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John Brown, Slavery, and the Legacies of Revolutionary Violence in Our Own Time: A Conference Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid

Gilder Lehrman Center's 11th Annual International Conference
October 29-31, 2009


Conference Participants


Russell Banks
Russell Banks grew up in a working-class world that has played a major role in shaping his writing. Through a dozen novels and short story collections that have won him Guggenheim and NEA grants and a St. Lawrence Prize for fiction, Banks has made a life's work of charting the causes and effects of the terrible things "normal" men can and will do. A prolific writer of fiction, Russell Banks's titles include The Darling, The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter, Affliction, Hamilton Stark, and his latest novel, The Reserve. Banks has contributed poems, stories, and essays to Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, Harper's and numerous others. Currently, Martin Scorsese has plans to produce the film of Cloudsplitter, with a screenplay by Banks, and Raoul Peck directing, for HBO. Included among the numerous honors and awards Russell Banks has received are the Ingram Merrill Award, the John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Continental Drift and Cloudsplitter were Pulitzer Prize finalists; Affliction and Cloudsplitter were PEN/Faulkner Finalists. Banks was New York State Author (2004-2008) and is the founder and President of Cities of Refuge North America.


Richard Blackett
Richard Blackett is the Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. Blackett is a historian of the abolitionist movement in the US and particularly its transatlantic connections and the roles African Americans played in the movement to abolish slavery. He is the author of Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860 (1983); Beating Against the Barriers: Biographical Essays in Nineteenth-Century Afro-American History (1986); Thomas Morris Chester: Black Civil War Correspondent (1989); Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War (2001); editor, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1999). At present he is working on a study of the ways communities on both sides of the divide organized to support or resist enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the ways slaves by escaping influenced the politics of slavery. Blackett taught previously at the University of Pittsburgh (1971-85), Indiana University (1985-1996), and the University of Houston where he was the John & Rebecca Moores professor of history and African American Studies (1996-2002). He has been Associate Editor of the Journal of American History (1985-1990), Acting Editor (1989-1990); editor of the Indiana Magazine of History (1993-1996). He is also past president of the Association of Caribbean Historians.


W. Fitzhugh Brundage
Fitz Brundage received his BA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from Harvard University. He taught at Queen's University (Ontario) and the University of Florida before joining the faculty at the University of North Carolina. He has written on lynching, communitarian socialism, and historical memory in the American South. He is the editor of and contributor to a collection on African Americans and the creation of American mass culture, forthcoming from the University of North Carolina Press.


David W. Blight
David W. Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, is the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), which received seven book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians, including the Merle Curti prizes for both intellectual and social history. He is also the author of a book of essays, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002); and Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (LSU Press, 1989). Blight participated closely in the discovery and bringing to light of two new slave narratives in 2004 and edited and introduced the book, with Harcourt Press, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (2007). Blight has also been a consultant to several documentary films, including the 1998 PBS series, "Africans in America," and "The Reconstruction Era" (2004). Blight has a Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has also taught at Harvard University, at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and for seven years was a public high school teacher in his hometown, Flint, Michigan.


Evan Carton
Evan Carton holds the Joan Negley Kelleher Centennial Professorship in Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin. He was also the founding director of the University of Texas Humanities Institute. The author of two books on 19th century American literature, one on the history of 20th century literary criticism and theory, and a narrative non-fiction account of John Brown's life and times, entitled Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America (New York: Free Press, 2006), Carton is in the early stages of a new project that explores the common roots of American public intellectual, evangelical religious, and radical political activism in the social and scriptural dislocations of the Second Great Awakening, as respectively exemplified in the careers of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Smith, and John Brown.


Louis DeCaro Jr.
Louis DeCaro Jr. holds graduate degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and New York University, and a Ph.D. from New York University. He has written a number of books and articles on the African American Muslim leader, Malcolm X, but has been an enthusiastic student of the life and letters of John Brown the abolitionist over the past decade. He has written two biographical studies of Brown, "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown (NYU Press, 2002), and John Brown--the Cost of Freedom (International Publishers, 2007), the latter including twenty documents from Brown's hand, some of which have never been published. Louis has also contributed to a number of publications, including The Afterlife of John Brown, edited by Andrew Taylor and Eldrid Herrington (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). In 2007, he stood on behalf of John Brown's induction into the National Abolition Hall of Fame in Peterboro, N.Y., and has spoken in a variety of John Brown programs in the United States and Canada. Louis lives in New York City with his wife Michele and their young son, Louis Michael. He teaches history and theology at Nyack/Alliance Theological Seminary's Manhattan campus and is the pastor of a small urban congregation in the Bronx.


Beverly Gage
Beverly Gage is assistant professor of 20th-century U.S. history. Her teaching and research focus on the evolution of American political ideologies and institutions. She teaches courses on terrorism, communism and anticommunism, American conservatism, and 20th-century American politics. Gage completed her graduate work at Columbia University, where her dissertation received the Bancroft dissertation award for best U.S. history dissertation. Her first book, The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror, examined the history of terrorism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on the 1920 Wall Street bombing. In addition to her teaching and research, Professor Gage has written for numerous journals and magazines, including the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, Time, and the New York Times. She has also appeared as a historical commentator on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer (PBS). In 2007, the History News Network named her one of the country's Top Young Historians. In 2009, Professor Gage received the Sarai Ribicoff Award for teaching excellence in Yale College.


Robert Blakeslee Gilpin
Blake Gilpin's research and teaching interests bridge the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, exploring the nexus of history, literature, and art. His interdisciplinary work on reformers, writers, and artists stretches from the slave rebellions of the eighteenth century to contemporary struggles with the echoes of American slavery. Thematically, he has focused mainly on African-American history, the American South, and cultural history, maintaining throughout a special interest in the role of memory. After completing a combined B.A./M.A. in history from Yale on hobos and the American West, he was the Paul Mellon Fellow at Clare College in Cambridge from 2001-2003. Earning an M.Phil in British history, Gilpin returned to Yale where he finished his Ph.D. in American history in 2009, studying under David Blight, Glenda Gilmore and John Mack Faragher. His dissertation, "Monster and Martyr: America's Long Reckoning with Race, Violence, and John Brown," examines the complex circumstances which have allowed Brown to remain relevant and controversial 150 years after his death. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of the American South at University of North Carolina where he is preparing his manuscript for publication.


Tony Horwitz
Tony Horwitz is a native of Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for many years as a reporter, including a decade overseas in Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly covering wars and conflicts as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. After returning to the U.S., he won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker before becoming a full-time author. His books include four national and New York Times bestsellers: A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without A Map. His other work includes "Mississippi Wood," a documentary on PBS about Southern loggers; "The Devil May Care," a collection of fifty tales about intrepid Americans; and contributions to State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and The New Gilded Age: The New Yorker Looks at the Culture of Affluence. He is currently at work on a book about John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Tony has also been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and a visiting scholar at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.


Larry Lawrence
Larry Lawrence is the Chairman of the John Brown Society. He has been an activist on the left in the United States for 40 years. He spoke out against racism and segregation while growing up in Georgia in the 1960s. He left the University of Georgia as a senior in 1971 to organize against the Vietnam War and build the labor movement. He strongly urges all lovers of history to dedicate themselves to the struggle for justice for the poor.


Norman Thomas Marshall
Norman Thomas Marshall, actor and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of a Klansman and grandson of a slave owner. His New York debut was in 1965 in playing the title role in Ronald Tavel's Ridiculous classic Gorilla Queen. He has since shared stage and screen with Raul Julia, Moses Gunn, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Guillaume, Burt Reynolds, Barbra Streisand and Telly Savalas. He spent eleven years as the Artistic Director of the No Smoking Playhouse on West 45th Street.


W. Caleb McDaniel
W. Caleb McDaniel received his Ph.D in 2006 from the Johns Hopkins University and taught at the University of Denver before coming to Rice University in 2008. His research and teaching focus on American reform and radicalism in the antebellum period, and he has published articles on the abolitionist movement in American Quarterly and the Journal of the Early Republic. His current writing projects include two articles on John Brown, one forthcoming in the interdisciplinary journal Common Knowledge, and a book-length manuscript on transatlantic abolitionism entitled "Our Country is the World: Transatlantic Abolitionism and Cosmopolitan Nationalism, 1830-1870."


Kirke Mechem
Kirke Mechem is a composer with a catalogue of over 250 works. ASCAP recently registered concert performances of his music in 42 countries. Born and raised in Kansas and educated at Stanford and Harvard Universities, Mechem conducted and taught at Stanford and at the University of San Francisco. He spent three years in Vienna where he came to the attention of Josef Krips, who later championed the composer's symphonies as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. Mechem's compositions cover almost every genre, but vocal music is the core of his work. His three-act opera, Tartuffe, has been performed over 370 times in six countries. "Songs of the Slave" -- a suite for bass-baritone, soprano, chorus and orchestra from his opera, John Brown -- has been performed in over 50 US cities. In May 2008, Lyric Opera of Kansas City premiered John Brown, a large-scale dramatic work inspired by the American abolitionist, to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Mechem has completed a new opera based on Sheridan's The Rivals and is currently composing an opera based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.


Franny Nudelman
Franny Nudelman is an associate professor in Carleton University's English Department and Institute for the Study of Literature, Art and Culture. She is the author of John Brown's Body: Slavery, Violence, and the Culture of War (Culture of the United States Series, University of North Carolina Press, 2004), and has published essays on Nathaniel Hawthorne, Toni Morrison, Harriet Jacobs, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and, most recently, writing by activists who traveled to Hanoi during the 1960s. Her current research focuses on militarism and resistance in the post-WWII period, and she has recently received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for work on a book about radical documentary prose and film of the Vietnam era.


David C. Rapoport
David C. Rapoport is the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA, where he was also Director and Chair of the Center for the Study of Religion and the Interdepartmental Religious Major. He is author, editor and co-editor of six books: Assassination and Terrorism (1971) The Morality of Terrorism (1982), The Rationalization of Terrorism (1982), Inside Terrorist Organizations, (1988, 2001), The Democratic Experience and Violence (2001), and Critical Concepts in Political Science: Terrorism (2006). Rapoport is now working on a book, The Four Waves of Modern Terror: A Generational Analysis. He has published over sixty academic articles, which include studies in political theory, religion, terrorism, and the history of violence. Rapoport has received numerous grants and awards including a Fulbright fellowship, and grants from the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Reason Foundation, and H.F. Guggenheim, among others. He was a consultant for the University of Chicago Fundamentalism project from 1988-92 and has been a consultant for a variety of professional and government organizations.


David S. Reynolds
David S. Reynolds has written thirteen books including John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award. His recently published Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson was selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post. His book Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography was awarded the Bancroft Prize and the Ambassador Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other books include Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville (winner of the Christian Gauss Award), and Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America. A regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review, he has been interviewed more than 65 times on radio and TV. He was one of a handful of CUNY's 6,100 professors chosen for the "Look Who's Teaching Here" ad campaign, featured in New York's subways, buses, and newspapers.


Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw has taught American art and culture at the University of Pennsylvania since 2005. She came to Penn after completing her graduate study at Stanford University and then spending five years as an assistant professor at Harvard in the departments of African and African American Studies and History of Art and Architecture. Shaw's first book, Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker, was published by Duke University Press in 2004. In 2006 she organized a museum exhibition and authored a catalog, titled Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century. The show was organized with the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, before traveling to the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington and the Long Beach Art Museum in California. Currently she is developing a book about 19th-century visual culture and apocryphal history and serving as director of Penn's program in visual studies.


Caleb Smith
Caleb Smith is assistant professor of English and American Studies at Yale. His research concerns American literary and cultural history, with special attention to the relations between social imaginaries and legal institutions. He is interested in how literary works, produced and received within broader public spheres, involve themselves with such problems as punishment, secular justice, human rights, legal personhood, and the character of the modern self. His first book, The Prison and the American Imagination was recently published by Yale University Press. His work on John Brown is part of a second book project, provisionally entitled The Oracle and the Curse: A Poetics of Justice, 1765-1865, about the rhetoric and reception of legal, religious, political, and literary texts in which speakers invoke a higher law as the origin of their authority.


John Stauffer
John Stauffer is Chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of seven books and more than 50 articles including his most recent book, Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (2008), which has been a Boston Globe and Amazon.com bestseller, a History Book Club featured selection, and received the Iowa Writers Award and a Boston Book Club award. His other books include The Writings of James McCune Smith: Black Intellectual and Abolitionist (2006); The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform (with Steven Mintz, 2006); Meteor of War: The John Brown Story (with Zoe Trodd); and The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (2002), which won four major awards, including the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, the Avery Craven Book Prize, and the Lincoln Prize runner-up. Stauffer's newest book, The State of Jones, was co-authored with Washington Post journalist Sally Jenkins and focuses on Unionism and interracial alliances in Civil War era Mississippi. John received his M.A. from Purdue University in 1993 and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1999, when he began teaching at Harvard.


Robert Burns Stepto
Robert Stepto is Professor of African American Studies, American Studies, and English at Yale University. He has also been the Robert Frost Professor (1995) and the Frank and Eleanor Griffiths Professor (2007) at the Bread Loaf School of English. His publications include From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative (1979; 2nd. Edition, 1991) and Blue as the Lake: A Personal Geography (1998). His edited publications include ed. w/ Dexter Fisher, Afro-American Literature: The Reconstruction of Instruction (1978), ed. w/Michael S. Harper, Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship (1979), ed. w/an introduction, afterword by Harold Bloom, The Selected Poems of Jay Wright (1987), and ed. w/Donald McQuade et al, The Harper American Literature. His articles have appeared in journals including Callaloo, New England Review, Massachusetts Review, Georgia Review, Parnassus, and the Hollins Critic. His service includes consultantships for the New York Public Library, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. At Yale, he has most recently been Chair of African American Studies (2005-2008). His most recent publication is his introduction to the 2009 John Harvard Library edition of Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself, entitled, "Frederick Douglass Writes His Story."


Wendy Hamand Venet
Wendy Hamand Venet is professor of history at Georgia State University, where she specializes in the American Civil War. Many of her publications explore the intersection of antislavery, women's rights, the Civil War and its aftermath. She is the author of "'Cry Aloud and Spare Not': Northern Antislavery Women and John Brown's Raid" (published in His Soul Goes Marching On, ed. Paul Finkelman), Neither Ballots Nor Bullets: Women Abolitionists and the Civil War, and A Strong-Minded Woman: The Life of Mary Livemore. Her most recent book is Sam Richards's Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front, which she edited for the University of Georgia Press, 2009. She is currently working on a study of Atlanta's Civil War civilians.


Kay Wright Lewis
Kay Wright Lewis holds an Andrew W. Mellon Competitive Dissertation Fellowship at Rutgers University where she is completing her PhD in the department of history in New Brunswick. Her research interests include African American intellectual and cultural history, nineteenth century US history, and the African Diaspora. She is currently examining the relationship between race, national identity, and labor in America: and how these ideas influenced discussions about ending slavery and black emancipation. Her dissertation manuscript, entitled "'A Curse Upon the Nation': Ideas about Race, Freedom, and Extermination in Antebellum America," focuses on the way that violence and the rhetoric of a war between the races shaped and helped sustain the institution of slavery in the nineteenth century. She interrogates the ways that the tactics of total warfare aligned with the political and social history of African Americans and how this particular threat of organized violence shaped their resistance to oppression and enslavement. Lewis made her teaching debut at Rutgers University where she has taught courses on race and ethnicity in US history and surveys on African American and American History.