Staring at George

February 08, 2005

On Monday I ran up to Princeton to do some research. It was my first time using Princeton University's rare books room, and I had a good trip. I read six books, took notes, and was able to thicken my research.

The reason I wanted to blog the trip is that the reading room in Firestone Library is a great big space with great big windows. Hanging over the door is a huge - it looked to be 8 feet tall - Charles Wilson Peale portrait of George Washington. It is a great picture.

So, there I was, frantically typing away on my laptop as I summarized the debates of various state constitutional conventions (New York 1846 went from not-in-the-dissertation to an expected three pages). Every time I wanted to take a break, I looked up at George. George looked down on us all, although I think he was a little fonder of the woman next to me who was working with a beautifully illustrated medieval book. (Later I told her I was jealous because her book had better pictures. She told me she was amazed at how fast I typed - transcribing 19th century political debate goes fast, especially because I trust myself to fix the spelling later.) Then I went from admiring George back to writing up debates and trying to make sure that I had remembered to type the commas that the 1780 Massachusetts convention seemed to use every third or fourth word.

This is starting to ramble. I just wanted to comment that the really cool thing about doing history is that you find yourself in a situation where, just going about your business, you get to look up and admire one of the more famous pictures of George.

Oh, and if you look carefully at that picture you will see that George, who was admired in his day for being a well built man with an attractive body, comes from the pre-steroid and pre-weightlifting era of strong torsos and small arms. There is a marked difference in physical types, a change that has really kicked in quite recently, say since the 1980s.

Posted by Red Ted at February 8, 2005 08:17 PM | TrackBack