The modern biography as we know it dates to the eighteenth century when Scottish author and lawyer James Boswell published The Life of Samuel Johnson. Boswell produced an account of the rascally Englishman, a friend of his for more than twenty years, that became a kind of template that future biographers have followed.
We've all read our fair share of biographies, especially presidential biographies, to know that they follow a similar structure. This is especially true of biographies of the American Revolutionary generation.
So how can we shake up this genre? And perhaps more importantly, how can we shake up biographies of George Washington, a man who seems at times opaque and beyond reproach?
On today’s episode, historian Alexis Coe helps us re-imagine what a biography can be so that we can better understand George Washington and the world around him.
Coe is the author of the new book, You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington, and if the title is any hint of what’s between the covers, this isn’t your father’s standard Washington biography.
About Our Guest:
Alexis Taines Coe is an historian. She is the author of the narrative history book, Alice+Freda Forever, and is a consultant on the movie adaptation. Her second book, You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington, was published by Viking (Penguin Random House) on February 4, 2020.
Alexis is a consulting producer on the Doris Kearns Goodwin's three part George Washington series (February 2020) on the History Channel. She is the host of "No Man's Land" from The Wing/Pineapple and co-hosted "Presidents Are People Too!" from Audible. Alexis curated the ACLU'S 100 exhibition and was the assistant curator of the NYPL's centennial exhibition in Bryant Park.
She has appeared on CNN, the History Channel, C-SPAN, and CBS, and lectured at Columbia, West Point, Georgetown, Sarah Lawrence, NYU, the New School, the University of San Francisco, and many others. She has given talks sponsored by Hulu, Chanel, and Madewell.
About Our Host:
Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project. He is the co-author with Randall Flaherty of "Reading Law in the Early Republic: Legal Education in the Age of Jefferson," in The Founding of Thomas Jefferson's University ed. by John A. Rogasta, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew O'Shaughnessy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019). Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.