December 6, 2023

Harris Speaks to ‘Town Talk’ about UMW Museums

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris recently spoke to Ted Schubel of ‘Town Talk’ on WFVA 1230 about the impact of the pandemic on the James Monroe Museum and Gari Melchers Home and Studio. Closed since March and unlikely to open until August, both museums are offering new and innovative online programming. Listen here.

Local Children Curate Exhibition at James Monroe Museum

“Curating Ideas,” a new project through the James Monroe Museum, gives Fredericksburg youngsters the opportunity to curate museum exhibitions. During the six-week program, students from Old Town Academy shadowed curator Jarod Kearney to learn how museum exhibitions are curated. Students then chose an object in the museum to research and design their own exhibition around. In an article in The Free Lance-Star, Scott Harris, executive director of University of Mary Washington Museums, said the students’ exhibits showed their understanding of “the importance of objects for telling stories.” Read more. 

Harris Speaks About James Monroe at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

UMW Museums Executive Director Scott Harris spoke about James Monroe at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage on October 1. In addition to surveying Monroe’s public service career, Harris paid particular attention to the president’s visit to Nashville during his 1819 tour of the southern states, which included a stay at The Hermitage. The Museum’s traveling exhibit on the tour, “Your Obedient Servant,” spent most of the last month there and was much enjoyed by visitors.

UMW Museums Featured in Civil War Magazine

University of Mary Washington museums, Gari Melchers Home and Studio and the James Monroe Museum, were both highlighted in the fall quarterly issue of The Civil War Monitor magazine. Read more. 

Jarod Kearney: Monroe Man

Jarod Kearney, assistant director and curator of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. Photo by Jarod Kearney,.

Jarod Kearney, assistant director and curator of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. Photo by Jarod Kearney,.

Presidential resumes are usually impressive, but James Monroe’s takes the cake. The last president of the Virginia dynasty, the Founding Father was also the state’s governor, U.S. senator, ambassador to France and Britain, Secretary of State and Secretary of War, and moved up through the ranks of the Continental Army. Oh yeah, and he practiced law in Fredericksburg, home to the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library (JMM).

“People would be amazed to learn the sheer amount of public service positions Monroe held during his lifetime,” said Jarod Kearney, JMM’s assistant director and curator, who manages the museum’s collections and exhibitions, as well as day-to-day operations. It’s Kearney’s job to educate the public on the fifth president’s legacy and life, which drew to a close on Independence Day in 1831.

His multiple responsibilities include caring for artifacts; answering visitor questions; supervising staff, guides and interns; scheduling and other administrative tasks – the list goes on. No presidential novice, he previously curated the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, and he has a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in museum studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

But what Kearney loves the most about his job is sharing his passion for history with others, especially Mary Washington students. And he’s proud of the frequent collaborations JMM has with the History and American Studies and Historic Preservation departments.

“It’s rewarding to be able to give them hands-on experience in the field.”


Q: What first sparked your interest in history?
A: I’ve been fascinated by history since I was little, reading Greek mythology, making wood swords and looking for “artifacts” – bottle caps and old toys – in my yard.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Educating students and visitors.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Being in an old building that needs lots of care.

Q: Most people know of the Monroe Doctrine and Louisiana Purchase. What about the “Era of Good Feelings”?
A: After his first inauguration in 1817, Monroe embarked on an unprecedented tour of the northern states. A Boston newspaper coined the term “Era of Good Feelings” to describe this time of national pride, growth and political unity. JMM collaborated with Associate Professor Cristina Turdean and Historic Preservation students and the Papers of James Monroe to create a dynamic and well-received traveling exhibition on that very tour, titled “In the Spirit of the People,” and a second exhibit on Monroe’s 1819 southern tour.

Q: What’s a JMM must-see for presidential history buffs?
A: The desk where Monroe likely wrote what would become the Monroe Doctrine. It’s pretty cool!

Q: Are there any new exhibitions coming to JMM this year?
A: We have an astounding lineup of events for 2019-20. Please visit to learn more!

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I act in films as a hobby.

Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I have hundreds of Bonsai trees, and in addition to acting, I enjoy photography, pottery and blacksmithing. I won a scholarship through the American Bladesmith Society a couple decades ago, and I’ve been making custom knives and swords ever since.

Scott Harris: Keeping History Alive

Scott Harris graduated from Mary Washington in 1982.

Scott Harris is executive director of the University Museums.

Scott Harris ’83 got firsthand history lessons as a boy growing up in Staunton, Va. His grandmother, who was born in 1898, was a gifted storyteller who could transport Harris to life in Virginia at the turn of the 20th century. Historical sites were all around him. When Harris’ parents took him to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park at age 9, he never imagined he’d grow up to be its director decades later.

Nor did he foresee returning to his alma mater, from which he received a B.A. with honors in history and historic preservation in 1983.  In 2011 Harris became director of the James Monroe Museum, the world’s largest repository of artifacts and archives related to the nation’s fifth president.  Earlier this year he was named executive director of University Museums, overseeing the James Monroe Museum, the Papers of James Monroe, and the Gari Melchers Home and Studio. In his new role, Harris remains focused on a mission that that has motivated his 30-year museum career: “Our job is to remind people today of the importance of those who went before them.”

Q: Tell us about your new role.

A: I get to advocate for the museums from a broader perspective. I help secure funding to keep the Papers of James Monroe active and figure out how we can best position the museums for the future.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: Every day brings a new challenge. I get the opportunity to make a big impact on all these components of University Museums and hopefully help them thrive.

Q: What do the James Monroe Museum and Gari Melchers Home and Studio have in common?

A: James Monroe and Gari Melchers were well known and respected in their times, each at the top of his game, and yet they are not household names today. The challenge is to reintroduce them to the world.

Q: Why are these two people important?

A: James Monroe played a significant role in our early national history, from the Revolutionary War to the generation before the Civil War.  Gari Melchers brought skill and passion not only to his own art, but also to advocacy of the arts generally.  The contributions of both men are useful in providing artistic and cultural content to balance the contemporary emphasis on STEM education.

Q: How do the museums connect to the UMW community?

A: Mary Washington has administered both museums since the 1960s. While both relationships began as “marriages of convenience,” the museums’ affiliation with UMW, and that of the Papers of James Monroe, provide valuable learning labs for our students in history, historic preservation, museum studies, and other fields. Working with these entities allows students to hone practical skills that will help them in the future careers.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the Gari Melchers Home and Studio, and of the James Monroe Museum?

A: Melchers’ studio contains one of my favorite paintings of his, titled “In Holland.”  Painted in 1887, it shows two young women crossing a field, one bearing two heavy buckets on a yoke.  Their expressions convey a wealth of emotions.  Melchers had a knack for making the ordinary extraordinary in his work.  My favorite spot in the James Monroe Museum is in front of his large portrait painted by Rembrandt Peale around 1825.  It shows Monroe at the end of his presidency and political career, and again, the expression on his face speaks volumes.

Q: Any mantras you tell yourself every day?

A: Don’t screw up



Museums Offer Free Holiday Admission

While you are unwinding during the holiday break, bring the whole family for a visit to the James Monroe Museum and to Gari Melchers Home and Studio!

belmont-home-for-the-holidays-2Both sites are extending free admission to include the immediate family members of current University of Mary Washington faculty and staff during the break, from Dec. 17 to Jan. 2. We hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to visit this wonderful pair of cultural resources administered by UMW.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The James Monroe Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays, but will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission for current faculty, staff and students is free throughout the year at both sites, so we hope to see you often! For more information please visit us online at and

James Monroe Museum Exhibits Political Memorabilia

Political memorabilia spanning centuries is the focus of a timely new exhibit at the James Monroe Museum. The museum will welcome visitors on Friday, Sept. 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for a preview reception for the exhibit, “Conduct in the Public Service: Artifacts of Politics and Government from the Collection of the James […]

James Monroe Museum Hires First Public Programs Coordinator

The James Monroe Museum is pleased to announce that Lynda Allen was recently chosen as the institution’s first Public Programs Coordinator.  The new staff position is responsible for all of the Museum’s interpretive events, educational programs and facility rentals. Programs are offered on a variety of topics throughout the year, and tours for public and private schools and other groups serve audiences from the Fredericksburg region, Virginia, and a growing number of other states.  The Museum’s garden is a popular rental venue for private functions including weddings, parties and other social gatherings.

Ms. Allen was hired in September 2013 as the Museum’s Office and Store Manager, in which capacity she oversaw office administration, trained Museum Guides in admissions and store operations, and oversaw product development and sales activity. During her tenure the Museum Store experienced significant growth in the quantity and diversity of products, and in sales volume.  One of her key accomplishments was publication of the Museum’s engaging children’s book, Let’s Visit James Monroe, which highlights artifacts in the collection through the experience of a visiting family interacting with historical characters including James Monroe, Napoleon Bonaparte and enslaved African Americans.

Prior to joining the Museum staff, Ms. Allen was administrator of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg and taught at Odyssey Montessori, also in Fredericksburg.  After earning a B.A. in communication studies at Virginia Tech and an M.A. in film and video from American University, Ms. Allen worked in independent feature and documentary films as a production manager, music supervisor, producer and director.  A prolific writer, she has published eight works of poetry, prose and nonfiction.

Ms. Allen begins her new duties on Aug. 10.  Efforts are underway to fill the vacant Office and Store Manager position, which will be advertised later this month.

The James Monroe Museum is a National Historic Landmark owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and administered by the University of Mary Washington.  Founded in 1927, it is the nation’s largest repository of artifacts and documents related to the fifth President of the United States.  For hours of operation, directions, and other information, call (540) 654-1043, or visit



Harris Discusses Monroe on Radio Show

Scott Harris, director of the James Monroe Museum, was recently interviewed for the Dave Nemo Show discussing President James Monroe’s popular national tours in 1817, 1818 and 1819. The Dave Nemo Show is broadcast nationwide on Sirius XM Satellite Radio Channel 146, which is the “Road Dog” channel that principally targets long-haul truckers.