On August 28, 2018, Kathryn Morgan, a junior history major, got a rare opportunity to learn about presidential history first hand through her participation in the inaugural Presidential Sites Summit. The semi-annual three-day event, organized by the White House Historical Association, brings together historians and scholars whose work concerns famous and not-so-famous presidential sites, such as homes, archives, and museums. Participants get to learn more about the history and stories associated with these sites, some of which is revealed by the living descendants of presidents. At this year’s event, Morgan was able to rub shoulders with the great granddaughter of James Monroe, the great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, the grandson of Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, who talked about what it was like to have her prom at the White House.
Morgan first learned about the Presidential Sites Summit application process through the White House Historical Association’s Facebook page. Prof. Malgorzata Rymsza-Pawlowska, Morgan’s undergraduate faculty mentor, urged her to take the class, “A History of the White House,” which was taught by Matthew Costello. “I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to do this if I wasn’t in the History Department and had the resources and mentors that I have had to make those connections,” Morgan said. For Morgan, one of the highlights of the experience was the opportunity to walk through the White House, visit the Oval Office, and eat dinner on the premises. “I was excited to sit in historical chairs because the ropes are all down,” she said. After she graduates from AU, Morgan, who is interested in public history, hopes to gain experience working in a museum. “I am grateful for the opportunity to do this because I got to meet presidential descendants, journalists, and other professionals who are doing what I want to do one day.” The next Presidential Sites Summit will be held in 2020.