Book Breaks

Gilder Lehrman Book Breaks features the most exciting history scholars in America discussing their books live with host William Roka, followed by a Q&A with home audiences.

Every Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

Student Question Submission Competition

Middle and high school students (age 13 and up), submit your questions for one of the historians being featured on Book Breaks. If your question is chosen, it will be announced live on the program and in recognition you and your teacher will each win a $50 gift certificate to the Gilder Lehrman Gift Shop! Your question can be about the book or the topic in general. Please, only one submission per program.

Submit your question here.

Deadline to submit a question for the upcoming Book Breaks is Thursday.

Upcoming Book Breaks



June 20, 2021 - Matthew R. Costello discusses his book The Property of the Nation: George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President.

*2020 George Washington Prize Finalist*

George Washington was an affluent slave owner who believed that republicanism and social hierarchy were vital to the young country’s survival. And yet, he remains largely free of the “elitist” label affixed to his contemporaries, as Washington evolved in public memory during the nineteenth century into a man of the common people, the father of democracy. This memory, we learn in The Property of the Nation, was a deliberately constructed image, shaped and reshaped over time. Matthew R. Costello traces this process through the story of Washington’s tomb, highlighting the efforts of politicians, business owners, artists, and storytellers to define, influence, and profit from the memory of Washington at Mount Vernon. As public access to the tomb increased over time, more and more ordinary Americans were drawn to Mount Vernon, and their participation in this nationalistic ritual helped further democratize Washington in the popular imagination.

Register Here

Matthew R. Costello is vice president of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History and senior historian for the White House Historical Association. His first book, The Property of the Nation: George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President, was published by University Press of Kansas and was a finalist for the 2020 George Washington Prize.

Order The Property of the Nation at the Gilder Lehrman Book Shop.


June 27, 2021 - Tamika Nunley discusses her bookAt the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C.

Guest Host: Nathan McAlister

The capital city of a nation founded on the premise of liberty, nineteenth-century Washington, DC, was both an entrepôt of urban slavery and the target of abolitionist ferment. The growing slave trade and the enactment of Black codes placed the city’s Black women within the rigid confines of a social hierarchy ordered by race and gender. At the Threshold of Liberty reveals how these women—enslaved, fugitive, and free—imagined new identities and lives beyond the oppressive restrictions intended to prevent them from ever experiencing liberty, self-respect, and power. Nunley traces how Black women navigated social and legal proscriptions to develop their own ideas about liberty as they escaped from slavery, initiated freedom suits, created entrepreneurial economies, pursued education, and participated in political work.

Register Here

Tamika Nunley is an associate professor of American history at Oberlin College. Her research and teaching interests include slavery, gender, nineteenth-century legal history, digital history, early America, and the American Civil War.



July 4, 2021 - David Armitage discusses his book The Declaration of Independence: A Global History

In an original look at the American Declaration of Independence, David Armitage reveals the document in a new light: through the eyes of the rest of the world. Not only did the Declaration announce the entry of the United States onto the world stage, it became the model for other countries to follow.

Armitage examines the Declaration as a political, legal, and intellectual document, and is the first to treat it entirely within a broad international framework. He shows how the Declaration arose within a global moment in the late eighteenth century similar to our own. He uses over one hundred declarations of independence written since 1776 to show the influence and role the US Declaration has played in creating a world of states out of a world of empires. He discusses why the framers’ language of natural rights did not resonate in Britain, how the document was interpreted in the rest of the world, whether the Declaration established a new nation or a collection of states, and where and how the Declaration has had an overt influence on independence movements—from Haiti to Vietnam.

Register Here

David Armitage is a professor of history and chair of the Department of History at Harvard University, where he teaches intellectual history and international history. He is also an affiliated faculty member at Harvard Law School and an honorary professor of history at the University of Sydney. 

Order The Declaration of Independence: A Global History at the Gilder Lehrman Book Shop.

Coming Soon

July 11 - Clint Smith and How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery in America

July 18 - Anna Malaika Tubbs and The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

View full archive of past sessions

Discussion moderator William Roka is an independent researcher focusing on the history of travel and ocean liners in the early twentieth century. He has presented at conferences in the UK, Argentina, Australia, and across the US. He was the historian and public programs manager at the South Street Seaport Museum from 2016 to 2018, and curated the exhibition Millions: Migrants and Millionaires aboard the Great Liners, 1900–1914. His paper on ocean liners and travel in the early twentieth century was published in the inaugural edition of the Yearbook of Transnational History in 2018. He currently is an education coordinator for the Hamilton Education Program at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He studied history at University College London and international relations at King’s College London.