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Exploring New Frontiers in Early American History with Alexi Garrett, Michael Blaakman, Derek O’Leary, and Krysten Blackstone

In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin and other early Americans likened themselves to a rising people who were creating something new under the sun. It’s fair to say that historians have a similar mindset: we’re constantly striving to uncover new evidence, make new arguments, and offer new interpretations that help us better explain the past. So on today’s show, we’re going to introduce you to just a few among a rising generation of historians who are doing cutting edge work in early American history.

Recently, the Washington Library partnered with the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello for a live stream featuring four young historians working on projects ranging from land speculation, capitalism, gender, and law in the late eighteenth century to morale in the Continental Army and soldiering in the American Revolution, to the creation of the archives that shaped how American citizens interrogated the Revolutionary Era.

We bring you the audio version of the livestream today, featuring historians Alexi Garrett, Michael Blaakman, Derek O’Leary, and Krysten Blackstone in conversation with Jim Ambuske, Kevin Butterfield, and Andrew O'Shaughnessy.

About Our Guests: 

Alexi Garrett, Ph.D., examines how elite, unmarried white women (legally classified as feme soles) commercially related to the people they enslaved, and how they managed slave-manned enterprises in Virginia. Dr. Garrett completed her dissertation in 2020 under Dr. Alan Taylor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. She was a 2020 Research Fellow at the ICJS and a 2019-2020 Research Fellow at the Washington Library. She is currently the Institute of Thomas Paine Studies and University of Virginia Press Post-Doctoral Fellow at Iona College. She is from Iowa City and received her B.A. from St. Olaf College.

Michael A. Blaakman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of history at Princeton University, where he teaches courses on the American Revolution as well as the history of early American frontiers and borderlands. Educated at the College of William & Mary and Yale University, Blaakman was the Amanda and Greg Gregory Fellow at Mount Vernon in 2015 and is currently the Fritz and Claudine Kundrun Open-Rank Fellow at Monticello. Dr. Blaakman’s project, Speculation Nation, unearths the motives and methods of founding-era elites who sought to profit off the future expansion of their young republic and reveals how and why the revolutionary ideal of an “empire of liberty” became rooted in speculative capitalism.

Derek O'Leary, Ph.D., finished his degree in the summer of 2020 at the University of California Berkeley, where he wrote an Atlantic history of the emergence of U.S. historical societies and archives in the nineteenth century. He was a 2019-2020 Research Fellow at the Washington Library. He was drawn to George Washington and Mount Vernon by Jared Sparks (1789-1866), the indefatigable collector and editor of Washington's archive in the antebellum U.S. His work examines Sparks' contribution to the broader culture of commemorating Washington in this period.

Krysten Blackstone, a native of Northern Maine, is a final-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She was a 2017-2018 Research Fellow at the Washington Library. Her work examines the morale of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783. Her research utilizes soldiers' narratives of the conflict and is primarily concerned with enlisted soldiers.

About Our Hosts:

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. (Washington Library)

Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Ph.D. (ICJS - Monticello)

Kevin Butterfield, Ph.D. (Washington Library)