Annual Buckley Lecture Features Annette Gordon-Reed

Harvard University historian Annette Gordon-Reed was welcomed to campus on Thursday, April 4, for this year's Walter W. Buckley, Jr. ’55 American History Lecture Series. Watch here.

Ms. Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and has won 16 book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2009 and the National Book Award in 2008, for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Ms. Gordon-Reed began her talk with Upper School students, faculty, and staff by sharing a memory from 3rd grade when she read a child's biography about Thomas Jefferson. "I was interested in the idea of a person who wrote the American Declaration of Independence and who wrote the words that 'all men are created equal'." Her fascination with history, Thomas Jefferson, and his life, continued into her collegiate and graduate studies through reading.

"But as I was practicing law, I realized that I didn't just want to read history, I actually wanted to be able to write it," reflected Ms. Gordon-Reed.

As she transitioned from practicing law on Wall Street to becoming a university professor, she finally found the opportunity to write. "This gave me the opportunity to come back to history and to think about history in a different way and write history," said Ms. Gordon-Reed. "This was the perfect opportunity for me to apply what I learned in law school; what I tried to do as a professor in law school is to talk to students about how you evaluate evidence."

So she followed her passion and quietly got to work on The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. "It was the most fun I ever had in my life," shared Ms. Gordon-Reed. "It is still my favorite book despite all of the things that have come since then." 

Ms. Gordon-Reed explained she did not write the book to prove anything about Jefferson's family relationships. "What I wanted to prove was that historians have employed a double standard in viewing the evidence," shared Ms. Gordon-Reed. "So that was my book. Weighing what Jefferson's family said, what evidence there was for it, and what evidence was not there."

The lecture wrapped up with a short Q&A session where a student asked how she manages frustration during the research and writing process. "I think you have to like research. It's like detective work. It's history, but you are trying to uncover things. Since I like finding things out, being a snoop, it does happen like when I go down a rabbit hole," chuckled Ms. Gordon-Reed. "But that is part of the process."

Ms. Gordon-Reed shared more of her expertise with students during classroom visits and over lunch. Listen to her conversation with EA Unlocked podcast host Dr. T.J. Locke.

Her most recent book is On Juneteenth, a memoir and history of Texas. Other honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship in the humanities, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the National Book Award.

Through the generosity of the late Walter W. Buckley, Class of ’55, distinguished American historians are invited to campus each spring to lecture and speak with students, faculty, and members of the EA community.

This year's lecture took place in the Class of 1944 Chapel.