Topic: Kim Curtis

Janet Livingston Montgomery, Part 2: “I Am Constantly at General Washington”

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
May 4, 2018

In my blog post from this past March, I discussed the life of Janet Livingston Montgomery, a member of the wealthy and politically elite Livingston family of New York’s Hudson River Valley. This current post will explore Janet Livingston Montgomery in relation to her era’s traditional gender ideals.

Janet Livingston Montgomery demonstrated the traditional gender ideals of the early American republic by educating herself and her surrogate sons; embodying a sentimental view of courtship, marriage, and widowhood; and symbolizing republican virtues.1 In addition, she assumed a more progressive stance by surpassing these conventions, and actively engaging with and influencing the political culture around her.

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Janet Livingston Montgomery, Part 1: “You May Conceive My Anguish”

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
March 2, 2018

Portrait of Janet Livingston Montgomery, artist and date unknown.*

Earlier this year, as I was annotating documents for The Washington Papers’ upcoming Martha Washington volume, I came across a name that was unfamiliar to me: Janet Livingston Montgomery. I had heard of the wealthy and politically elite Livingston family of New York’s Hudson River Valley but not this particular Livingston. That’s what’s so great about annotating and research: you can learn about historical figures who are “new to you.” By working on the Martha Washington volume, I’ve stumbled upon the underrepresented voices of some fascinating 18th-century women. So, I’d like to now introduce (or re-introduce) you to Janet Livingston Montgomery.

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Three Degrees to Washington: When George Met Cary…

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
January 12, 2018

 “To play yourself—your true self—is the hardest thing in the world to do.”
                                                                                      -Cary Grant1

“What do you do with a film degree? Sit around and watch movies all day?” As a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where I earned an M.A. in cinema studies, I’ve heard my share of these questions from people I meet. They may have a point; although my cinema studies degree has helped me develop my research and writing skills, it’s hard to justify how this degree directly applies to my job at The Washington Papers. When I say I’m a documentary editor, I don’t mean that I edit documentary films! So, I’m going to approach this blog post from a different angle (with a little help from my psychology degree), and show how George Washington shares attributes with classic film star Cary Grant.

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Three Degrees to Washington: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
September 20, 2017

Miniature of Martha Parke Custis, as painted by Charles Willson Peale (1772). Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, I flirted with different answers to this ever-present question: teacher, pediatrician, school psychologist, child psychologist. Having earned a BA in psychology (and classics) from the University of Virginia in 2000, I settled on clinical psychologist, with the goal of teaching college students and treating patients. Since this required a PhD, I applied to several highly competitive doctoral programs but was rejected by all of them. What would have happened had I been accepted? For one thing, I would have missed becoming acquainted with George and Martha Washington.

It may seem like a reach for me to say that my psychology background and history, specifically of the founding era, go hand-in-hand. My father paved the way for me. For a graduate seminar in counseling, he wrote a psychoanalytic profile of Thomas Jefferson, in which he suggested that Jefferson’s fraught relationship with his mother led to his architectural fixation with domes! A field of academic scholarship with this approach actually exists: psychobiography analyzes the lives and psyches of historic figures. Psychobiographers Elizabeth Wirth Marvick, Jerome A. Winer, and James William Anderson took a psychoanalytic approach (like my father did) to profile Washington, Jefferson, and James Madison. Marvick, Winer, and Anderson concluded that Madison “most closely follows the model of the angry revolutionary striving to overcome his passivity toward the father and replace him with his own righteous authority.”1

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Three Degrees to Washington: How “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered” Working at The Washington Papers

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
July 7, 2017

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon, an illumination on vellum by Jean Fouquet (c. 15th century).

“Veni, vidi, vici.” Roman emperor Julius Caesar supposedly proclaimed this famous Latin phrase after a military victory. For centuries, young students of Latin have learned this quotation, which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Their history lessons presented another well-known general who crossed a river (Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, and George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776).1 But as one of those junior scholars of Latin, I didn’t think  I would explore the connections between these two worlds much further. I had never imagined I would grow up to be a research editor at The Washington Papers and use my background in classics every day on the job. 

I started learning Latin to satisfy my eighth-grade foreign language requirement. At the time, I wanted to be a pediatrician and thought Latin would help me with complicated medical terms. My teacher, a seemingly mild-mannered older woman, gave my class a list of common curse words in Latin, which unsurprisingly helped further stoke my interest. I took to learning the language fairly easily and continued studying it in high school (where I won sixth place on the Virginia Junior Classical League’s mythology test) and in the University of Virginia (UVA)’s Classics Department. At UVA, I also took a required year of ancient Greek (which I didn’t like as well as Latin) and classes in Greek and Roman culture, history, and mythology. I earned my BA in Classics in 2000.

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Making Sense of Making History

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
April 27, 2017

During the first episode of the new television comedy series Making History, a history professor named Chris lectures his undergraduate students about the American Revolution. “History is made by unremarkable people doing remarkable things,” Chris says. “How are you going to make history today?”

Making History: (from left to right) Leighton Meester, Adam Pally and Yassir Lester in the “The Shot Heard Round The World” episode of Making History, which originally aired on Sunday, March 12 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Jennifer Clasen/FOX

Directed by Jared Hess (writer and director of the movie Napoleon Dynamite), Making History introduces us to Dan (Adam Pally, Happy Endings and The Mindy Project), a facilities manager for the same fictional college in present-day Lexington, Mass., at which Chris lectures. At the end of each workday, Dan travels through time, via his late father’s duffel bag, to Lexington in 1775. Dan’s girlfriend in 1775 is Deborah (Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl), who happens to be the daughter of Paul Revere.

In Making History‘s first episode, Dan and Chris (Yassir Lester) climb into the duffel bag and time-travel to Lexington on April 21, 1775, two days after the American Revolution should have started. The rebellion has been delayed because Paul Revere is too depressed and angry to make his famous ride. It seems that his daughter Deborah has broken her engagement to a blacksmith and has another suitor (who, unbeknownst to Revere, is Dan). Can Dan, Chris, and Deborah figure out a way to kick off the Revolution so that the America we know today can come into being? As the characters discover, Making History asks how our actions (“unremarkable people doing remarkable things”) can affect the outcomes of history.

At face value, accuracy seems important to Making History creator and executive producer Julius Sharpe. In January, Sharpe told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour:

One of the first things we [Making History‘s production team] did is we had a physicist who is way smarter than any of us come in. The thing to me was getting to a point where people who are obsessed with the logic of time travel won’t be distracted by what we’re doing, but people who aren’t necessarily as sci-fi literate and don’t care about it won’t constantly be plagued by discussions of like . . . photons. I think the thing for us was getting, at least in Season 1, the rules as simple and clear as possible so that they were out of the way and you weren’t thinking about it and you could just enjoy the fact that they had gone [through time].1

Sharpe takes this approach to the show’s scientific accuracy and applies it to the show’s historical accuracy as well. By sticking to the basic facts and spirit of the Revolution, Making History avoids getting too caught up in the minutiae, which might be detrimental to attracting (younger) audiences who otherwise might not be interested in history. For those audience members, Making History can serve as a jumping-off point to learn more about the people and events of the Revolutionary War as well as history in general.

For example, Paul Revere did indeed have a daughter named Deborah (b. 1758). Deborah married Amos Lincoln, a mason who participated in the Boston Tea Party. The couple had nine children. Incidentally, Amos wed two of Paul Revere’s daughters. After Deborah died in January 1797, Amos married her sister Eliza later that year. In addition, Amos Lincoln’s brother Jedidiah married another Revere sister, Mary. But wait . . . there’s more! Amos and Jedidiah’s cousin Thomas was the father of Abraham Lincoln.2

Also, consider the second episode’s portrayal of the Battle of Lexington, which occurred on April 19, 1775. Dan, Chris, and Deborah decide to coordinate the start of the Revolutionary War since Paul Revere and the other colonists don’t seem to know what to do about the occupying British forces. Deborah resolves to disguise herself as her father and warn everyone, on horseback, about the imminent British attack. At Dan and Chris’s urging, the colonists position themselves in front of a barn filled with their weapons, but the colonists and British would rather debate gun rights than start fighting. So, Chris and Dan, hidden behind a bush, fire “the shot heard ’round the world,” which leads to the battle’s commencement and (inaccurately) to the first American victory of the war. According to historian David Hackett Fischer, while some witnesses claimed they heard the first shot come from behind a hedge (similar to from where Dan and Chris shot), other witnesses swore the first shot sounded from behind a stone wall or around the corner at Buckman Tavern. Ultimately, no one knows from where or how the first shot happened, but Making History enfolds Chris and Dan into the action by having them fire the first shot.3

Although Making History depicts the colonists defending their arsenal at Lexington, the weapons actually were stored at Concord and Worcester. The Battle of Lexington happened almost accidentally; the British were supposed to go to Concord for the stockpile, but the Lexington colonists intervened. Unfortunately, Lexington was hardly an American victory; seven colonists were killed, and nine were wounded. The British only endured one injury.4

Overall, while Making History includes some clever commentary of race and gender relations, its infantile humor sometimes distracts from its strengths and dates the series.5 Still, Making History consistently explores the ever-changing balance between how best to serve historical accuracy and entertainment and how best to make history accessible to everyone.

Making History airs on Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX.



1. “Making History: Why FOX’s New Comedy Turns a Duffel Bag into a Time Machine,” IGN Entertainment, last modified Jan. 11, 2017,

2. William Richard Cutter, New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of Commonwealths and the Founding of a Nation, 2 vols. (New York, 1913), 2:670.

3. David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York, 1994), 193.

4. Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride, 80, 89, 198-200, 197.

5. At one point, John Hancock tricks Chris into drinking from a chamber pot. In another scene, after Chris makes a speech, Samuel Adams says to him, “You bombed up there, brother!” An interesting dynamic, for a future discussion, is the fact that Chris is an African-American attempting to navigate 1775.







Washington Papers Editors Share Work, Meet Hamilton’s George Washington at Human/Ties National Endowment for the Humanities Conference

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
September 30, 2016

From September 14 to 17, the University of Virginia (UVA) hosted Human/Ties, a four-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). To explore and honor the vital role played by the humanities in today’s world, the forum brought together multiple University departments and programs, including the Washington Papers, as well as speakers and artists from across the country and around the world.

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Lessons in Courage and Responsibility: Ian Kahn of Turn: Washington’s Spies

By Kim Curtis and Lynn Price
June 7, 2016

IMG_0205[3]Ian Kahn knows George Washington. For three seasons, he has played the General on the AMC television series Turn: Washington’s Spies. An accomplished stage actor, Kahn has also appeared on Dawson’s Creek and Sex and the City. Washington Papers editors Kim Curtis and Lynn Price recently spoke with Kahn about his work on Turn, what this season holds in store, and what George Washington means to him.

When he initially heard about the role of General Washington on Turn, Kahn says, “I thought how wild and wacky it was to play George Washington, but then I read the character description… and I thought, ‘I think I’ve got an idea about how to do this.’” As Kahn began working on the script during his first audition, his hopes were confirmed that he could indeed figure out how to play someone like Washington.

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George Washington in D.W. Griffith’s America: Or Love and Sacrifice (1924)

Photo of D.W. Griffith in 1919. PD-US.

Photo of D.W. Griffith in 1919. PD-US.

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
March 18, 2016

Silent film director D.W. Griffith may be best known for his narratively and technologically groundbreaking but controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. However, his filmography also includes a little-seen movie called America: Or Love and Sacrifice (1924) that is worth looking at as well.

Based on the novel The Reckoning by Robert W. Chambers, America tells the story of the American Revolution through a romance between Nathan Holden, an express rider and minuteman, and Nancy Montague, the daughter of a wealthy Tory.

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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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