The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College has named David O. Stewart, an acclaimed historian, author, and constitutional lawyer, as the inaugural Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellow. This first fellowship launches a collaboration between the Starr Center and one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious institutions for the study of early America – the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
Founded with a $1 million endowment from The Hodson Trust, the new Hodson-Brown Fellowship supports recipients working on significant projects related to the literature, history, culture, or art of the Americas before 1830.
Each Fellow spends two months conducting research at the John Carter Brown Library, which has one of the world’s richest collections of books, maps and documents related to North and South America and the Caribbean between 1492 and 1830. Then he or she relocates to the Starr Center for two months of writing. As part of the fellowship award, Stewart will have an office in the Center’s circa-1746 waterfront Custom House, as well as exclusive use of its Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence, a restored 1730s house in Chestertown’s historic district.
Stewart’s project during his fellowship is a book on Aaron Burr’s conspiracy and treason trial in 1805-07, which is under contract with Simon & Schuster. He completed his residency at the John Carter Brown Library in February, and is scheduled to arrive at the Starr Center in early June.
Stewart is the author of The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, which was a Washington Post bestseller in 2007; as well as Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy (2008), also widely praised. In its review of Stewart’s book on the Constitution, Publishers Weekly hailed it as “a splendid rendering of the document’s creation … descriptive history at its best.” Leading Lincoln scholar David Herbert Donald wrote of Impeached, “It is by all means the best account of this troubled episode in our history. It demolishes the myth that Johnson’s impeachment was unjustified and that those who defended him were heroes.”
Stewart said the new fellowship “combines the rich research resources of the John Carter Brown Library with that most elusive commodity – quiet time – that is afforded by the months at Washington College. I hope to use this opportunity to think through the material, to understand the connections among the events and people involved, and to discover the nuances and consequences of Aaron Burr’s remarkable attempt to create a new American empire,” he added.
In its inaugural year, the Hodson-Brown Fellowship drew submissions from 50 applicants – not only traditional historians, but also filmmakers, novelists, and creative and performing artists. “As with all our fellowships, we hope this one will support some projects that advance cutting-edge scholarship and also some that excel in the literary art of history, or in using the past to inspire present-day creative work,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center.
Two people who played key roles in creating the Hodson-Brown Fellowship were the late Finn M.W. Caspersen, longtime chair of The Hodson Trust; and Ted Widmer, founding director of the Starr Center and now director of the John Carter Brown Library. Caspersen was an alumnus and longtime supporter of Brown University; as well as a former trustee of the library.
“For both professional and personal reasons, I’m thrilled that the Hodson Fellowship is up and running,” Widmer said. “It will nurture good historical writing, which need not be an oxymoron. It will help cutting-edge research see the light of the day. And it will join our two different institutions in common purpose.”