Topic: Editor’s perspective

A Discovery in the Library: My Treasure Hunt through the George Washington Papers Shelf List

by Elizabeth Higdon, Undergraduate Worker
October 31, 2016

This fall, I returned to UVA, beginning my second year in the College of Arts and Sciences and at the Washington Papers. Usually, my job around the office is determined on a day-to-day basis: some days I’m combing through newspaper databases, other days researching people on Ancestry.com. This year, however, I had a more substantial project awaiting me. I was to review the shelf list, take inventory, and organize all of the books belonging to the GW Papers. It seems like a straightforward task, and it is, for the most part, but when you take into account that the shelves in these five rooms hold more than 3000 books (and more every day), it becomes slightly daunting.

I started with history publications, autobiographies, and letters, everything you would expect an eighteenth/nineteenth century documentary editing project to have on hand. Then, I moved on to more obscure materials: museum guides, orderly books, and assorted pamphlets made illegible by cramped writing. I found books on woodworking, textiles, and freemasonry. One full shelf was dedicated to less prominent eyewitness accounts of the American Revolution. There was an entire cabinet filled with rolls of microfilm. It was at this point in my project that things got interesting.

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My Summer with Martha

By Katie Herring, Former Undergraduate Intern
July 29, 2016

Former undergraduate intern Katie Herring.

Former Undergraduate Intern Katie Herring.

Fresh off I-81, I arrived at the University of Virginia in my Virginia Tech sweatshirt. You could say I stood out. But no matter: I was welcomed into the Washington Papers family as if I were one of their own, not just as an undergraduate who would be there for several weeks, but as another historian and aspiring archivist.

I was unbelievably excited to come to Charlottesville, not for the city itself, of course, but to work. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was looking forward to hiking and going to wineries, but that’s a story for another blog post. I couldn’t wait to start working with the Papers. The musical Hamilton had just gotten popular, and the first time I heard “Right Hand Man” only increased my excitement. I got chills when George Washington’s character was introduced in Hamilton. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. The entire musical amplified my enthusiasm for the Revolutionary Era. This internship really couldn’t have come at a better time for me—or in pop culture.

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Get Dressed or Get Embarrassed

By Sarah Tran, Undergraduate Worker
June 29, 2016

After a difficult spring semester, I returned home from the University of Virginia to visit my family, exchanging the stirring smell of coffee from Alderman Library for the welcoming aroma of authentic Vietnamese food. Being home is always a welcome, much-needed break. My productivity level plummets, and my motivation to look presentable disappears. I constantly find myself wearing pajama pants and T-shirts, and I usually think my fashion choices are fine. Being home is a break from the necessity to appear “put-together”…or so I thought.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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