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Uncommon Sense

By Holly White · October 19, 2018

Doing History Season 3- Biography

digital projectsDoing History 6 min read

Doing History Season 3: Biography

If biographies tell us about the past, why do bookstores and libraries always shelve them separately from history books? When historians write biographies, do they approach things differently? And if so how? These questions got us thinking and so we decided to dedicate season three of Doing History to them. The OI Digital Projects Team is excited to announce that the new season of Doing History: Biography will release on Tuesday, October 23rd!

Over the course of four episodes, we’ll explore the genre of biography and consider how it relates to and is different from the genre of history as well as how historians and biographers can best uncover and understand the lives of people from the past.

Our first episode, “Considering Biography” will feature historians Scott E. Casper, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Flora Fraser. These award-winning authors will help us uncover the origins of American traditions of biography, explain how ideas about biography and what it should be have changed over time, and then get into the nitty gritty of how historians and biographers work.

Episodes two and three will look closely at two recent biographies on the same man—Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. Liz will first chat with John Richard Paul about his book, Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times and then in episode three, she’ll talk with Richard Brookhiser about his Marshall biography:  John Marshall: the Man Who Made the Supreme Court.

The series will conclude with a new interview with Erica Armstrong Dunbar, author of Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge and Liz’s guest from episode 137 of Ben Franklin’s World. In the new interview, Liz joins Professor Dunbar in a fascinating behind the scenes discussion of her experience writing about Ona Judge and trying to assemble a life of someone who left so few records behind.

In addition to these fantastic episodes, Uncommon Sense will feature a new blog post each week that continues the conversation on the genre biography. Guest writers include university press editor Michael McGandy and historian Catherine O’Donnell.

At the end of the series, you’ll be able to find all of these episodes and blog posts in one place: the OI Reader App. The Reader will also feature additional resources including Annette Gordon-Reed’s William and Mary Quarterly article, “Writing American Lives as Biography” as well as a bibliography that includes our guests’ favorite biographies!

In the meantime—we’ve curated a special Ben Franklin’s World Playlist to get you thinking about the genre of biography. Happy Listening!

#BFWorldPlaylists Biographies Edition:

Episode 13: Rachel Hope Cleves, Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America

Episode 25: Jessica Parr, Inventing George Whitefield

Episode 26: Robert Middlekauff, “George Washington’s Revolution”

Episode 32: Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, One Colonial Woman’s World

Episode 45: Spencer McBride, “Joseph Smith and the Founding of Mormonism”

Episode 50: Marla Miller, Betsy Ross & the Making of America

Episode 55: Robb Haberman, “John Jay: Forgotten Founder”

Episode 61: Edward Larson, “George Washington in Retirement”

Episode 68: Richard Brookhiser, Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln

Episode 74: Mary Wigge, “Martha Washington”

Episode 86: George Goodwin, Benjamin Franklin in London

Episode 108: Ann Little, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright

Episode 117: Annette Gordon-Reed, “The Life and Ideas of Thomas Jefferson”

Episode 137: Erica Dunbar, “The Washingtons’ Runaway Slave, Ona Judge”

Episode 140: Tamara Thornton, Nathaniel Bowditch: 19th-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea

Episode 145: Rosemarie Zagarri, “Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution”

Episode 150: Woody Holton, “Abigail Adams: Revolutionary Speculator”

Episode 169: Thomas Kidd, The Religious Life of Benjamin Franklin

Episode 175: Daniel Mark Epstein, House Divided: The Revolution in Ben Franklin’s House

Episode 203: Joanne Freeman, “Alexander Hamilton”

Episode 205: Jeanne Abrams, First Ladies of the Republic

Episode 207: Nick Bunker, Young Benjamin Franklin


Be sure to check out Doing History season 1, Doing History: How Historians Work and Doing History season 2, Doing History: To the Revolution!


[…] Work; Doing History season 2, Doing History: To the Revolution!; And, Doing History season 3, Doing History: Biography. […]
Episode 260: Creating the First Ten Amendments - Ben Franklin's World  •  December 17, 2019

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