Recordings of public lectures and events held at the Virginia Historical Society.
Searching For Stonewall Jackson by Ben Cleary
On January 30, 2020, Ben Cleary delivered the Banner Lecture, "Searching for Stonewall Jackson: A Quest for Legacy in a Divided America."
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was the embodiment of southern contradictions. He was a slaveowner who fought and died, at least in part, to perpetuate slavery, yet he founded an African American Sunday School and personally taught classes for almost a decade. For all his sternness and rigidity, Jackson was a deeply thoughtful and incredibly intelligent man. But his reputation and mythic status, then and now, was due to more than combat success. In a deeply religious age, he was revered for a piety that was far beyond the norm.
How did one man meld his religion with the institution of slavery? How did he reconcile it with the business of killing, at which he so excelled? In Searching for Stonewall Jackson, historian Ben Cleary examines not only Jackson's life, but his own, contemplating what it means to be a white southerner in the twenty-first century.
Now, as statues commemorating the Civil War are toppled and Confederate flags come down, Cleary walks the famous battlefields, following in the footsteps of his subject as he questions the legacy of Stonewall Jackson and the South's Lost Cause at a time when the contentions of politics, civil rights, and social justice are at a fever pitch.
Ben Cleary is a writer and teacher who lives in Mechanicsville, Virginia. He is the author of Searching for Stonewall Jackson: A Quest for Legacy in a Divided America.
Lincoln's Spies by Douglas Waller
On January 23, 2020, Douglas Waller delivered the Banner Lecture, "Lincoln’s Spies: Their Secret War to Save a Nation." Lincoln’s Spies is a story about dangerous espionage and covert operations during the Civil War. It is told through the lives of four Union agents. Allan Pinkerton, whose detective agency had already brought him fame nationwide, was George McClellan’s failed spymaster, delivering inflated intelligence reports that made the Union general even more cautious. Lafayette Baker ran counter-espionage operations in Washington for the War Department, putting hundreds in jail and pocketing cash from graft he uncovered. George Sharpe, a New York lawyer, successfully ran spying for generals Joseph Hooker, George Meade, and Ulysses S. Grant, outpacing anything the Confederates could field. Elizabeth Van Lew, a Virginia heiress, ran a Union espionage ring in Richmond, providing Grant critical information as his army closed in on the Confederate capital. And behind these secret agents was Abraham Lincoln who became an avid consumer of intelligence and a ruthless aficionado of covert action. The phone tapping, human collection and aerial snooping you see today’s spies doing can be traced back to the Civil War.
Douglas Waller is a former correspondent for Newsweek and TIME, where he covered the CIA, Pentagon, State Department, White House, and Congress. He is the author of several bestselling books, including Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage; The Commandos: The Inside Story of America's Secret Soldiers; and Disciples: The World War II Missions of the CIA Directors Who Fought for Wild Bill Donovan. His latest book is Lincoln’s Spies: Their Secret War to Save the Nation.
Gerrymanders by Brent Tarter
On January 9, 2020, Brent Tarter presented a Banner Lecture about his most recent book, Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia. Many are aware that gerrymandering exists and suspect it plays a role in our elections, but its history goes far deeper, and its impacts are far greater, than most realize. In his latest book, Brent Tarter focuses on Virginia’s long history of gerrymandering to uncover its immense influence on the state’s politics and to provide perspective on how the practice impacts politics nationally.
Offering the first in-depth historical study of gerrymanders in Virginia, Tarter exposes practices going back to nineteenth century and colonial times and explains how they protected landowners’ and slaveowners’ interests. The consequences of redistricting and reapportionment in modern Virginia―in effect giving a partisan minority the upper hand in all public policy decisions―become much clearer in light of this history. Where the discussion of gerrymandering has typically emphasized political parties’ control of Congress, Tarter focuses on the state legislatures that determine congressional district lines and, in most states, even those of their own districts.
On the eve of the 2021 session of the General Assembly, which will redraw district lines for Virginia’s state Senate and House of Delegates, as well as for the U.S. House of Representatives, Tarter provides an eye-opening investigation of gerrymandering and its pervasive effect on our local, state, and national politics and government.
Brent Tarter is a founding editor of the Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography and a cofounder of the annual Virginia Forum. He is the author of numerous books, including The Grandees of Government: The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia; Daydreams and Nightmares: A Virginia Family Faces Secession and War; A Saga of the New South: Race, Law, and Public Debt in Virginia; and a forthcoming history of Virginia, Virginians and Their Histories (June 2020). His latest book is Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia.
The Property of The Nation by Matthew Costello
On December 10, 2019, Matthew Costello delivered the Banner Lecture, “The Property of the Nation: George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President.”
George Washington was an affluent slaveowner who believed that republicanism and social hierarchy were vital to the young country’s survival. And yet, he remains largely free of the “elitist” label affixed to his contemporaries, as Washington evolved in public memory during the nineteenth century into a man of the common people, the father of democracy. This memory, we learn in The Property of the Nation, was a deliberately constructed image, shaped and reshaped over time, generally in service of one cause or another. Matthew R. Costello traces this process through the story of Washington’s tomb, whose history and popularity reflect the building of a memory of America’s first president—of, by, and for the American people. Washington’s resting place at his beloved Mount Vernon estate was at times as contested as his iconic image; and in Costello’s telling, the many attempts to move the first president’s bodily remains offer greater insight to the issue of memory and hero worship in early America. Though describing the efforts of politicians, business owners, artists, and storytellers to define, influence, and profit from the memory of Washington at Mount Vernon, this book’s focus is the memory-making process that took place among American citizens.
Dr. Matthew R. Costello is the Acting Director of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History at the White House Historical Association. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in American history at Marquette University, and his B.A. in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He previously worked on the George Washington Bibliography Project for the George Washington Papers at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Property of the Nation: George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President.
This lecture is cosponsored by The White House Historical Association.
From Reel To Real Indians
On November 20, 2019, the VMHC presented a screening of the award-winning film Reel Injun (2009, 88 minutes) by Cree-Canadian filmmaker Neil Diamond. Reel Injun is an entertaining and provocative look at a century-worth of Hollywood depictions of Native Americans and the misconceptions and stereotypes that a century of filmmaking has fostered.
The screening was preceded by a discussion among representatives of several Virginia Indian tribes, including Chief Lynette Allston (Nottoway Indian Tribe), Chief Anne Richardson (Rappahannock Tribe), First Assistant Chief Wayne Adkins (Chickahominy Tribe), and Dr. Ashley Atkins-Spivey (Director at Pamunkey Indian Tribal Resource Center). The panel explored how, as groups and individuals, Virginia Indians have been able to maintain their identity into the 21st century—despite numerous efforts to eradicate it—and the successes and challenges encountered by each generation of Virginia Indians to continue their cultural heritage.
This program was presented in conjunction with the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival. The program was cosponsored by the Virginia Museum of History & Culture and the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution.
Is Cancer Still the Emperor? How Innovative Research and Treatments Offer Hope for a Cure
In 2009, physician, researcher, and science writer, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, published his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. In it, he describes the story of cancer as a human story marked by ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also hubris, paternalism, and misperception.
On November 13, 2019, a panel of physicians and researchers from the VCU Massey Cancer Center discussed the impact of Mukherjee’s book and the groundbreaking advances in cancer research, treatment, and prevention that has emerged during the past decade. A reception will follow the lecture.
Ross Mackenzie — Retired Syndicated Columnist and Editor of the Editorial Pages of The Richmond News Leader and the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Peter F. Buckley, M.D. — Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Walter Lawrence, M.D. — Founding Director, VCU Massey Cancer Center
Steven Grant, M.D. — Shirley Carter and Sture Gordon Olsson Chair in Cancer Research; Professor and Eminent Scholar, Internal Medicine, School of Medicine; Associate Director for Translational Research, VCU Massey Cancer Center; Program Co-Leader, Developmental Therapeutics
John M McCarty, M.D. — Professor of Medicine, G. Watson James Endowed Professor of Hematology; Interim Chief, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology; Medical Director, Cellular Immunotherapies and Transplant Program; Medical Director, Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory; VCU Massey Cancer Center
This was the third program in our Health in History Series, a partnership between the MCV Foundation and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture and sponsored by the Virginia Sargeant Reynolds Foundation.