How do historians and biographers reconstruct the lives of people from the past?
Good biographies rely on telling the lives of people using practiced historical methods of thorough archival research and the sound interrogation of historical sources. But what does this practice of historical methods look like?
In this final episode of the Omohundro Institute’s Doing History series about biography, Erica Dunbar, the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University and author of Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge, takes us into the archives to show us how she recovered the life of Ona Judge.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
About the Series
The Doing History: Biography series explores the genre of biography, how it relates to and is different from the genre of history, and how historians and biographers can best uncover and understand the lives of people from the past.
The Doing History series explores early American history and how historians work. It is part of Ben Franklin’s World, which is produced by the Omohundro Institute.
Erica Dunbar, the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University and author of Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge, takes us into the archives to show us how she recovered the life of Ona Judge.
During our foray into the archives, Erica reveals information about Ona Judge and how Erica discovered her in the archive; The records the historical archive had about Judge and how historians and biographers like Erica have to read and interpret those records to get at the details of Judge’s life; And, how and why Erica thinks biography makes history and the past more accessible.
What You’ll Discover
- Overview of Ona Judge’s life
- How Erica discovered Ona Judge in the archive
- The Washingtons’ runaway slave ad for Ona Judge
- Historical sources about Ona Judge
- How historians read documents to get at the lives of those who left few documents
- Using informed speculation
- The role of empathy in biography
- History versus Biography
- Advantages of working with the life of a person who left little documentary record
- What the lives of “non-great human beings” can teach us about the past
- Differences and similarities between writing biographies for adults and children
- Why and how biography makes history and the past accessible
- Lessons and legacies of Ona Judge
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Erica Dunbar
- Erica’s Website
- Erica on Twitter: @ericaadunbar
- Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
- Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away (Young Readers Edition)
- Omohundro Institute
- John Marshall Foundation
- Babbel (Use Code BFWorld to save 50% off first 3 months)
- OI Reader App
- Nastassia Parker-Gross
- Episode 137: Erica Dunbar, The Washingtons’ Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
- Episode 173: Marisa Fuentes, Colonial Port Cities and Slavery
- Episode 183: Douglas Bradburn, George Washington’s Mount Vernon
- Episode 209: Considering Biography
- Episode 210: Considering John Marshall, Part 1
- Episode 211: Considering John Marshall, Part 2
In your opinion, what might have happened if Ona Judge had never given her narrative to the ministers and these accounts of her life had been missing from the historical record? Would you have still sought out more information about Judge and would you still have been able to tell her story?
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