The Washington Papers Welcomes New Director Jennifer E. Steenshorne

TOPICS: Interview

by Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
February 16, 2018

“Why is this nation like this? These structures, these institutions—how did we get here?” These are questions that Jennifer E. Steenshorne wants to address in her new position as director and editor in chief of The Washington Papers, a role she assumed in January 2018. “There’s this sort of sense that the nation emerged fully formed, but it didn’t,” she explains. “There was a process of becoming.” Some insight can be found, of course, through examining the papers of George Washington and his family. But for Steenshorne, these questions of “becoming” guide more than just historical inquiry.

Trained in trans-Atlantic history (with an emphasis on the mid-18th century) at the University of California-Irvine, Steenshorne is knowledgeable in an era that clearly impacts understanding of American society and its evolution. Years later, she returned to that world as an associate editor for The Selected Papers of John Jay at Columbia University.

Describing her professional trajectory, Steenshorne admits she has accrued “a strange combination of skill sets.” Before joining The Selected Papers of John Jay in 2005, she worked in a variety of fields, including publishing, archival management, and even music. Over the past 13 years as an editor and council member of the Association for Documentary Editing, Steenshorne has made connections between her former roles. Each helped to shed light on publication, content management, and audience engagement—some of the greatest challenges facing documentary editing today.

Of these challenges, Steenshorne is aware most acutely of the misconception that editing is not scholarly work. She hopes to improve the public’s understanding that the value of editing is not just in research but in increasing appreciation of the humanities.

In her role as the new director of The Washington Papers, Steenshorne plans to involve editors and scholars in conversations within and outside of their work. As an inspiration, she sees the Twitter conversations developing through the hashtag “Vast Early America.” (It should be noted that Steenshorne is an avid Twitter user.) “There’s so much amazing content that we need to make people aware of,” she stresses. “How can we get everyone and everything to talk to each other?”