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Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume II, Issue 3
February 2006   

A forgotten Founding Father? Falvey’s Scholarship @ Villanova presents Dr. James J. Kirschke

On January 25, Dr. James J. Kirschke discussed his most recent book, Gouverneur Morris: Author Statesman, and Man of the World (Thomas Dunne, 2005). Dr. Kirschke, a professor in the English department, presented biographical information about Gouverneur Morris and also discussed the challenges he faced in researching and writing about this multi-faceted and resilient character.

   Dr. James J. Kirschke

Dr. Kirschke was drawn to writing about Gouverneur Morris for a number of reasons. Reading about Morris in the Dictionary of American Biography, Kirschke realized that Morris was an important historical figure who had been neglected by earlier biographers. He was intrigued by Morris’s accomplishments in the face of adversity, Morris having several disabilities including the loss of a leg in a carriage accident when he was twenty-eight.

Gouverneur Morris worked as a lawyer and politician during the Revolutionary period in American History. In 1778 and 1779 he represented New York in the Continental Congress. This position allowed him to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where he played a major role in editing the Constitution. He is credited with penning the famous opening lines to the preamble of the Constitution, “We the people of the United States of America…” and is responsible for transforming the original version containing over 20,000 words to a roughly 5000 word document in just four days.

A member of New York’s social elite, Gouverneur Morris was not afraid to defy popular opinion in his support for the abolition of slavery and helped to keep the country together financially, serving as a U.S. finance minister.

In addition to discussing his interest in Morris as a subject, Dr. Kirschke also described his research techniques. He believes that it is important to recognize chapter breakouts early and to identify salient characteristics of one's subject at the start of research, which for Morris was his facile use of the quill pen. Kirschke pointed out that, for biographers, the challenge is to keep the narrative thread going, and the key to accomplishing this is knowing how much detail to include in the text.

Dr. Kirschke entertained the audience with stories about the many people he met while doing research, and he talked about his extensive use of footnotes, which he spent almost as much time compiling as writing the text. A question and answer session, book signing and reception followed his talk.

Dr. Kirschke, the author of Not Going Home Alone: A Marine’s Story, Willa Cather and Six Writers from the Great War and Henry James and Impressionism, has taught British and American literature and history at Villanova University since 1977. Dr. Kirschke’s lecture was part of Falvey’s Scholarship@Villanova series, formerly Falvey Book Talks, which highlight recent publications by Villanova faculty.

Contributed by Laura Hutelmyer, bound periodicals, microforms and bindery supervisor; photograph by Natalie Tomasco