What it Means to be an American: History, Memory, and Identity

Americanness has been debated since the nation’s founding. Two panels of esteemed historians and journalists will join the Washington Library on its five-year anniversary for a debate about what it meant—and what it means—to be an American.

The Founding Debates are sponsored by The Ammerman Family Foundation to honor James C. Rees, whose vision lives on with the Washington Library.


Date and Time




Robert H. and Clarice Smith Theater
George Washington's Mount Vernon
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy.
Mount Vernon, VA 22121

In celebration of the Washington Library's fifth anniversary, this year's Founding Debates program will begin with Brian Lamb serving as the moderator for a panel of esteemed historians, Douglas Brinkley, Edna Greene Medford, and Russell Shorto, discussing history, memory, identity, and what it means to be an American. We will then convene a second panel comprised of journalists Abby Phillip, Robert Costa, and Mona Charen, hosted by SiriusXM Radio Host and President of the White House Correspondents Association Oliver Knox, pondering the same subject from a present day lens.

Join us for a lively and informative conversation, with ample opportunity for questions from the audience, followed by a dessert and cocktail reception. Selected panelists' books will be available for purchase and signing following the event.  

Header Image: Signing of the Constitution, Howard Chandler Christy, 1939. Courtesy of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol.

Program Participants

Brian Lamb is the founder and Executive Chairman of the private, nonprofit cable network C-SPAN that provides access to the proceedings of Congress and other public affairs programming and information services.

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, the CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Audubon. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him “America’s new past master.” His recent publication Cronkite won the Sperber Prize for Best Book in Journalism and was a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.

Edna Greene Medford is a professor of history at Howard University, where she teaches courses on Jacksonian America, Civil War and Reconstruction, nineteenth-century history, and African American history.

Russell Shorto is the best-selling author of Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom and The Island at the Center of the World. Shorto is also a graduate of George Washington University, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and the Director of The John Adams Institute in Amsterdam.

Olivier Knox is SiriusXM's Chief Washington Correspondent. Through his storied career in journalism, Knox has covered six presidential campaigns and has a deep knowledge of the inner-workings of Capitol Hill and the White House. 

Abby Phillip is a CNN White House Correspondent based in Washington, D.C. She joined the network in 2017 to cover the Trump Administration. Phillip previously worked at The Washington Post where she served as a national political reporter, covering the White House. 

Robert Costa is a National Political Reporter for the The Washington Post and Moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week.”

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her conservative opinion column is featured in more than 150 newspapers and websites. 

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