Last week, when the chair of my session said, “Our final presenter will be Mr. Cameron Kline, from Oxford University’s St. Cross College, and he will deliver his paper entitled George Washington and Tobias Lear: The First Presidential Operative”, I took my place behind the podium to do something that I’ve not yet been able to do, deliver my work to a room of kindred scholars.
On Feb. 18th and 19th, I was grateful to have been able to take part in Texas A&M’s 12th Annual History Conference. The two-day event, entitled Exploring the Margins of History, was a perfect professional and personal fit. Professionally, it offered me a forum to present my work on Tobias Lear and how he was empowered by President George Washington to manage the Washington family’s enslaved persons and circumvent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 and its 1788 amendment. And personally, it was a vindicating and energizing moment in my maturing career as a historian and early American scholar – COVID prevented me from taking part in everything from in person classes to scholarly events and discussions last school year – to share my work.
Each of the approximately 100 presenters had 15 minutes to present their work, then a member of the Texas A&M faculty or a PhD candidate critiqued our papers and presentation, and finally the session ended with an audience Q&A. I had a good time, I really did, and I think the 30 or so audience members who attended my panel enjoyed the session too. Yes, I got my fair share of questions, but in the end, I was ecstatic to share a small part of the Washington narrative and present Tobias Lear to new friends who may not be familiar with this hidden, secondary historical figure.
So, how does one celebrate a successful day in College Station, Texas? Simple, head to the remarkable restaurant All the King’s Men in Byran, Texas; order a big plate of brisket; and wash it down with a cold pint. The conference, my new friends, and my celebratory dinner not only reminded me why I started this five-year scholarly journey to earn a PhD in American history, but it reaffirmed that, if we set our head and heart on a goal, we can do it with the help of colleagues, friends, and family.