Topic: Editor’s perspective

The Heartbreaker

By Mary Wigge, Research Editor
June 21, 2016

Letters reveal a great deal about the sender and recipient—their relationship, their opinions on particular matters—as well as overall historical context. Condolence letters do that and more. George Washington’s death resulted in a deluge of condolences to Martha, from family members, friends, organizations, acquaintances, and even strangers. Sending their regrets, these letters vary from brief notes to lengthy passages. As a research editor, it’s eye-opening to see the spectrum of emotions conveyed.

I first read these condolence letters in 2014 as research on the papers of Martha Washington. Sitting in Mount Vernon’s special collections room with one of my colleagues, I found myself robotically skimming through one condolence letter to Martha after another. I was unfazed. That may sound insensitive, but most of the letters followed a formulaic pattern: regret for Martha’s loss and hope for a swift recovery. The end. A light touch of sympathy with a dash of suggested solace—there was no effusive heart-pouring nor anguished despair. It was not until Lafayette’s letter that I truly felt loss for the “beloved General” Washington.

Continue reading

A Lesson About Duty from General George Washington

By Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
June 4, 2016

Recently, someone contacted the Washington Papers for help with locating a specific document. They were looking for a letter in which George Washington explained why patriotism was not enough to win the Revolutionary War. Fair payment for the men who fought was also needed:

Continue reading

Photo taken by Caitlin Conley.

Impressions of Martha Washington: A Visit to New Kent County

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
May 12, 2016

Photo taken by Caitlin Conley.

Historical marker for New Kent County, Virginia.

Sometimes I’ll go stand in front of our shelves of Martha Washington documents and give them a calculating look-over. Each decade has its own shelf, from the 1750s to the 1800s. The 1790s and 1800s bulge with the most envelopes, and get a contented nod. The 1750s get a narrow look because we don’t yet have anything earlier than 1757. That’s 27 years of Martha’s life that have escaped, for the most part, from the documentary record.

I yearn to know more about her younger life, about her relationship with her first husband, about her family, about her home, about what her favorite dresses were, even.1 Who was this girl, Patsy Dandridge, before she became the wealthy Martha Custis, before she was thrown into the spotlight as Martha Washington? Alas, I’m forced to settle for getting only glimpses of her, when I can get them.

So I was excited to visit New Kent County, Virginia, with our Martha team. I wanted to walk the land she grew up on, to see her Pamunkey River, and to wander about the foundations of her family homes.

Continue reading

Re-Engaged: Participating in the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day

By Katie Lebert, Communications Assistant
March 25, 2016

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
– George Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 1

Last week, Research Assistant Kathryn Gehred and I attended the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The annual two-day event teaches humanities projects across the United States how to advocate among policymakers for equal or increased funding of institutions, such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

The first day included panels and discussions about how the humanities benefit individuals. Since I am somewhat new to the Washington Papers, I was initially nervous about how I could contribute to Advocacy Day. However, the first day’s activities instantly appealed to the humanities major in me, and aligned with the curiosity and commitment to history that I experience working at the Papers.

Continue reading

George Washington at the Battle of Princeton

Civil War?: The American Revolution through Multiple Lenses

March 23, 2016

George Washington at the Battle of Princeton

George Washington at the Battle of Princeton New Jersey, 1777.

Over the weekend, several of our editors and staff attended the fifth annual Conference of the American Revolution, hosted by America’s History, LLC in Williamsburg, where Director Edward G. Lengel gave a presentation on the Battle of Germantown.

Other leading historians lectured on topics ranging from Washington to Benedict Arnold, Concord to Pensacola, and local preservation to global context. Interestingly, a number of scholars of the American Civil War, drawn to the colonial conflict and its aftermath, were in attendance.

For another account of how the Civil War inspired perceptions of the American Revolution, see Research Editor Kim Curtis’s recent article on D. W. Griffith’s film America in light of his better-known Birth of a Nation.

Benjamin Franklin and the Adams Family: Editing the Founders

George Washington Statue in Boston Public Garden

George Washington Statue in Boston Public Garden

By Neal Millikan, Assistant Editor
January 5, 2016

“To edit a book well, especially if in any way historical, is far more of a labor than a [wo]man commonly gets credit for. It requires varied knowledge and extensive resources–far more than I could have imagined. I find it engrosses my attention very completely.”

–Diary of Charles Francis Adams, May 9, 1850

Reading this quote in the editor in chief’s office at the Adams Papers made me smile. With these three brief sentences Charles Francis Adams perfectly described what we strive to do as documentary editors.

Continue reading

A Morbid Child Remembers George Washington

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
December 14, 2015

GW death lithograph_cropped

Life of George Washington The Christian death, lithograph of painting by Junius Brutus Stearns, c. 1853. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 As a child, I had a morbid curiosity about death. When I was eight years old, a family friend gave me what I thought was the greatest Christmas present ever: a copy of the book, Hollywood Heaven, which detailed the lives and (more importantly) the deaths of film and television celebrities.

While visiting Los Angeles in the 1990s, my mother and I went on a guided tour of the city, during which instead of riding by the homes of the stars, we were driven in a hearse to see locations where stars died. Even when traveling as an adult, I find a certain calm when visiting cemeteries, whether in New Orleans or Paris.

Reading Hollywood Heaven (which I still own) and learning about the facts of various celebrities’ demises has led me to a more generalized interest in history. I have found myself constantly encountering the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, ever since.

Continue reading

Performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

By Sarah Tran, Undergraduate Worker
December 9, 2015

Sarah Tran, one of the Washington Papers’ undergraduate workers for the 2015-2016 academic year, was fortunate enough to be a part of the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a color guard performer in the University of Virginia Cavalier Marching Band. According to Sarah, the opportunity was the highlight of her year. She shares her experience in her own words below. Continue reading

On the Set with Associate Editor William M. Ferraro: An Interview About his Role in the Film Monroe Hill

October 9, 2015

Associate Editor William M. Ferraro will soon be featured as an historical contributor in a documentary about James Monroe’s farm home Monroe Hill. Director Eduardo Montes-Bradley‘s film Monroe Hill overviews the trials James Monroe faced in running the unproductive plantation, in following his political obligations, and in strengthening a new nation. Continue reading