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Conversations at the Washington Library

History Podcasts

Conversations at the Washington Library is the premier podcast about George Washington and his Early American world. Join host Jim Ambuske as he talks with scholars, digital humanists, librarians, and other guests about Washington's era and the way we tell stories about the past. Support this podcast:

Conversations at the Washington Library is the premier podcast about George Washington and his Early American world. Join host Jim Ambuske as he talks with scholars, digital humanists, librarians, and other guests about Washington's era and the way we tell stories about the past. Support this podcast:


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Conversations at the Washington Library is the premier podcast about George Washington and his Early American world. Join host Jim Ambuske as he talks with scholars, digital humanists, librarians, and other guests about Washington's era and the way we tell stories about the past. Support this podcast:








201. Uncovering the Virginia Loyalists with Drs. Stephanie Seal Walters and Alexi Garrett

Virginia was home to many of the most famous rebels like George Washington during the American Revolution, but it was also a den of Tories who remained loyal to the British king. Loyalists in all the colonies rejected what they called “the unnatural rebellion” and resisted Patriot forces as they tried to restore the king’s peace to British America. In Virginia, a civil war raged between white colonists, enslaved people who sought their freedom, and many more who just tried to stay out of...


200. Transcribing From The Page with Sara and Ben Brumfield

When the COVID pandemic stuck last spring, thousands of cultural heritage sites, including the Washington Library and Mount Vernon, had to find ways to help team members do work from home. That wasn’t always easy, especially as so much of our normal work requires a physical presence. One of our solutions at the Library was to use this time to transcribe the voluminous correspondence of Harrison Dodge, Mount Vernon’s superintendent in the late 19th century. And to do that, we turned to a...


199. Unravelling the Strange Genius of Mr. O. with Dr. Carolyn Eastman

In the early years of the nineteenth century, former Virginia schoolteacher James Ogilvie embarked on a lecture tour that took the United States by storm. Born Scotland, Ogilvie became a renowned orator, packing rooms in urban Philadelphia and rural Kentucky alike. As he crisscrossed the nation, lecturing on topics that spoke to American anxieties about the fate of their young republic, Ogilvie became a major celebrity. Many Americans admired him, some even hated him, as he asked them to...


198. Contesting Monuments and Memory in South Carolina with Dr. Lydia Brandt

The South Carolina State House Grounds is a landscape of monuments and memory. Since the capital moved from Charleston to Columbia in the 1780s, South Carolinians have been erecting, moving, and contesting monuments on the capitol’s grounds, using them to debate the past as they really argue about their present. Monuments and statues are the subject of great debate right now, not only in the United States, but around the world, and South Carolina’s commemorations can help us to understand...


197. Stumbling Upon the Journal of Johann Peter Oettinger with Craig Koslofsky and Roberto Zaugg

Two weeks ago, we brought you the story of Johann Peter Oettinger, a seventeenth-century German-speaking barber-surgeon who in 1693 journeyed to Africa and the West Indies on behalf of the Brandenburg African Company. His journal from that period captures the height of German participation in the transatlantic slave trade. Today, we bring you the story of the journal itself and how two historians, Craig Koslofsky and Robert Zaugg, found the manuscript independently of one another in the...


196. Reconstructing the Life of a German Barber-Surgeon in the Atlantic Slave Trade with Craig Koslofsky and Roberto Zaugg

In 1693, the young German barber-surgeon Johann Peter Oettinger joined a slave trading venture for the second time. In the employ of the Brandenburg African Company, Oettinger sailed with his shipmates from Europe to the African coast where they procured their captive human cargo, took the middle passage to the West Indies, and exchanged their enslaved people in the colonies for a variety of goods. Along the way, Oettinger encountered a mix of European, African, and colonial peoples who...


195b. [En Español] Ofreciendo a George Washington un regalo real con el profesor José Emilio Yanes

Bienvenido a Conversaciones en la Biblioteca de Washington. Hoy, Jim Ambuske habla con el profesor José Emilio Yanes de la Universidad de Salamanca en España. Yanes es el autor del libro El Regalo de Carlos III A George Washington: El periplo de Royal Gift. El libro cuenta la historia de cómo un burro jugó un papel importante en la relación diplomática entre España y los nuevos Estados Unidos. Muchas gracias a Allan Winn, Jr. por traducir durante nuestra conversación. Gracias por escuchar....


195a. Offering George Washington a Royal Gift with Professor José Emilio Yanes

In 1784, King Charles III of Spain sent George Washington a token of his esteem. Knowing that Washington had long sought a Spanish donkey for his Mount Vernon estate, the king permitted a jack to be exported to the new United States. Washington named the donkey Royal Gift in recognition of its royal origin, and the donkey became somewhat of a minor celebrity when he disembarked from his ship in 1785. As it turns out, Spanish jacks like Royal Gift were highly prized animals in the Atlantic...


194. Building Digital History Projects at the Washington Library with the ITPS Interns

One of the most important things we’re able to do at the Center for Digital History is offer internships to college students. Working with students allows us to move our projects forward while giving them real world opportunities to do the kind of work that historians do, and development skills that will hopefully serve them well later in life. Now, we’ve talked about our internship program on the show before – you might recall our chat with Jamie Morris of Washington College – and today...


193. Rifling through Washington's Receipts with Dr. Julie Miller

Take a receipt out of your pocket. What does it say about you? Receipts can tell us a lot about people and the world in which they lived. And George Washington kept receipts. On today’s show, Dr. Julie Miller joins Jim Ambuske to discuss the hidden lives we can find in Washington’s receipts and similar documents. Dr. Miller is a historian and the Curator of Early American Manuscripts at the Library of Congress, where she oversees a vast array of archival material, including Washington...


Throwing a Change-Up at the Washington Library with Jim Ambuske

We wanted to let you know of some exciting changes we’ll be making to the podcast that will allow you to hear more from groundbreaking historians and scholars in new ways. Beginning today, Conversations at the Washington Library is moving to an every other week schedule. That means no new episode this week, but we’ll be back on January 21, 2021 with my chat with Julie Miller of the Library of Congress about the hidden lives in George Washington’s papers. Now, why are we making this...


192. Drinking Washington's Whiskey with Drew Hannush

For many people, one of life’s great joys is a lovely dram of whiskey. Whether you’re a fan of Kentucky Bourbon, Single-malt Scotches, Japanese or Tennessee whiskey, every glass tells a story or contains memories that connect drinkers to different places, and different times. For Jim Ambuske, a dram of Cragganmore 12 instantly takes him back to Edinburgh, where he's spent many months hunting American Revolutionaries in the archives. But like most folks, he knows less about the stories behind...


190. (Recast) The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret with Mary Thompson: Part 1

Forty years ago, Mary V. Thompson began her career at Mount Vernon as a museum attendant and history interpreter. She was quickly promoted to Curatorial Assistant, and within a few short years was named Curatorial Registrar, where she began researching numerous Washington and Mount Vernon related topics such as 18th-century foodways, animals, religion, Native Americans, genealogy, domestic life, & slavery. Today, she is the Washington Library’s indispensable Research Historian, and as many...


191. (Recast) The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret with Mary Thompson: Part 2

This is Part Two of Jim Ambuske's July 2019 chat with Washington Library Research Historian Mary V. Thompson. We’re recasting it in celebration of her 40th anniversary at Mount Vernon. If you missed Part One, please do give it a listen. Happy New Year to you all. About Our Guest: Mary V. Thompson is a long-time (38 year) member of the staff at Mount Vernon, where she is now the Research Historian. She is the author of In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George...


189. Confronting an Absolutist Monarch with Dr. Karie Schultz

In this season of religious renewal, we bring you a story of religious dissent. In 1638, many of King Charles I’s Presbyterian subjects gathered at Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh to sign the National Covenant. By renewing their own covenant with the Almighty, they also pledged to resist encroachments on church government by the king, and the innovations in doctrine he sought to make for the Church of Scotland. As we’ve discovered in previous episodes, the sixteenth and seventeenth...


188. Exploring the Benjamin Franklin House of London with Dr. Márcia Balisciano

In 1757, Benjamin Franklin returned to London after an over thirty-year absence. He first ventured to the imperial capital in 1724 to continue his education as a printer; he went back in the late 1750s as a politician, after being named the London agent for the Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin took up residence at 36 Craven Street in London, today just down the way from Charing Cross Station, and right near Trafalgar Square. For nearly two decades, with a short return to Philadelphia in...


187. Winning a Consolation Prize with Dr. Abby Mullen

Consuls are essential to American foreign relations. Although they may not be as flashy or as powerful as an Ambassador like Thomas Jefferson or John Quincy Adams, they’re often the goto people when an American gets in trouble abroad or when a trade deal needs to get done. Consuls operate in cities and towns throughout the world, helping to advance American interests and maintain good relations with their host countries, all while helping you replace your lost passport. Much has changed...


186. Exploring New Frontiers in Early American History with Alexi Garrett, Michael Blaakman, Derek O’Leary, and Krysten Blackstone

In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin and other early Americans likened themselves to a rising people who were creating something new under the sun. It’s fair to say that historians have a similar mindset: we’re constantly striving to uncover new evidence, make new arguments, and offer new interpretations that help us better explain the past. So on today’s show, we’re going to introduce you to just a few among a rising generation of historians who are doing cutting edge work in early...


185. Seeking a City of Refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp with Marcus P. Nevius

The Great Dismal Swamp is a remarkable feature of the southern coastal plain. Spanning from Norfolk, Virginia to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the Swamp is now a National Wildlife Refuge home to Bald cypress, black bears, otters, and over 200 species of birds, among many other critters. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was the home to the ambitions of planters and businessmen who sought to transform the swamp into a plantation enterprise of rice, timber, and other...


184. Becoming Citizens of Convenience on the U.S.-Canadian Border with Lawrence B. A. Hatter

In 1783, the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, which confirmed American independence. As part of the treaty negotiations, American and British diplomats had to determine the new nation’s borders. They used maps like John Mitchell’s 1755 work A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America to figure out what separated the United States from what remained of British America in Canada. You can see a digital copy of the Mitchell Map here. In our own time,...