Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Starr Center's New Patrick Henry Fellows to Focus on American Slavery, Life of Edward Kennedy

In residence this fall, Holly Brewer will share
her research in talk, September 13, at 5:30 p.m.

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Two stars in the world of American history, Holly Brewer and Neal Gabler, are coming to Chestertown as this year’s Patrick Henry Writing Fellows at the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College.

Brewer will be in full-time residence at the Starr Center throughout the fall semester, working on a book that promises to dramatically reshape our understanding of how slavery took root in America. A prize-winning author and the Burke Chair of American History at the University of Maryland, she has done remarkable research challenging the traditional idea that slavery began here as a product of economic necessity. Echoing Thomas Jefferson’s famous accusation in his draft of the Declaration of Independence – which most previous scholars have dismissed – Brewer argues that to some degree slavery was imposed on the colonists from above by the British Crown.

On Sept. 13, she will deliver a public lecture on her findings: “Inheritable Blood: Slavery, Monarchy, and Power in Colonial America.”  Co-sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, the lecture will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Hynson Lounge at Hodson Commons, followed by a book signing.

Brewer’s book-in-progress, Inheritable Blood: Slavery and Sovereignty in Early Virginia and the British Atlantic, will also trace forgotten debates that deeply influenced the development of slavery in the colonies. She argues that conflicts between the tradition of inherited power and the Enlightenment ideal of equal rights shaped the institution and resonate in our public discourse today.

“I am so looking forward to the luxury of uninterrupted time to work on Inheritable Blood as a Fellow at the Starr Center,” Brewer says. “This project is incredibly important to me. I have been thinking about it for a very long time.”

Neal Gabler will be in residence during the spring semester, working on Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Tortuous Course of American Liberalism, the first major biography of the late senator, which will be published by the Crown/Harmony division of Random House. An acclaimed biographer, Gabler is a prolific bestselling author who is currently visiting assistant professor in the MFA program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The fellowship provides its recipients with both a home at the circa-1735 Patrick Henry House on Queen Street in Chestertown and an office at the Starr Center, in the nearby circa-1746 Custom House. The Henry Fellows often teach classes and mentor students during their time at Washington College.

“It’s very exciting for us to have both a star in the field of colonial history and a first-rank public intellectual joining us,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. “Their projects are very different and exemplify the breadth of what we do at the Starr Center.”

A longtime professor of history at North Carolina State University who recently moved to the University of Maryland, Brewer is the author of By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority, published in 2005 by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press. By Birth or Consent explores the changing legal status of children in Revolutionary-era England and British North America. The book won the 2006 J. Willard Hurst Prize from the Law and Society Association, the 2006 Cromwell Book Prize from the American Society for Legal History and the 2008 Biennial Book Prize of the Order of the Coif from the American Association of Law Schools. Brewer also won three prizes for her 1997 article “Entailing Aristocracy in Colonial Virginia.”

Brewer is also working on a book about the transformation of the common law of domestic relations in the early modern period in England and America, to be published by Cambridge University Press.
She is co-editor of the American Society for Legal History's book series and serves on its Board of Directors. She has served on the conference committees of several major organizations, including the Organization of American Historians, the American Society for Legal History and the Omohundro Institute's 400th anniversary of Jamestown conference. She also sits on the Council for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center, among others. In 2010, she took time off from her research to lead a successful battle to save and enhance the history curriculum in North Carolina’s public schools, and served as state coordinator for the National Council for History Education.
The Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship’s funding is permanently endowed as part of a $2.5 million challenge grant package that the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded through its nationwide “We the People” initiative for strengthening the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture.

Launched by the Starr Center in 2008, the Patrick Henry Fellowship aims to encourage reflection on the links between American history and contemporary culture, and to foster the literary art of historical writing. It is co-sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College's center for literature and the literary arts.

Washington College acquired the Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence in January 2007 through a generous gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Foundation, which was established by the Nuttle family of Talbot County, direct descendants of the patriot Patrick Henry. Further support for the fellowship has been provided by the Starr Foundation, the Hodson Trust and other donors.

Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Based in the Custom House along the colonial waterfront, the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience fosters the art of written history and explores our nation’s past—particularly the legacy of its Founding era—in innovative ways, through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach. For more information on the Center and the Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship, visit