Pamela Scott, an author of “Creating Capitol Hill: Place, Proprietors and People,” is worried the book may not be seen as a serious historical project.
She uses a number of photographs in the book — maybe too many — and is concerned that some historians will “think it’s a coffee table book,” she said.
But, she said, “I am an art historian and I know that there is information in pictures.”
The U.S. Capitol Historical Society book, which is out Monday, includes art that has never been published before. Scott’s editor advised her to write detailed captions in case people just open the book for the pictures.
She started the project 10 years ago when she was originally hired to do research on Daniel Carroll of Duddington, the wealthy farmer who owned the land where the Capitol was built.
“At that time there was no digital access to those things, and so I just went through microfilm and collected what I could find … which was quite a bit because he was such a major figure,” Scott said.
Five years later, the historical society decided there was enough for a whole book. Scott had written a book about the Treasury Department, and the society wanted her to create something similar.
“It has been a long time in coming,” Scott said. “It seems when I look at the book now that it doesn’t represent the amount of time and effort that went into it. Anyone who works in Washington history knows you need to use probably 20 or 30 different resources — most of them in the city, in the National Archives, in the Library of Congress, but many of them in other locations.”
Scott first moved to D.C. in 1976 for an internship at the National Archives. Although she is now an established historian, there are always questions left unanswered.
“The most difficult part — and something that I’m still working on — is finding commentary by contemporary members of Congress, from 1800 until about 1825, about their lives in the early capital city, and especially of their lives living around the Capitol,” she said.
Congressmen aren’t her only target. She also tracks less famous names.
“Many of the people involved in the construction of the building I didn’t know about, or I may have known their names but I didn’t know a great deal about them. To find out about them, you have to use digital resources like Ancestry.com, historic newspapers,” Scott said.
Scott’s next book may take on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Before she took on this project, she was doing research on the White House.
The book’s official launch is on Monday evening in the historical society’s offices on Capitol Hill. An interpreter from Mount Vernon portraying George Washington is expected to be in attendance.
“Creating Capitol Hill” is available for purchase through the historical society and was created through support of individual donors, including Karen Buchwald Wright, president of the Ariel Foundation, and Albert H. Small, founder of The Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University Museum, among others.
Scott’s co-authors are Charles Carter, William diGiacomantonio and Don Hawkins.