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A Novel Approach to American History

Date: June 10, 2014
British historian and novelist Richard Francis settles into his Colonial Chestertown settings as he begins his writing fellowship at the College’s Starr Center.

Chestertown, MD—Chestertown has been invaded for the summer by a pair of Brits: author and scholar Richard Francis and his wife and fellow researcher, Jo. While in Chestertown this summer as the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown fellow at Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, Richard Francis will have use of an office in the College’s circa-1746 Custom House on the Chester River, as well as exclusive use of its Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence, a restored 1730s house in Chestertown’s historic district. His unique research and writing fellowship is hosted by the Starr Center and the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, RI. 

Last fall Francis spent two months culling the extensive manuscript collection at the John Carter Brown Library to research his current project, a novel based upon the life of colonial-era Boston merchant and judge Samuel Sewall. He will complete the writing portion of the fellowship at the Starr Center during June and July. 

“Jo and I have received the warmest of welcomes from all at the Starr Center,” he commented soon after arriving. “It can be tantalizing researching colonial America on the wrong side of the Atlantic, so it’s great to find ourselves in a house built towards the end of the very period I’m working on , and my office is in another eighteenth century building, so I’ll have no excuse not to get on with my writing.” 

Alternating between writing novels and nonfiction, Francis’s interests are eclectic, ranging from novels set in British pubs and amusement parks to non-fiction examinations of the Salem Witch trials and American utopias. He is the author of Transcendental Utopias (Cornell University Press, 1997), Judge Sewall’s Apology: The Salem Witch Trials and the Forming of a Conscience (Fourth Estate, 2005), and Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia (Yale, 2010), as well as ten novels, including The Old Spring (Tindal, 2010) and Prospect Hill (Fourth Estate, 2003). He has also written for popular media including radio, television and film productions.  

“Richard is an extraordinarily versatile writer, who is as comfortable describing the lives of 1970s English urbanites as he is seventeenth-century New Englanders,” says Starr Center Deputy Director Ted Maris-Wolf.  “No matter the subject, period, or genre, he brings to life the texture and lived reality of the past in a way that few others can.  We are thrilled and most fortunate to be able to welcome him and Jo to Chestertown this summer.” 

A native of Hampshire England, Francis holds a Ph.D. from Exeter University and spent two years as an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow at Harvard before taking a post teaching American literature at Manchester University. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Tripoli and the University of Missouri. Francis has received awards from the Arts Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Board, and the British Academy. His wife, Jo, assists with research on his non-fiction books.

The Starr Center administers the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellowship in partnership with the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious institutions for the study of early America. Founded with a $1 million endowment from The Hodson Trust, the Fellowship supports work on significant projects related to the literature, history, culture, or art of the Americas before 1830. Now in its fifth year, it welcomes submissions not only from traditional historians, but also from filmmakers, novelists, and creative and performing artists.

Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. For more information, visit www.washcoll.edu.  The College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience is dedicated to fostering innovative approaches to the American past and present. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, and a special focus on written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between the academic world and the public at large. For more information on the Center, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.

Last modified on Jun. 18th, 2014 at 11:24am by Michael Buckley.