We are happy to welcome Scott Stroh to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Scott to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.
Scott Stroh was born in Philadelphia, PA, but family roots along the Chesapeake Bay fostered a deep love of Virginia history at a young age. Mr. Stroh Graduated from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA with a BA in History and Education in 1992 and from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN with a MA in History and Museum Studies in 1997.
Mr. Stroh served as Curator of Collections and Interpretation at the Anacortes Museum in Anacortes, WA, as Curator at Historic Spanish Point in Osprey, FL, as Executive Director of the Roanoke Island Commission in Manteo, NC, as Florida’s State Historic Preservation Officer and Director of Historical Resources, and as Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. He was appointed Executive Director of Gunston Hall in June 2013.
What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?
Growing up in Philadelphia I fell in love with history and, in particular, early American history as a child. Even at a young age, I was very interested in the people who defined this period and I voraciously read biographies about anybody living during that period of time. My favorite museum was also Franklin Court, in part because they had a large room with telephones that allowed you to call and “talk” with the Founders, but also with lesser known figures like Absalom Jones (first African American to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal of the United States). These moments, and others like them, were defining experiences of my childhood and directly contributed to my career in museums.
I remain involved with this history not only because of my role at Gunston Hall, but perhaps more importantly because I believe learning about and understanding this history is essential to being an informed and productive citizen today.
Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?
I believe that an understanding of our history, and an open and honest reflection on the American experience, is important for a variety of reasons. First, as noted above, this understanding supports our ability to be productive citizens today. This knowledge, and the process of learning this history, also creates a better understanding of our shared humanity. In learning about people, and the Revolutionary Era more broadly, we expand our thinking about who we were and more importantly who we need to be as a nation to fulfill the promises of equality and liberty articulated during this revolutionary period. Finally, the stories of the Revolutionary Era demonstrates the power of possibility and the truly transcendent power embodied by the pursuit of something better, more free, and more just. While characterized by imperfection and contradiction—which is certainly true for George Mason—this moment, this movement, charted and fueled future movements and continuing global movements for equality, freedom, justice, and tolerance. These lessons and these examples, therefore, are essential for all to learn and understand in order for us all to realize and benefit equally from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness today and into the future.
What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution?
I am personally fascinated by the impact of individuals from Prussia, Poland, France and other countries on the war effort, but even more importantly on the ideas and philosophy of the larger movement. For example, one of my heroes in Thaddeus Kosciuszko. His skill as an engineer certainly benefitted the war effort, but his ideas about liberty, his global perspective, and his relationships with figures like Thomas Jefferson were critical to the articulation of the ideology of the revolutionary movement. This involvement also truly helped turn the world upside down, because leaders like Kosciuszko then took the lessons of the American Revolution back home, to places like Poland, and began their own revolutions.
What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?
To me, the most important lesson of the American Revolution is that ideas, and the expression of rights and beliefs, are foundational to meaningful change. The simple act of expressing rights, like Mason did in writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, is a powerful act of empowerment. Think about and consider all the “bills of rights” since 1776 and how the seemingly simple act of expressing your beliefs in writing—no matter the cause—has sparked movements and resulted in change. There is reason why the concept of a bill of rights is still so central to our psyche and our thinking today, and that is because it is the spark of meaningful change. Equally important, stating what you believe can be done and is accessible by everyone. You don’t need to be general or a president, you don’t need to be wealthy or privileged, and you don’t need to be experienced or have any particular expertise. All you need is ideas, to believe, and to be able to express your beliefs in any way possible. This power is the greatest lesson and legacy of the American Revolution.
What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest?
Many, many things—some selfish and some genuine. Obviously, some were interested because of their own personal interest or motivation, such as making money or benefiting for the possibility of a fractured or weakened England. Others, however, like Kosciuszko genuinely saw this moment as an opportunity to change the world and to achieve greater liberty and equality for marginalized and enslaved peoples in their own Countries and beyond.
Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.
Registration fee is now only $60 per person and $50 for OHA members and students. If you feel more comfortable attending virtually, the fee is $30. To register visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/EventPurchase.aspx