By JOHN Y. COLE
"New ways of educating people about George Washington using cutting-edge technology, advanced communication and popular culture," was the focus, according to James C. Rees, resident director of Mount Vernon, of "The Indispensable Man," the final symposium in the yearlong commemoration of the 200th anniversary of George Washington's death.
The event was held at the Library on Nov. 19-20, 1999, and was cosponsored by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
"The amount of space devoted to Washington in traditional textbooks is shrinking, and we are seeking new ways to communicate with students and prospective history enthusiasts across the nation," said Mr. Rees. "Mount Vernon is pleased to cooperate with the Library of Congress, Colonial Williamsburg and other educational institutions in this effort."
The Library of Congress holds the nation's largest collection of original Washington documents and an extraordinarily rich collection of Washington surveys and maps. The symposium was an excellent opportunity for the Library to display important items from these collections to an eager audience. Behind-the-scenes visits to view Washington and Washington-related materials were a much-appreciated first-day highlight. Participants visited the Manuscript, Geography and Map, and Rare Book and Special Collections divisions and toured the Great Hall and the permanent exhibition "American Treasures of the Library of Congress." The tour and discussion leaders were Marvin Kranz of the Manuscript Division, Ed Redmond of the Geography and Map Division, Mark Dimunation and Clark Evans of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and this writer.
In his keynote address, "George Washington and Publius: Lessons for Modern Politics," David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of Democracy, spoke about how Washington, by learning from his mistakes, changed from a "hotheaded young man" into a principled, "other-centered" leader of high integrity in both his public and private lives. Two presentations addressed the most meaningful documents penned by Washington, who was a prolific writer. Michael Dunne, professor of American Studies at the University of Sussex, discussed Washington's farewell address and how it has been interpreted for the past two centuries. John P. Riley of the White House Historical Association presented comments about Washington's last will and testament. David R. Palmer, president of Walden University, joined Mr. Dunne, Mr. Riley and Mr. Rees for a panel discussion about contemporary perceptions of Washington and his legacy.
The symposium's final afternoon began with a talk by William Martin, author of Citizen Washington, on "George Washington and the Historical Novel: Where Fact and Fiction Come Together." Next came three demonstrations of ways that Washington's legacy is being presented using electronic media and film. Richard L. McCluney Jr. of Colonial Williamsburg, in "Learning About George Washington Through Electronic Field Trips," described the creation of this innovative classroom tool and showed excerpts from the George Washington field trip video. In "The Digitization of the Papers and Maps of Washington," Laura Graham, project coordinator of the Library's online version of Washington's papers and Ed Redmond provided an overview of the Web presentation and demonstrated how to access both manuscripts and maps online.
The session on "Washington on Film" featured legendary author Howard Fast, whose novel about Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, The Crossing, had recently been filmed for television by the Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E). (It was aired on Jan. 10). Mr. Fast, who wrote the screenplay for the film, is the author of more than 70 novels. He told his admiring audience that he published the first of these novels 66 years ago. After vividly describing some of the pitfalls of making a film about a novel that took place in the Revolutionary War, he talked about the strength of Washington's character and was emphatic in his assessment: "the existence of the United States is due to one man -- George Washington." Excerpts from The Crossing were shown, and Mr. Fast and Marlea Willis, director of A&E public affairs, discussed the teacher's guide and supplementary educational materials. The concluding symposium event was a private tour of Washington's estate at Mount Vernon.
Mr. Cole is director of the Center for the Book.