Friday, May 28, 2010

New Starr Center Fellowship Brings Author, Historian David O. Stewart to Chestertown

Chestertown – The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College has named David O. Stewart, an acclaimed historian, author, and constitutional lawyer, as the inaugural Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellow. This first fellowship launches a collaboration between the Starr Center and one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious institutions for the study of early America – the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

Founded with a $1 million endowment from The Hodson Trust, the new Hodson-Brown Fellowship supports recipients working on significant projects related to the literature, history, culture, or art of the Americas before 1830.

Each Fellow spends two months conducting research at the John Carter Brown Library, which has one of the world’s richest collections of books, maps and documents related to North and South America and the Caribbean between 1492 and 1830. Then he or she relocates to the Starr Center for two months of writing. As part of the fellowship award, Stewart will have an office in the Center’s circa-1746 waterfront Custom House, as well as exclusive use of its Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence, a restored 1730s house in Chestertown’s historic district.

Stewart’s project during his fellowship is a book on Aaron Burr’s conspiracy and treason trial in 1805-07, which is under contract with Simon & Schuster. He completed his residency at the John Carter Brown Library in February, and is scheduled to arrive at the Starr Center in early June.

Stewart is the author of The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, which was a Washington Post bestseller in 2007; as well as Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy (2008), also widely praised. In its review of Stewart’s book on the Constitution, Publishers Weekly hailed it as “a splendid rendering of the document’s creation … descriptive history at its best.” Leading Lincoln scholar David Herbert Donald wrote of Impeached, “It is by all means the best account of this troubled episode in our history. It demolishes the myth that Johnson’s impeachment was unjustified and that those who defended him were heroes.”

Stewart said the new fellowship “combines the rich research resources of the John Carter Brown Library with that most elusive commodity – quiet time – that is afforded by the months at Washington College.  I hope to use this opportunity to think through the material, to understand the connections among the events and people involved, and to discover the nuances and consequences of Aaron Burr’s remarkable attempt to create a new American empire,” he added.

In its inaugural year, the Hodson-Brown Fellowship drew submissions from 50 applicants – not only traditional historians, but also filmmakers, novelists, and creative and performing artists. “As with all our fellowships, we hope this one will support some projects that advance cutting-edge scholarship and also some that excel in the literary art of history, or in using the past to inspire present-day creative work,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. 

Two people who played key roles in creating the Hodson-Brown Fellowship were the late Finn M.W. Caspersen, longtime chair of The Hodson Trust; and Ted Widmer, founding director of the Starr Center and now director of the John Carter Brown Library. Caspersen was an alumnus and longtime supporter of Brown University; as well as a former trustee of the library.

“For both professional and personal reasons, I’m thrilled that the Hodson Fellowship is up and running,” Widmer said. “It will nurture good historical writing, which need not be an oxymoron. It will help cutting-edge research see the light of the day. And it will join our two different institutions in common purpose.”

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About the C.V. Starr Center

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center, visit

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beeman's "Plain, Honest Men" Wins $50,000 George Washington Book Prize

MOUNT VERNON, Va. – The sixth annual George Washington Book Prize, which honors the most important new book about America’s founding era, has been awarded to Richard Beeman for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (Random House, 2009). Beeman, author of five previous books on the history of revolutionary America, received the $50,000 prize Thursday evening, May 20, at a black-tie dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Richard Beeman is professor of history and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a trustee of the National Constitution Center. Plain, Honest Men is a dramatic and engrossing account of the men who met in Philadelphia over the summer of 1787 to design a radically new form of government. In describing the daily debates of the Constitutional Convention, Beeman explores the passionate intellectual and political conflicts among the Founders.

The jury of scholars who chose Beeman’s book as a finalist from among 62 nominees described it as “the fullest and most authentic account of the Constitutional Convention ever written.” They also praised the author for his clear, accessible prose and his mission “to instill a sense of stewardship among 21st-century Americans, urging them to see the Constitution as not only a durable document, but a living one, unfettered by original intentions.”

The George Washington Book Prize is sponsored by a partnership of three institutions devoted to furthering scholarship on America’s founding era: Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington's Mount Vernon. The $50,000 prize is the nation’s largest literary award for early American history, and one of the largest prizes of any kind.

“The Washington Prize honors works that illuminate the founding era’s lasting relevance,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the award. “More than two centuries after the Constitution was written, many of the debates that began that summer in Philadelphia continue today. Plain, Honest Men will inform those conversations and also spark new ones.”

Beeman's book was named the winner by a panel of representatives from each of the three institutions that sponsor the prize, plus a distinguished outside historian. “We found Plain, Honest Men to be a masterfully written and enormously edifying book,” said James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, which funds the award.

The Mount Vernon event also celebrated the works of the two other finalists for this year’s Washington Prize: R.B. Bernstein for The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (Oxford 2009), and Edith B. Gelles for Abigail & John: Portrait of A Marriage (William Morrow 2009). Finalists were selected by a three-person jury of distinguished American historians: Theodore J. Crackel, editor in chief of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia, who served as chair; Catherine Allgor of the University of California, Riverside; and Andrew Cayton of Miami University of Ohio.

Created in 2005, the George Washington Book Prize was presented that year to Ron Chernow for Alexander Hamilton. Other winners are Stacy Schiff (2006) for A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, Charles Rappleye (2007) for Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution, and Marcus Rediker (2008) for The Slave Ship: A Human History. Last spring, the 2009 prize was awarded to Annette Gordon-Reed for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which also won the Pulitzer Prize for History, the National Book Award and the Frederick Douglass Prize.

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About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize

Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also a member of its original governing board. He received an honorary degree from the college in June 1789, two months after assuming the presidency. The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, founded at the College in 2000, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture and politics, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs.
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization supporting the study and love of American history through a wide range of programs and resources for students, teachers, scholars, and history enthusiasts throughout the nation. The Institute creates and works closely with history-focused schools; organizes summer seminars and development programs for teachers; produces print and digital publications and traveling exhibitions; hosts lectures by eminent historians; administers a History Teacher of the Year Award in every state and U.S. territory; and offers national book prizes and fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection as well as other renowned archives. Gilder Lehrman maintains two websites that serve as gateways to American history online with rich resources for educators: and the quarterly online journal, designed specifically for K-12 teachers and students.
Since 1860, over 80 million visitors have made George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens the most popular historic home in America. Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events, and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington's place in history as "First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen." Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, America's oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853.


May 20, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Washington College Answers the $64,000 Question: Who Wins the Nation's Largest Undergraduate Literary Prize?

22-Year-Old English major from Delaware takes home coveted award

CHESTERTOWN, MD—At a time when many college graduates must worry about limited job prospects in a recession-stalled economy, one talented senior at Washington College walked off the commencement stage with her diploma and a check worth $64,243. Hailey Reissman, a 22-year-old English major from Wilmington, DE, was named the winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize at the College's 227th commencement ceremony Sunday morning, May 16.

The largest undergraduate literary prize in the nation, the Sophie Kerr is awarded annually to the Washington College senior who demonstrates the greatest "ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor."

Reissman had impressed faculty from the day she arrived on campus from Thomas McKean High School in Wilmington. She produced everything from critical essays and scholarly work to poetry and non-fiction with an ease and elegance unusual for her age. "She doesn't have a weak area," sums up English Department Chair Kate Moncrief, who heads the 12-member committee that selects the prizewinner. "She writes with a sophisticated voice but also with great humor."

For four decades, the announcement of the prizewinner—whose name is a closely guarded secret until that moment—has been a highlight of commencement at Washington College. This year it followed an address by broadcast and print journalist John Harwood and the awarding of honorary degrees to Harwood and Richard Meserve, chair of the Carnegie Institution and former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Reissman's was one of 24 portfolios submitted to the prize committee. Moncrief, whose committee consists of the English faculty and the college president, says this year saw an "incredibly strong top tier, with a handful of students who definitely could have won it in any other year."

Reissman, a member of Phi Beta Kappa who minored in Creative Writing, submitted a diverse portfolio that included academic writing, poems, fiction and creative non-fiction. The subjects of her creative work include family scenes, the literary life, and the frustrations of dealing with physical disability. In her introductory remarks to the Committee, she summed up her growth as a writer during her years at Washington College this way: "I have had the chance to explore and tackle and then tackle again the subjects that accost me over and again: writing, language, transformation, youth, the disabled body, the 'other,' nature, the mind vs. the body, sense, and perception."

Poet Jehanne Dubrow, the professor who advised Reissman on her "Senior Capstone" examination and paper, describes the Sophie Kerr winner as "a voracious reader, the kind of aspiring writer who understands that finding her own voice begins with reading, reading, and reading. In the classroom, she is the student whose quirky, imaginative observations always lead to ah-ha moments." She is extremely modest and "her own harshest critic," Dubrow adds. "She is constantly questioning her own writing, asking her poems and essays, 'Are you good enough?' "

Mark Nowak, the director of the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College, was struck by the "fully developed voice" in such a young writer. "She is wildly creative," he says, "and an exceptional talent whose writing electrifies everyone who reads it. She's destined for great things."

The Sophie Kerr Prize is the namesake of an Eastern Shore woman who made her fortune in New York writing women's fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. Her generosity has provided the nucleus for a thriving community of writers on the Washington College campus. In accordance with the terms of Kerr's will, one-half of the annual income from her bequest is awarded each year to the graduating senior demonstrating the best potential for literary achievement.

The other half funds scholarships, buys books, supports student publications and brings an array of visiting writers and editors to campus to read, visit classes, and discuss student work. Past Sophie Kerr guests have included Katherine Anne Porter, James Dickey, Edward Albee, William Styron, Mary Karr, Ted Kooser, Jane Smiley, and, most recently, Daniel Handler, a.k.a Lemony Snicket.

Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in the heart of historic Chestertown, near the Chester River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Founded in 1782, it was the first college chartered in the new nation. For more information, visit

Photos by Matthew Spangler, top to bottom:

Hailey Reissman, winner of the 2010 Sophie Kerr Prize; all smiles after learning the news; posing with adviser Jehanne Dubrow; receiving the Prize from President Tipson; showing her surprise at winning the largest literary prize in the nation.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Comegys Bight Fellowships Fund Summer Research for Washington College Students

CHESTERTOWN – Six Washington College students will experience a summer filled with intellectual exploration and adventure made possible by the Comegys Bight Fellows Program. Designed to be wholeheartedly experiential, the 2010 independent research projects include field research on the ghost tour industry, a study of the relationship between military service and political behavior, and an exploration of biracial identity in America.

The Comegys Bight program, conceived and generously sustained by Drs. Thomas and Virginia Collier of Chestertown and administered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers stipends for students to pursue independent projects with the guidance of faculty mentors. The program has served 38 students since its advent in 2003. In some cases, the real-world study experience has changed the course of the student’s intellectual life.

“One of the most exciting things about this program has been seeing how the students’ experiences as Comegys Bight Fellows continue to resonate in their lives throughout college and far beyond,” says Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. “Past fellows have gone on to study at major graduate schools, and to careers in journalism, book publishing, and teaching. The Comegys Bight program gave them opportunities to integrate scholarly work with real-world experience in ways that they would not have found in the classroom.”

Drawn from a wide range of academic majors, the 2010 Fellows are a diverse and accomplished group:
• Business Management and Sociology double major Melissa Fyock ’11 will explore American culture's fascination with the paranormal through the lens of the ghost tour industry. Her fieldwork will include interviews with tour providers and participants in four historically rich communities, including Gettysburg, PA, which paranormal enthusiasts have christened “the most haunted town in America.”
Lauren Wilkins ’11, a Political Science major, will spend the summer in Washington, DC interning for the Reserve Officers Association, an organization of active and retired members of the military that advises the President and Congress on national security issues. This internship will provide her a unique opportunity to conduct research for her senior thesis on the connection between military service and political behavior.
• English major Kristine Sloan ’12 will explore biracial identity in America through a nonfiction writing project about her Filipino-American family and her own sense of dual identity. A summer trip to the Philippines—her first—will provide rich ground for reflection.
Liz Shandor ’11, an Anthropology major, will continue fieldwork begun as a student in the intensive Chesapeake Semester program. She will spend the summer interviewing Chesapeake Bay watermen and scientists at the Department of Natural Resources to investigate the strained relationship between the striped bass fishing industry and the scientific community.
Marta Wesenberg ’12, an English and Drama double major, will collaborate with Washington College Lecturer in Drama Robert Earl Price on a new play, All Blues, an exploration of life in the Jim Crow South. Wesenberg will create a series of short videos about southern black life that will be incorporated into the on-stage performance.
• Economics major Haley Long ’11 will concentrate on the factors spurring the depopulation of the “vanishing islands” of the Chesapeake. Applying her training in economic analysis to a trend long understood to be strictly environmental in causation, she will investigate the factors that led residents of Holland Island, MD to abandon the community by 1922.

When the Fellows return to Washington College in the fall, each will bring a unique point of view shaped by an unusual summer. As the years pass, these experiences may open intellectual and professional doors as yet unimagined.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Scholarships Fund Computer Mapping Camp on Washington College campus

CHESTERTOWN—A partnership between the Washington College Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program and the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) will provide scholarships for six high school students to have fun while learning a cutting-edge technology at the Computer Mapping Technology Summer Camp this summer. The camp, set for June 20-26, will be held on the Washington College campus and will include field trips to other locations in Kent County. The registration fee for the camp, which last year drew 67 students from grades 7 through 12, is $690.
SAIC is a Fortune 500 company that provides scientific and engineering expertise, systems integration, and technical services and solutions. In addition to the six SAIC scholarships, the Talbot County-based nonprofit Bay 100 Foundation, and the Pennsylvania based GIS firm geographIT are each funding one camper. The Maryland Higher Education Commission is also supporting the camp through a BRAC training grant.
Computer mapping technology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are interchangeable terms for a growing technology that enables computer users to store, display and analyze any type of geographic data—from tables, spreadsheets or databases—and then to create maps and 3-D images from that information. GIS is being used in a variety of fields, from criminal justice to environmental protection and urban planning. Part of Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society, the GIS Lab on campus not only teaches the technology, but also applies it to real-world scenarios.
Camp director Stewart Bruce, GIS Coordinator at Washington College, works with college students in the computer mapping lab during the academic year but enjoys working with the younger students each summer. “I am excited to see so much interest from youth in this emerging technology,” he says. “And I’m happy that our camp is helping them understand more about future career opportunities in GIS.” For more information on the GIS camp, visit:
For information on the scholarships, contact Stewart Bruce at (410) 788-2800, ext. 7177.

Photos: In addition to some outdoor time kayaking on the Chester River, campers at the 2009 GIS Camp at Washington College, learned about Remotely Operated Vehicles by building underwater robots out of PVC pipe and testing them in the College swimming pool. Here, Nicholas Whitmore and Clark Butler tweak the position of their robot’s thrust motors.