Topic: William M. Ferraro

Remembering Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington

By William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
June 22, 2018

George Washington’s towering stature as a historical figure has attracted several multivolume biographical treatments. John Marshall’s The Life of George Washington . . ., 5 vols. (Philadelphia, 1804-7)—which enjoyed full support from Bushrod Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon and was given control of his uncle’s papers—initiated such works. Probably the best known today are two 20th-century efforts: Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, 7 vols. (New York, 1948-57); and James Thomas Flexner, George Washington, 4 vols. (Boston, 1965-69). Freeman’s biography commands attention for its thorough research and graceful writing. Flexner’s study draws readers through bold assertions and colorful prose.

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The Dispersal of George Washington’s Library

By William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
April 20, 2018

George Washington’s interest in books has attracted increasing scholarly attention. Mount Vernon pulled together a major exhibition in 2013 to mark the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.1 Adrienne M. Harrison’s dissertation on Washington’s self-improvement through reading became a book published in 2015.2 Noted literary biographer Kevin J. Hayes has written a study with even greater range and depth. His book is now a finalist for the 2018 George Washington Prize.3 It has taken time for this scholarship to come forward because George Washington’s impressive library scattered after his death, and it was not his habit to muse about or ponder his reading in his diaries or correspondence. Sustained effort has been necessary to overcome the inaccurate perception that Washington had little curiosity and limited literary ability.4

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Rehabilitating Mary Ball Washington’s Importance as George Washington’s Mother

by William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
November 17, 2017

In a blog post from February 2016, I reviewed interpretations of George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, and found them to fall into two camps: either simplistically laudatory or bitingly critical. Moreover, neither side found evidence of a close relationship between mother and son. For sure, the documentary record contains few letters between Mary and George, and references to Mary in her famous son’s voluminous surviving correspondence are exceedingly scattered. There is little basis to claim that she played a central role in George’s accomplishments and fame. The absence of such evidence gives greater salience to Mary’s carping in her old age about lack of money and support from her children.   George’s frustration over these complaints prompted harsh portrayals of his mother in subsequent historical analysis.

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Interrogating the Text; How to Annotate a George Washington Document

by William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
August 17, 2017

Moderating a panel on public engagement at the 2017 meeting of the Association for Documentary Editing, Washington Papers communications specialist Katie Lebert observed that content that explores the basic practices of documentary editing is often received favorably by and connects with a wide audience. Taking the cue from Katie, I devote this blog post to annotating documents that appear in The Papers of George Washington.

An editor working on elucidating a document for readers approaches this task by “interrogating the text” in order to determine which information is needed to comprehend it. The process begins by asking questions from the perspective of a reader. Who is mentioned? What is the purpose of the document? Are place references obscure? Does this document result in some action, especially an action involving Washington?

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My Set of John Marshall’s The Life of George Washington: A Research Puzzle

by William M. Ferraro, Research Associate Professor and Acting Editor in Chief
June 16, 2016

An exceptional benefit of editing the Papers of George Washington is exposure to so many sources on early American history. A notable one that I encountered not long after starting with the project in June 2006 was John Marshall’s The Life of George Washington (5 vols.; Philadelphia, 1804-7). I discovered that the American edition’s sixth volume included maps of the Revolutionary War. I decided to visit the University of Virginia’s Harrison-Small Special Collections Library, just steps from my office, in order to examine the maps for my editing of Revolutionary War letters.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (III): Louise Phelps Kellogg (1862-1942)

by William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
March 31, 2017

No former editor has eased my research burdens more than Louise Phelps Kellogg, who built a remarkable career as a historian during the first decades of the twentieth century. Her work informs some of the most consistently challenging letters sent to George Washington: those from Colonel Daniel Brodhead, who commanded the western department from Fort Pitt during the Revolutionary War’s middle years. What makes Brodhead’s missives so problematic is that they cover a vast swath of frontier that ranges west across present-day Ohio to the upper Mississippi River Valley, north to Detroit, and east to the Appalachians, extending south into what is now West Virginia. Kellogg’s annotations in four documentary volumes cover an astounding percentage of obscure geographic and event references in Brodhead’s correspondence.1

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The Simplicities and Intricacies of Indexing

By William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
February 2, 2017

Bill's blog postDocumentary editors strive to make their products as accessible as possible. Systematic transcription facilitates reading by converting handwritten manuscripts into printed pages. Numbered notes explain obscure references or allusions in the texts. Introductions and editorial essays draw larger connections or present rich background information. The index, however, arguably stands as the most important feature of a documentary work as far as providing access. Even users with no interest in the principal historical figure easily can find new, potentially useful items on people, places, and subjects.

But something like the modern book index appeared only in the late seventeenth century, and it was not until the later nineteenth century that an alphabetical index became a customary addition to any substantial publication.1 As with so much else over the past few decades, technology has eased the process of creating an index. Gone are boxes of cards and painful hours hunched over while recording, sorting, and alphabetizing the entries. Inputting data remains a tedious task, but the purely clerical dimensions of the endeavor now take seconds rather than days or weeks.

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Georgia Meets the Papers of George Washington

November 2, 2016

George Washington’s composure under duress and remarkable memory for facts and pertinent details provided the basic tools of successful leadership, the managing editor of The Papers of George Washington told an audience in Savannah, Ga., recently.

Dr. William Ferraro was responding to a question posed by Stan Deaton, senior historian of the Georgia Historical Society, before a crowd of more than 350 at an event titled “George Washington, Leadership and Global Revolution.”  The event, held at Savannah’s historic First Baptist Church in late September, was sponsored by the historical society and the UVA Club of Savannah.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Part II: Henry Barton Dawson (1821-1889)

By William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
July 15, 2016

Title page of the catalogue.

Title page of the catalogue.

Award-winning journalist and World War II historian Rick Atkinson visited the Washington Papers near the start of his research for a trilogy examining the Revolutionary War. He sought insights into Washington from the editors and obscure sources that might shed light on overlooked or shadowy aspects of the conflict. The editors shared plenty of thoughts and anecdotes, and Atkinson nosed around our extensive holdings of microfilm and reference works. What I enjoyed most, however, was bringing to his attention an item from my personal collection: the auction catalogue for dispersing Henry B. Dawson’s library produced by the New York City house Bangs and Co. and titled Catalogue of the Large Historical Library of the Late Henry B. Dawson, LL.D., an Extensive and Valuable Collections of Books, Pamphlets and Periodicals . . . . I told Atkinson that if he were starting a major Revolutionary War work in the later nineteenth century and sought insights and obscure sources, he would have visited Dawson rather than a documentary editing project like the Washington Papers.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: William Spohn Baker (1824-1897)

By William M. Ferraro, Associate Editor
May 6, 2016

Modern documentary editors benefit enormously from ready access to electronic databases that allow nearly instantaneous immersion into an ocean of primary and secondary sources. Much of what we find and exploit was the work of our scholarly forebears, many of whom were not professional historians. I wish to honor some of these easily overlooked and unfortunately forgotten individuals in a series of contributions to Washington’s Quill over the next year or so. A person’s influence on current editing at the Washington Papers will be my major selection principle.

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