Topic: Editor’s perspective

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.

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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

The Financial Papers Project Visits the Library of Congress

By Erica Cavanaugh
January 23, 2015

Erica is a Research Assistant for the Financial Papers Project.

The Financial Papers Project at the Papers of George Washington focuses on GW’s numerous account books, which illustrate the financial aspects of his everyday life. We have primarily worked with scanned digital images from the Library of Congress website when doing transcriptions, and have been trying to gain a better understanding of Washington himself. Recently however, I was given the opportunity to visit the Library Congress with Senior Editor Jennifer Stertzer, in order to actually see, touch, and use the original financial documents housed there.

Upon arrival, we were able to walk through the closed stacks, seeing the vast number of volumes and documents, which are no longer open to the public. The documents covered a variety of topics, including a number of the presidents. Many of the documents have been microfilmed and are also available online for public use. After seeing the closed stacks, we made our way to the reading room for the manuscript archives. We were assigned a locker where our bags, jackets, and anything other than a phone or laptop were stored, and were then provided with paper and pencils. Once settled, a cart with the financial volumes we requested was brought out and we were able to begin.

Each of the financial documents and books were in different physical conditions. Some of the account books were in their original bindings and relatively easy to manage considering their age, while others were extremely fragile and delicate. Additionally, there were a few books that had been repaired and rebound by the conservation department at the Library of Congress. Due to the fact that a number of the books were in the original binding and were fragile we needed to take certain precautions. These precautions included the use of cradles to view a number of the materials. The cradles stopped the books from opening too far, preventing any additional cracking of the pages or spine of the books.

While viewing the original material and handwriting was interesting and allowed us to fully comprehend the various sizes of the account books, the purpose of our visit was to verify the order of the material online, which we were using for our transcriptions. Jennifer and I went through a number of the volumes page by page in order to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. By doing this, we realized that some of the material had been difficult to scan due to its fragile state. Because of this, numbers or text written towards the center of the book did not always show in the digital image. By using the original documents, we were able to update the transcriptions in the database with the previously unknown text.

Our final goal of visiting the Library of Congress was to gain some deeper insight into the material by conversing with Julie Miller, an Early American Historian at the Library of Congress who is also currently working on this material. By conversing with one another, we were able to see what we each thought about particular documents and account books. A number of questions were asked, some of which were as simple as “what is this,” and “why is it here.” Some questions we were able to answer for one another and others still remain unanswered.

Overall, our visit to the Library of Congress was both fascinating and insightful. We were able to handle the original documents, and update and correct some of our transcriptions. Additionally, we gained a better understanding of the numerous account books George Washington kept, how they may have been related to one another, and at times the purpose of particular books. As the project progresses, I hope we are able to visit again.

Transcription: Looking Back 200 Years

By Prajeeth Koyada
January 10, 2015

Prajeeth is a first year chemistry major at the University of Virginia. He currently transcribes documents for the Financial Papers Project.

Transcribing documents for the Papers of George Washington has been both an enlightening and mystifying experience. For every “Caleb Gibbs” I uncover, a multitude of questions arise– “who was this person?”, “why was he important”, “what are his greatest achievements, and failures?”, among others–and occupy my thoughts until I move on to the next line and my thoughts are now focused on a new individual, maybe a “Josiah Hall” this time. The entire time, from the moment I open the papers to the instant I shut off the computer, I don’t exist in that large room on grounds – I’m reading, thinking of, and most importantly, experiencing a minuscule part of the life of George Washington and his correspondents.

Sorry to sound overly Romantic, but the transcription of George Washington’s correspondence truly is an adventure in some respects. I uncover what his debts and obligations were, to whom they were entitled to, and what exactly he owed. A form of enlightenment, I gain a unique insight regarding the needs of the Continental Army during and after the Revolutionary War– something not provided in the history courses everyone has taken.

Henry Alexander Ogden’s 1897 depiction of uniforms and weapons used in the Revolutionary War

On the side, by reading some of the other transcribed diaries the Papers have produced, I follow the footsteps of Washington and his patriots; I do not just relive the same lessons taught in history class, but get to see what daily life looked like, in all of its small details. Most definitely, these papers have helped me to humanize these long-past figures, bastions of a far away age. When we think of George Washington and his soldiers, we usually see them as symbols of freedom, fighting an impossible battle for independence, which of course puts us in a certain perceptual mold. For me, reading these soldiers’ complaints about rations, stories told around the campfire, and images of their own personal lives reminds me that these soldiers were just like you and me, fighting for what they believe in. In other words, the Papers reminds me just who fought for the United States’ freedom and instills in me even more appreciation and respect for those same people.

Although I’ve made this work sound extremely serious, the truth is this work is remarkably fun and, at times, amusing! There are various stories that come to mind that these soldiers relate that would entertain even today, two centuries later. History is a great passion of mine, and being able to see a glimpse of what life was like during the birth of the United States for the people who helped achieve it is an amazing opportunity I’m grateful for.

Papers of George Washington, a.k.a., Hollywood

By Caitlin Conley
December 19, 2014

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

We hope that you’ve liked our videos so far, because we have more coming your way! In January and February we’ll be posting four new videos featuring George’s animals, specifically his sheep, cattle, hogs, and mules. While they’re aimed towards younger viewers and will hopefully be of use in elementary school classrooms, they’ll be interesting to anyone curious about George’s favorite job: being a farmer.

The videos will feature voiceovers from George’s letters, with our editors giving cameo readings of fellows such as the fiery Arthur Young and the jovial Gouverner Morris. As an additional treat, Mount Vernon kindly gave us permission to film their beautiful heritage animals, including their Hog Island Sheep, Milking Devon Cows, and Ossabaw Island Hogs. For more about Mount Vernon’s animals, see their page “Animals at Mount Vernon”.

I’d been having uncomfortable visions of shouting my lines as narrator over a howling gale, but luckily, it was a lovely day last Saturday, which was when we trooped up to Mount Vernon to get our footage. In addition to me as narrator and writer, we had Claire Romaine, a first year at U.Va. and a new member of our social media team, who recorded sound and directed; Eva Lucy Alvarado, a first year in the film club at U.Va., who set up shots and filmed; and Spencer Park, also a first year at U.Va., who helped with setting up equipment and keeping track of what scene we were on.

mt vernon

It was quite an adventure, and we had a great time exploring Mount Vernon to find places to film. Our biggest obstacle to getting the footage we wanted was planes flying overhead and ruining the sound. I would be halfway through my line about manure, thinking that I was sounding pretty awesome, and then Claire would sigh and say “Stop! Plane!”

The other obstacle was the sheep. The first time we tried to film them, they sauntered away over a hill, one by one, so that there weren’t any left in the shot. The second time, they sat so still that we might as well have been filming statues. Fortunately, some kids passing by volunteered to baaaaaa at them and the sheep at last looked at the camera.

The sheep could have learned something from the cows, who were the opposite of camera shy. All four of us were enormously excited when some Mount Vernon staff members arrived in a red pickup truck to toss the cows their evening hay. We were probably quite a sight, jumping up and down and fumbling to set up the cameras while the cows peacefully munched away:

mt vernon f

The scenery at Mount Vernon is breathtaking, which is, of course, a major reason why Mount Vernon was built there in the first place. We filmed in front of barns, forests, and fields. Our last scenes of the day were in front of the Potomac River:

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Eventually, we realized that we were filming these videos the day before George’s death, 215 years ago. It was a little spooky walking around his grounds the rest of that day, and it made our trip feel extra special.

We hope you’ll enjoy watching the videos as much as we’re enjoying making them for you!