A View from Mount Vernon
His summer fellowship at George Washington’s Mount Vernon has given Ian Culcasi an in-depth and intimate view of the world of the nation’s first president.
Since day one at Washington College, Ian Culcasi ’16 has been immersed in the lore of the school’s founding patron, George Washington. But not until his fellowship at Mount Vernon this summer did the history major really start to know the man beyond the legend.
“I’ve always learned about George Washington—kind of—but in my classes I’ve never gotten to delve into George Washington as a person before,” Culcasi says. “So that’s been a really cool path to follow.”
Culcasi spent the summer at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia, working in the education department at the site’s Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Among the library’s resources are books, periodicals, maps, and pamphlets relating not only to George and Martha Washington but also to Colonial America, the Revolution, the Early Republic, and life in the 18th century. The collection also includes a multitude of original manuscripts and books belonging to the nation’s first president.
Part of Culcasi’s job has been to facilitate the Teacher Institute, a summer program of residential conferences and workshops during which educators from all over the country, from pre-K to college, come to sharpen and deepen their skills in teaching American history. Some teachers come with their own projects, hoping to use the research library to provide more context for their work.
“I help them get in contact with the specialists they need to talk to here on the estate so they can better complete those projects,” Culcasi says. For instance, one elementary teacher had written a play for her students to perform that included 30 characters. “She was here to beef up the list of characters, so you have slave characters, you have George and Martha, George’s grandkids, butlers and carpenters and chefs. I connected her with the people I know here who can find and describe those characters.”
One of the lighter aspects of his job is being in charge of pub trivia night. It’s a truly unique way to delve into the minutiae of Colonial life and the lives of the Washingtons and Mount Vernon, specifically.
“I go through various sources and resources that we have here and find trivia facts, and I frame them in a way that would be good for the teachers,” he says. “I try to bring my own enthusiasm and put it into the questions, and hopefully they absorb that, and by absorbing that it gets to the students that they teach.”
Culcasi says the fellowship—which is his first while at College—is proving to be helpful on many levels. It’s giving him insight into the career of being a teacher of history, which may be in his future. But it’s also revealing to him the variety of other career paths he could choose based on his major.
“I’ve learned I could work in a place like this, in their education department, or as an historian. There are tons of different jobs that I didn’t know existed.”
And beyond the educational merits of the fellowship, Culcasi says it’s just been exciting to spend every day in the place that Washington called home.
“I’ve seen so much. They had a replica of the Hermione that Lafayette sailed to help win the war, and they sailed up the Potomac to Mount Vernon and I got to see that. I’ve been through his house. I’ve seen the bed he died on. I’ve seen his books that he saw himself, that were on his shelves. There’s so much that Mount Vernon has to offer.”
Culcasi is one of 14 Washington College students who were named Comegys Bight Fellows this year. Offered through the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the program matches students with paid internships at nationally significant historic and cultural institutions. The students represented disciplines across the College’s curriculum, including history, anthropology, art history, political science, sociology, business management, Hispanic studies, and English. They interned at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the National Constitution Center, the National Archives, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Library of Congress, and the American Philosophical Society, among others.