dr. Alexandra Montgomery joins Jim Ambuske to chat about her research on Nova Scotia as an imperial place, and as a site of land dispossession, in the era of the American Revolution. Montgomery is our Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital History and Cartography of the American Revolution here at the Washington Library. And in addition to telling us about an exciting new digital mapping project we’re working on these days, you’ll also learn about the donair, a Nova Scotian treat that should be on the top of your bucket list. About Our Guest: Alexandra L. Montgomery holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on the role of the state and settler colonialism in the eighteenth century, particularly in the far northeast. Currently, she is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital History and Cartography of the American Revolutionary War Era at Mount Vernon, where she is assisting in the creation of a new digital maps portal in collaboration with the Leventhal Map and Education Center.
213. Sailing to Freedom with Dr. Timothy D. Walker
In May 1796, an enslaved woman named Ona Judge fled the presidential household in Philadelphia and escaped to freedom on a ship headed for New Hampshire. Judge’s successful flight was one of many such escapes by the sea in the 18th and 19th centuries. Enslaved people boarded ships docked in ports great and small and used coastal water ways and the ocean as highways to freedom. We often learn about the Underground Railroad in school, but what about its aquatic component? On today’s episode, Dr. Timothy D. Walker joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new edited volume, Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad, which was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2021. Walker is a Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and along with the contributors to Sailing to Freedom, Walker guides us towards new horizons in our quest to better understand this history. About Our Guest: Dr. Timothy Walker (B.A., Hiram College, 1986; M.A., Ph.D., Boston University, 2001) is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. At UMD, he serves as Fulbright Program Advisor (faculty and students); prior posts include Director of Tagus Press and Director of the UMass in Lisbon Study Abroad Program.