Mount Vernon Names Kevin Butterfield Director of the George Washington Presidential Library

Smith library

Here is the press release:

MOUNT VERNON, VA—The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association today tapped a noted American historian, Dr. Kevin Butterfield, to serve as the executive director of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington (Washington Library), the premier center for the study of our first President.  As the executive director of the Washington Library, Butterfield will foster serious scholarship about George Washington and his era while also developing new and furthering existing cutting-edge academic and public programs, as well as growing the library collection.

“Kevin brings a fresh set of bold ideas and vision to take the Library to the next level—He’s a great scholar, but also has the rare gift of leadership,” said Mount Vernon president Doug Bradburn. “Our first five years were exceptional; I can’t wait to see what Kevin does in the coming years. The country needs George Washington’s wisdom and example as much as ever.”

Butterfield comes to Mount Vernon from the University of Oklahoma, where he serves as Director of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage and Constitutional Studies Program and holds an appointment as Wick Cary Professor and Associate Professor of Classics and Letters.  A specialist in the founding era, he boasts a lengthy list of publication and teaching credits on topics related to the founding period, including one prize-winning book about early American legal history and several articles.

Butterfield has been honored with many fellowships to support his research from institutions such as the American Antiquarian Society, Winterthur Museum, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Huntington Library, the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, and many others. In his role as the head of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage at the University of Oklahoma, he engaged multiple public audiences in exploring current affairs with a historical approach focused on the Constitution and civic engagement.

“Kevin Butterfield is a superb choice to be the new Executive Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood.  “He combines excellent administrative experience with a deep understanding of history, precisely the talents needed for this important position.”

Butterfield will become the second historian to lead the Washington Library, replacing its founding director, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, who was named president of George Washington’s Mount Vernon in January 2018. Since its opening in 2013, the Washington Library has rapidly established itself as the premier center for the study of George Washington, a leading institution fostering scholarship and education in the history of the founding era of the U.S., and an innovative leader in the creation and dissemination of historical learning to a variety of audiences.

The Washington Library has held impactful conferences with prominent institutions in early American history, created a popular research fellowship program, and hosted more than 24,000 people at public events, teaching institutes, and leadership programs. The Washington Library has produced award-winning documentaries on the founding era, created ground-breaking educational experiences both on-site and across the country, and established the George Washington Leadership Institute as a top program for leadership studies.

A completely private and independent research library, the Washington Library is owned and maintained, along with Mount Vernon, the historic estate of George Washington, by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Butterfield holds a B.A. in History from the University of Missouri, an M.A. in History from the College of William and Mary, and a PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis. He will begin his duties as Executive Director on August 1, 2018. 

Progress Report on the Obama Presidential Center

HOK-Obama-Library

Over at Process, the blog of the Organization of American Historians, David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, provides us with an update on Barack Obama’s presidential “library.”

Here is a taste:

Will there be an Obama Presidential Library like the other 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives?

Not in the traditional sense of how presidential libraries are thought of today. The current plan is for the National Archives and the Obama Foundation to partner on an unprecedented effort to digitize all of the unclassified Obama White House paper records to provide the widest access possible for scholars and the public.

Why did President Obama and the Obama Foundation decide not to include a presidential library as part of the Obama Presidential Center?

I am not privy to the reasons that went into this decision and would refer you to the Obama Foundation. I believe they weighed a number of factors including space constraints on the site, architectural considerations, and the cost of the building and the 60-percent endowment that is required by Congress. Moreover, as more records are born-digital, this transition is a natural one. In fact, the majority of the records of the 44th President came to NARA in digital form, and it is appropriate for his presidency to be reflected as the first complete digital presidential library in our nation’s history.

That sounds exciting. How will it work?

We are in the process of working out the details with the Obama Foundation, who have committed to raising the funds to support a NARA-led effort to digitize these materials. We are currently working with the Obama Foundation to gather information necessary to develop a project plan and schedule for this initiative.

Read the entire post here.  We a post we did on this subject back in May 2017.

The Obama Presidential Center

HOK-Obama-Library

It will be built in the Jackson Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  And according to Anthony Clark’s article at Politico it will be unlike the presidential libraries of all his predecessors.  It will not be operated by The National Archives and Records Administration and it will not house Obama’s presidential papers.

Here is a taste of Clark’s piece:

Presidential libraries are perfect examples of just how far presidents will go to control their own legacies. Since the first one was created in 1941, what were intended to be serious research centers have grown into flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history. Built with undisclosed, unlimited donations, often to sitting presidents, libraries have traditionally been donated to the government after their construction. But even though they are taxpayer-funded and controlled by a federal agency, the private foundations established by former presidents to build the libraries retain outsize influence. The libraries’ whitewashed exhibits are created by presidential boosters; they host political events; their boards are stacked with loyalists; and many of their important historical records may never see the light of day.

You could say that the rise of the presidential library has followed the fall of the presidency. We once held the office of president in high regard. As we have lowered our opinion of it, presidential libraries have grown larger and more powerful—and less truthful.

The Obama Presidential Center could break this pattern, and solve at least some of the major flaws of the system, by creating a new model for a privately run presidential museum that can be laudatory in its exhibits and partisan in its programming, but not while under the troubling imprimatur of the federal government—and without the taxpayers footing the bill. At the same time, the new arrangement will leave presidential records and the terms of their release to the public in the hands of the government, where they belong. Freeing NARA to process and produce those records without the interference of the Obama Foundation will be our best hope for learning what really happened during the Obama presidency—and, if others follow his example, future presidencies as well.

Read the rest here.

What is Going on at the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield?

According to this report in the Illinois Times, the funding for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project (the website is down) has dried up and the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is cutting staff and ending walk-in visits in favor of scheduled appointments. 

 Here is a taste of the Bruce Rushton’s article:

On orders from the governor’s office, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that sponsors the project has refused to renew a contract with the University of Illinois Springfield that last year provided $243,000 in state money to pay employees. Except for Daniel Stowell, the project’s director, the project’s employees are university employees, but salaries come largely from the state as well as federal grants that require matching funds and private gifts.

In the past, matching money to obtain federal grants has come from the state, Stowell told the advisory board. Without state money, Stowell told the board that as much as $200,000 per year in federal grants could be lost for the project that began in the 1980s.


And this:

Advisory board members at Thursday’s meeting also discussed the deterioration of the library division of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum…Staff shortages have become so acute that departments are closing earlier in the day than scheduled due lack of staff.

Board members discussed the possibility of requiring researchers to schedule appointments 48 hours in advance. Patrons now can simply walk in unannounced to conduct research. The notion of research-by-appointment didn’t sit well with Sam Wheeler, a research historian for ALPLM. He called such an idea “reckless.”

“I think the conversation should not be about restricting hours at all at this presidential library,” Wheeler told the advisory board. “I think we should be talking about the appropriate people to hire so that we can begin rebuilding our library.”

The library lacks a cataloguer and an acquisitions specialist. Kathryn Harris, the former director, has not been replaced since her retirement last spring. The library recently hired an audio-visual specialist, but he is working on a contract basis and is not a full-fledged state employee.

Wheeler said that the library needs employees, not contract workers.


Read the entire Illinois Times article here.

What City Will Get the Barack Obama Presidential Library?

Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock

Honolulu, New York, and Chicago are all in the mix.  A foundation has been formed to “manage the library process” and an architect may have already been chosen. Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism at Penn, discusses the history of presidential libraries in the New York Times and suggests that Obama should “go small” by simply donating his papers to the National Archives.  Here is a taste:

But where the library is situated or who designs it is less important than whether Mr. Obama will follow the grandiose example of his predecessors, or chart a new course

A presidential library is an archive, museum and shrine, rolled into one. The archive preserves presidential papers (which are the property of the government) for the benefit of future scholars. The museum contains educational exhibits. The shrine is represented by displays of personal mementos: the Bible on which Harry S. Truman took his oath of office, the extra-long sofa from Lyndon B. Johnson’s Senate office, Gerald R. Ford’s college football trophies. A centerpiece of the Kennedy Library, on Boston Harbor, is his sailboat, the Victura. The Eisenhower and Nixon libraries include the presidents’ boyhood homes. The sprawling Reagan Library houses the largest of all presidential artifacts: Air Force One.

Re-Evaluating George W. Bush

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University will be dedicated tomorrow.  Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter will be there.

The New York Times reports:

More than four years after leaving office, former President George W. Bush has a question for America: So what would you have done? 

n a new brick-and-limestone museum, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?
The hypothetical exercise, which includes touch screens that let users watch videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Mr. Bush did, revisits the most consequential moments of his administration. In the process, the country is being asked to re-evaluate the two-term president who presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the nation’s history. 
Here is another interesting paragraph from Peter Baker’s piece:
An intriguing aspect of the museum is who is featured and who is not. There is a statue of Mr. Bush with his father, a section devoted to Laura Bush’s travels, a video by his daughters and even statues of the family dogs and cat. In addition to Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush’s two chiefs of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. and Joshua B. Bolten, also narrate videos. But former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Karl Rove, the president’s political strategist, generally make only cameo appearances in news footage.

The Washington Post reports that Bush’s popularity is at a 7-year high.

The Barack Obama Presidential Library

It could go here:

Here is some more information, courtesy of the Chicago Tribute:

The site where Michael Reese Hospital once stood isn’t much to look at, just a 37-acre swath of overgrown land in Bronzeville, behind a shoddy chain-link fence.

Developers are itching to build a casino or perhaps a sports entertainment complex on the city-owned property located in the shadows of downtown near the south lakefront. But residents of this historic African-American community have something grander in mind.

They envision a Barack Obama presidential library.

“This area tells the story of Chess Records, gospel music, blues and jazz, electrified by Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters,” said Harold Lucas, president of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council in Bronzeville. “When people come to Chicago, that’s what they want to see. They want to see the birthplace of Mr. Obama’s political career.”

Though Obama has not commented publicly about his plans for a library, every president since Herbert Hoover has established an archive in his home state to house papers from his White House tenure. That means the race could come down to Chicago — the city Obama most recently called home — and Honolulu — the city where he was born.

If Chicago is selected, the next hurdle would be to determine where the facility would be built. An Obama library likely would not open before the end of the decade, but already it is a hot commodity because of the prestige and economic vitality it would bring to the community.