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Kate Clifford Larson – Historian and Author (Part 2 of 2)

By Admin | June 5, 2024

One of your later biographies after Harriet Tubman was a biography of Rosemary Kennedy. How did you come to write a biography of this little known Kennedy sibling? How in the world did you find biographical data on someone who was out of the public view for many decades?

Lovely Rosemary. It was January 2005 and I was working on
my biography of Mary Surratt, the woman who helped John Wilkes Booth with his plot to assassinate
Abraham Lincoln, and I heard that Rosemary had died. She was eighty-six years old. The Boston Globe
had a very nice obituary and it made me wonder about her life. So little was known about her. She had
been kept out of the public eye for decades. My curiosity had been piqued, though. The Kennedy Library
is in Boston, so I determined that I would look into the archives and see what was there. In 2008, after I
had finished my Mary Surratt biography, I went to the library to see if there was enough material to
write an article. I was surprised to learn that there was quite a lot of material related to Rosemary,
including letters to and from her, discussions of her health in other documents, and more. I knew then I
could write a full biography of her by using those rich and fresh archival papers. I learned that by putting
Rosemary at the center of the Kennedy family story you see her siblings and parents in a different light.
That taught me a lesson about how to be a better biographer.
What is your actual process of writing? How many hours per day? Do you have a favorite place to write?
Do you have colleagues or family members review your books-in-progress? My process is uneven. I do
not write everyday. I do research everyday, even if it is just tracking down one primary source. I read, a
lot – primary and secondary sources that cover not only my subject, but also materials that help define
and shape the historical context and landscapes of their lives. I write almost exclusively in my home
office – though during the last couple of months of writing and organizing the biography you will find me
in the dining room with dozens of books and many, many, many files scattered all over the place and
around my computer.
What is your view of the emerging technology of AI on historical research and authorship? How will it
replace what historians do now? AI is intriguing. I think it actually could be a very helpful tool for writers,
but it has limitations. AI does not have access to archives, for instance. Historians need to do that work.
It cannot be nuanced like an historian can be. There are issues that do concern me – in classrooms I fear
that some students will use it rather than doing the writing themselves. Teachers will need to develop
ways to detect that kind of cheating.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a historian as a profession? What advice
for someone already in the business but just starting out? Being an historian is a gift – it allows one to
immerse themselves in another time and place, and helps one make connections to the present. I would
say that you must absolutely LOVE what you are studying and writing about. You can’t make your way
through it all if you do not remained inspired.
What is your next book project? Currently working on a new subject – a woman, of course – and I will
announce it when I have finished a book proposal and a publisher has optioned it for publication. Stay

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