Conversations at the Washington Library
By George Washington's Mount Vernon
Conversations at the Washington Library is the premier podcast about George Washington and his Early American world. Join host Jim Ambuske as he talks with scholars, digital humanists, librarians, and other guests about Washington's era and the way we tell stories about the past.
223. Attending a Lecture on Female Genius with Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder
In May 1787, George Washington arrived in Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention. One afternoon, as he waited for the other delegates to show up so the convention could begin, Washington accompanied some ladies to a public lecture at the University of Pennsylvania by a woman named Eliza Harriot Barons O’Conner. Eliza Harriot, as she signed her name, had led a transatlantic life steeped in revolutionary ideas. On that May afternoon she argued in favor of the radical notion of Female Genius, the idea that women were intellectually equal to men and deserved both equal opportunity for education and political representation. On today’s show, we dive deeper into Harriot’s story as Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder, who joins Jim Ambuske to discuss her latest book Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2022. Bilder is the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College Law School. And as you’ll learn, Harriot’s performance that day may have inspired the new Constitution’s gender-neutral language.
May 19, 2022
Introducing Intertwined Stories: Finding Hercules Posey
We're delighted to bring you one of the bonus episodes from our other podcast, Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In Intertwined Stories, we're featuring extended interviews with some of the expert contributors to the main Intertwined show. Today, you'll hear part of the conversation that Jim Ambuske and Jeanette Patrick had with Ramin Ganeshram about Hercules Posey. Posey was the Washington’s enslaved chef, and for more than 200 years old we didn’t know happened to him after he self-emancipated on George Washington’s birthday - February 22, 1797. But now we do. We hope you enjoy this episode, and to hear more Intertwined Stories, search for your favorite podcast app for Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon or find us at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com
April 06, 2022
222. Winning a "Compleat Victory" at Saratoga with Dr. Kevin Weddle
The Battle of Saratoga in September and October of 1777 was a decisive turning point in the American War for Independence. The American victory over the British in northern New York put a stopper to London’s dreams of a swift end to the war, and convinced the French to openly declare their support for the colonial rebels. It was, in the words of one American participant, a "Compleat Victory." Yet, if we focus on the battles alone, we lose site of the entire campaign, the colorful personalities on both sides who developed the strategy, and the key role that geography played in shaping the choices that field commanders and civilian authorities made as their armies traversed forests, lakes, and rivers. On today’s show, Dr. Kevin Weddle joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution, published by Oxford University Press in 2021. Weddle is Professor of Military Theory and Strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and he’s a West Point graduate who retired as a colonel after 28 years of active services in the United States Army. And as you’ll learn, the Battle of Saratoga was but one single turning point in a series of contingent moments that reshaped the course of the war.
March 25, 2022
221. Reading the Political Poetry of Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin with Dr. Kait Tonti
Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin was an American poet who rhymed about some of the most important issues facing the early United States in the eighteenth century, including the British occupation of New York City during the American Revolution, the debate over the gradual abolition of slavery in the early days of the republic, and the legacy of George Washington. Schieffelin sat at the heart of the New York literary scene in these years, but until recently, most of her manuscript poetry remained undigitized and inaccessible to readers. Thanks to Dr. Kait Tonti and her colleagues at the New York Public Library, now you can read Schieffelin’s poetry, too. Tonti is an expert on early American women's life-writing and poetry. She was also the 2021 Omohundro Institute-Mount Vernon Digital Collections Fellow, which supported the digitization of Schieffelin’s poetry. She joins Jim Ambuske today to talk about Schieffelin’s life and the politics of her poetry, especially her poetical confrontation over slavery and Washington’s reputation with a mysterious opponent who may not be so mysterious after all. View Schieffelin's manuscripts at the New York Public Library here. View Tonti's digital exhibit here.
March 09, 2022
220. Educating Early Americans with Drs. Mark Boonshoft and Andrew O'Shaughnessy
In eighteenth-century America, you would’ve had little opportunity for formal schooling or an advanced education. Unless you were among the elite or at least of some means, your chances of attending a local academy or Harvard College weren’t great. But the American Revolution ushered in a new era of education in the United States that paved the way for the educational opportunities we take for granted today. Education became seen as central to the survival of the republic, with local communities, states, and the new federal government all interested in expanding educational opportunities for some Americans, though not as much for others. And in the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson would embark on last great project of his life – the founding of the University of Virginia – which he hoped would preserve the meaning of the Revolution as he understood it. On today’s show, we’re fortunate to have two old chums return to the program to talk about the crucial role of education in early America. Dr. Mark Boonshoft is the Executive Director of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and he is the author of Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic, which was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2020. We’re joined by Dr. Andrew O’Shaughnessy, the Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, who recently authored The Illimitable Freedom of the Human Mind: Thomas Jefferson’s Idea of a University, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2021.
February 18, 2022
219. Negotiating Federal-State Relations with Dr. Grace Mallon
For years after the ratification of the Constitution, Americans debated how the Federal Government and the several states should relate to each other, and work together, to form a more perfect union. The success, if not the survival, of the new republic depended on these governments cooperating on any number of issues, from customs enforcement to Native American policy. But where there was collaboration there was also friction among them over matters like state sovereignty, slavery, and land. Unsurprisingly, many of the same questions about government relations that American leaders like George Washington or Gouvernor Morris faced in the eighteenth century remain evergreen in the twenty-first. On today’s show, Dr. Grace Mallon joins Jim Ambuske to chat about how the federal government and the states did, or did not, get along in the republic’s early days, and how personal relationships among American leaders often meant the difference between policy victories or defeats. Mallon recently received her Ph.D. from the University of Oxford and she is the incoming Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University. She also hosts the "Conventions" podcast on constitutional history for the Quill Project at Pembroke College, Oxford. Look for it where ever fine podcasts are available. About Our Guest: Grace Mallon received her doctorate in History from Oxford University in 2021. Her dissertation project explored the relationship between the state and federal governments in the early American republic and its effect on policy. She is the incoming Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University, and is a 2021-22 Washington Library Fellow. She hosts the 'Conventions' podcast on constitutional history for the Quill Project at Pembroke College, Oxford.
February 02, 2022
218. Finding Washington at the Plow with Dr. Bruce Ragsdale
In the 1760s, tobacco was one of Virginia’s chief exports. But George Washington turned away from the noxious plant and began dreaming of wheat and a more profitable future. Washington became enamored with new ideas powering the agricultural revolution in Great Britain and set out to implement this new form of husbandry back home at Mount Vernon. His quest to become a gentleman farmer reshaped Mount Vernon’s landscape and altered the lives of the plantation’s enslaved community, and his own ideas about slavery, forever. On today’s show, Dr. Bruce Ragsdale joins Jim Ambuske to chat about his new book, Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery, published by Harvard University Press in 2021. Ragsdale is the retired Director of the Federal Judicial History Office and he’s one of the leading experts on agriculture in the early republic. And as you’ll hear, Washington the revolutionary farmer had more in common with Farmer George in England, that is King George III, than you might think. Please take a moment to rate and review the show on your favorite podcast app. It helps other people find us and the new insights our guests bring to the table each episode.
January 20, 2022
217. Exploring Star Territory with Dr. Gordon Fraser
In the 18th and 19th centuries, North Americans looked up at the sky in wonder at the cosmos and what lay beyond earth’s atmosphere. But astronomers like Benjamin Banneker, Georgia surveyors, Cherokee storytellers, and government officials also saw in the stars ways to master space on earth by controlling the heavens above. And print technology became a key way for Americans of all stripes to find ways to understand their own place in the universe and their relationship to each other. On today’s show, Dr. Gordon Fraser joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, Star Territory: Printing the Universe in Nineteenth-Century America, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2021. Fraser is a Lecturer and Presidential Fellow in American Studies, University of Manchester in England, and Fraser and Ambuske were joined today by Dr. Alexandra Montgomery as guest co-host, who is heading up the Washington Library’s ARGO initiative. And yes, they talk about aliens.
January 06, 2022
216. Digitally Deconstructing the Constitution with Dr. Nicholas Cole
When delegates assembled in Philadelphia in the Summer of 1787 to write a new Constitution, they spent months in secret writing a document they hoped would form a more perfect Union. When we talk about the convention, we often talk of the Virginia Plan, the Connecticut Compromise, the 3/5ths clause, and other major decisions that shaped the final document. What’s harder to see are the long days the delegates spent haggling over numerous proposed amendments, precise words, phrases, and ideas that contorted the constitution into its final form. It’s a process that helped create many of the political institutions that we too often take for granted these days. On today’s show, Dr. Nicholas Cole joins Jim Ambuske to chat about using the Quill Project to demystify the past moments that shaped our political and legal futures. Cole is a Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford, where he is the director of the Quill Project, a digital initiative that investigates the historical origins of some of the world’s foundational legal texts. And as you’ll learn, little moments in the constitutional process can mean a lot. With this episode, we close the books on 2021. Thanks for joining us this past year, we appreciate the opportunity to be in your ears, and we look forward to seeing you in 2022. Have a safe and happy holiday season.
December 23, 2021
215. Reading Thomas Paine's Rights of Man with Dr. Frances Chiu
For most Americans, Thomas Paine is the radical Englishman, and former tax collector, who published Common Sense in early 1776. His claim that hereditary monarchy was an absurdity and that the “cause of America was in great measure the cause of all mankind” galvanized American rebels into thinking more seriously about independence than they had only a few months before. Paine would go on to publish The American Crisis and other writings during the America Revolution before trying to find his place in the new United States after the war. But in the early 1790s, Paine took up his pen once again, this time to defend the French Revolution, from its British critics, including his frenemy, Edmund Burke. The result was a two-part work entitled Rights of Man, a treatise that imagined a world that in some ways looks very similar to our own. On today’s show, Dr. Frances Chiu joins Jim Ambuske to chat about her new guide book to Paine’s Rights of Man, published by Routledge in 2020. Chiu, who teaches at the New School, is a historian of 18thand 19th century Gothic horror, as well as British reform and radicalism. Her guide book is a handy tool for understanding Paine’s ideas and their origins, with some far older than you might imagine.
December 02, 2021
Previewing Episode 1 of Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington's Mount Vernon
On this week's show, we bring you Episode 1 of Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Entitled "Passages," it features the life of Sambo Anderson, who was just a boy when he was captured in West Africa, survived the Middle Passage, and purchased by an ambitious George Washington sometime in the late 1760s. During his years of enslavement at Mount Vernon, Anderson became a carpenter, a husband, and a father. In this episode, we tell the story of Anderson’s life to explore the rise of slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region, George and Martha Washington’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade, and the laws that marked the boundaries between slavery and freedom in Virginia. Featuring: Dr. Brenda Stevenson, Hillary Rodham Clinton Endowed Chair in Women’s History, St. John’s College, Oxford University Dr. Lorena Walsh, Research Historian Emerita, Colonial Williamsburg Dr. John C. Coombs, Professor of History, Hampden-Sydney College Dr. Lynn Price Robbins, historian of George and Martha Washington and Early America Jessie MacLeod, Associate Curator, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Full transcripts, show notes, and bibliographies available at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com.