A lecture about Benjamin Franklin has created an opportunity for author and professor Craig Bruce Smith to collect research for his new book about George Washington.
Now he's receiving a $25,000 research grant from PNC Charitable Trusts to gather information, globally, for "The Greatest Man in the World: A Global History of George Washington."
"I was actually invited to apply for it because they saw me on C-SPAN," Smith said Monday.
He had done a lecture about Ben Franklin and his views on honor last year (see:c-span.org/video/?433537-1/benjamin-franklins-views-honor). That lecture caught the attention of PNC officials, who Smith said studied his background first and then contacted him.
"They like the new book project and reached out," Smith said. "We found out formally in mid-November."
He's already an author. In April, his book, "American Honor: The Creation of the Nation's Ideals during the Revolutionary Era," was published by the University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill.
Smith has about a dozen books about George Washington on his bookshelf. His book, however, will take a unique look at the nation's first president.
"This one will be the first to look at Washington as a global figure, not just as an American," Smith added. "No one has looked at his impact beyond the United States."
As Smith delves into research from around the world, he's been learning about how other countries viewed Washington several hundred years ago, and today. "Washington only left the country once, to go I think to Barbados," Smith said of a 1757 trip.
Yes, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and, yes, Ben Franklin spent many years abroad representing the emerging nation.
"But Washington potentially had a greater impact than all of them," he said.
To some, George Washington became a revolutionary symbol. To others, he was a humanitarian and a military leader. One fact Smith plans to check for himself is in Ireland, where supposedly the first statue of Washington was ever erected.
"I believe that to be true," Smith added.
He also spoke of other world leaders and their perception of Washington. British King George III, whom American patriots ousted as king, apparently said if Washington surrendered his power as president, "then he's the greatest man in the world." Napoleon Bonaparte, of France, a military leader who became emperor, said, "They wanted me to be George Washington and I just couldn't."
Washington continues to fascinate. In the 1990s, Smith said, George Washington was "put on trial" for treason in England, and he was acquitted.
"He's not just the father of the country; he's something more than that," Smith said.
Smith doesn't take credit for the theme of this book. For that, he credits his wife, Tiffany, and a dinner they shared in Cape Cod several years ago.
"She made a joke," he said.
Was Washington a traitor? After all, he fathered the American Revolution. How was that perceived by other nations?
"I reached out to other historians about Washington, and they didn't know the answer," he said. "I just couldn't find anything on it."
If he's lucky, it will take Smith at least five years to collect his research — with the help of translators.
"There are languages I don't speak, so I'll have to hire research teams all over the world — that will add character to the book," Smith said. "I don't think I can do the writing before I can do the research. It's so new (of a topic), I don't know what's going to be found. This is just so unexplored."
Smith has taught history at William Woods University since 2016.