Nathaniel Philbrick on George Washington, America's Beginnings, and Problematic Historical Figures

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“We have to remain open and empathetic when examining the past and each other or we risk siloing ourselves into a self-reinforcing of our preconceptions.”

Timestamps:
00:00 Introduction
04:22 Why George Washington?
07:21 Washington’s complexity
16:30 How did Washington talk to ordinary Americans?
21:38 Washington’s humility
28:32 The first listening tour in history
31:52 Why do some problematic figures need study rather than cancelling?
35:30 Music in Washington’s life
40:02 Personal music taste?
46:39 Was Washington’s trip a success?

Historian Nathaniel Philbrick joins the podcast, armed with his new book in hand Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy. Does George Washington still matter? Philbrick argues for Washington’s unique contribution to the forging of America by retracing his journey as a new president through all thirteen former colonies, which were then an unsure nation.
When George Washington became president in 1789, the United States of America was still a loose and quarrelsome confederation and a tentative political experiment. Washington undertook a tour of the ex-colonies to talk to ordinary citizens about his new government, and to imbue in them the idea of being one thing–Americans. This trip is what Daniel refers to as “The original political listening tour.”
Daniel and Nathaniel also discuss, of course, the role music played in Washington’s life and why, now more than ever, it is essential to study the humanity, the foibles, the flaws of historical figures rather than to cancel or whitewash.

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Nathaniel Philbrick was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he attended Linden Elementary School and Taylor Allderdice High School. He earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed in 1998 by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association.
In 2011 Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award and was named to the 2012 Listen List for Outstanding Audiobook Narration from the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the ALA. That year Penguin also published a new edition of his first work of history, Away Off Shore.
In 2013 Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, which was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award as well as the 2014 Distinguished Book Award of the Society of Colonial Wars.
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife Melissa still live on Nantucket.

RECORDED SEPTEMBER 1ST 2021

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