2017 Annual Symposium: Reconstruction

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society will present its annual symposium May 11 and 12 on Capitol Hill. Scholars from around the country will start to explore the post-Civil War period in “Congress Begins to Reconstruct the Nation.” The event is free and open to the public, but PRE-REGISTRATION is recommended.

symposium postcard

Columbia University’s Eric Foner will deliver the keynote address, “The Significance of Reconstruction in American History,” on Thursday, May 11 at 6:30 pm.

NEW LOCATION: The keynote will be held in the Capitol Visitor Center, Room HVC 201-AB, and will be preceded by a reception at 6 pm. Enter through main CVC entrance near First and East Capitol Streets. Please note: there are now additional restrictions (https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/plan-visit/prohibited-items) on what you may bring through security. Registration opens at 6 pm; lecture at 6:30.

On Friday, May 12, from 8:45 am to 4 pm, six additional speakers will cover a range of topics related to early Reconstruction. Symposium Co-Directors Paul Finkelman and Brook Thomas will both present. Other speakers include L. Diane Barnes, Spencer Crew, Lucy Salyer, and Michael Vorenberg. This day-long event will be held in the Russell Senate Office Building, Room 485.

To pre-register, click here or email your contact information to uschs@uschs.org, along with the names of any guests and the portions of the event you plan to attend. Can’t make it to the program? We’ll be live-tweeting as much as we can from @USCapHis #reconstructionhistory.

Tentative Schedule

Thursday, May 11
6 pm Opening Reception
6:30 pm Keynote Address by Eric Foner (Columbia University)
“The Significance of Reconstruction in American History”

Enter through main CVC entrance near First and East Capitol Streets.

Please note: there are now additional restrictions (https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/plan-visit/prohibited-items) on what you may bring through security.

Friday, May 12
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 485
Best entrance: Constitution Ave. and First St. NE; use Union Station or Capitol South metro; street parking can be difficult but you can validate two hours of parking at Union Station at the machine inside the station.

8:45 am Opening and Introductions

9-11:30 am Morning Session
Paul Finkelman, John E. Murray Visiting Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
“Thaddeus Stevens, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, and the Revolution of 1866”

Brook Thomas, University of California at Irvine
“Horatio Bateman’s “Reconstruction” (1867): A Utopian Vision of North/South Reconciliation and Equality”

Michael Vorenberg, Brown University
“The Fourteenth Amendment as an Act of War”

1-4 pm Afternoon Session
Spencer Crew, George Mason University
Depicting Reconstruction at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

L. Diane Barnes, Youngstown State University
“Frederick Douglass’s Reconstruction: Toward a New National Era”

Lucy Salyer, University of New Hampshire
“Reconstructing Citizenship: The Forgotten Right of Expatriation”


Symposium Co-Directors

Paul FinkelmanPaul Finkelman is the John E. Murray Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He has published more than 200 scholarly articles and books on the law of American slavery, the First Amendment, American race relations, American legal history, the U.S. Constitution, freedom of religion, baseball and the law, and a biography of Millard Fillmore. His work on legal history and constitutional law has been cited four times by the United States Supreme Court, numerous other courts, and in many appellate briefs. Finkelman has most recently served as scholar-in-residence at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and as a senior fellow in the University of Pennsylvania Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and the Constitution. He has previously served as a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Duke Law School, Miami Law School, and Brooklyn Law School, and served as a tenured professor of law and the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy from 2006-2013 at Albany Law School.

Brook ThomasBrook Thomas’s most recent publications include Civic Myths: A Law and Literature Approach to Citizenship (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and “The Unfinished Task of Grounding Reconstruction’s Promise” (The Journal of the Civil War Era, 2017). Now at the University of California at Irvine, most of his research has been on US law and literature and literature and history. He is adamantly opposed to a reflection theory of literature; instead, he is fascinated with how, by creating imaginary worlds, literary works make political arguments, not by arguing a thesis, but by formally placing the various forces at play in a period in different proportions and relations. “Cross-examining” the law and literature of a period allows exploration of how difficult it is to find remedies for wrongs, even those universally condemned today. His newer work, “The Ambassadors of Reconstruction,” explores how Reconstruction’s politics and memory of its politics affected US foreign policy. He has held numerous fellowships, including Von Humboldt Fellow; Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow; ACLS Fellowship; and NEH Fellowship.

Keynote Speaker

Eric FonerEric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, specializes in the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and 19th-century America. He is one of only two persons to serve as president of the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians. He has also been the curator of several museum exhibitions, including the prize-winning “A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln,” at the Chicago Historical Society. His book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Lincoln prizes for 2011. His latest book is Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. He received BAs from Columbia College and Oxford University and earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Symposium Speakers

L. Diane Barnes, Editor in Chief of the Western Antislavery Papers, is professor of history at Youngstown State University. She has worked as an editor or consulting editor of the Frederick Douglass Papers since 1998, and as editor of Ohio History (2008-2016). She is author or editor of five books, The American Story (Bridgepoint Education, 2015); Frederick Douglass, A Life in Documents (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2014); Frederick Douglass: Reformer and Statesman (Rutledge, 2013); The Old South’s Modern World’s: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress (co-edited with Frank Towers and Brian Schoen, Oxford, 2011); Artisan Workers in the Upper South: Petersburg, Virginia, 1820-1865 (Louisiana State Univ., 2008).

Spencer CrewSpencer Crew is a Robinson Professor at George Mason University; he previously worked in public history institutions for more than 25 years. He served as president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for six years and worked at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution for 20 years, serving as the director for nine years. Crew has published extensively in the areas of African American and Public History. Among his publications are Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915-1940 (1987) and Black Life in Secondary Cities: A Comparative Analysis of the Black Communities of Camden and Elizabeth, N.J. 1860 – 1920 (1993). He co-authored The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden (2002) and Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives (2002). He graduated from Brown University and holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Rutgers University.

Lucy SalyerLucy Salyer is an associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in the social and legal history of immigration and citizenship in the United States after the Civil War. She is the author of Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law (University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Salyer earned her doctorate from the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at the University of California at Berkeley in 1989. She serves on the board of directors of the American Society for Legal History and on the editorial board of Law and History Review. She has received numerous awards, including the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Prize from the Immigration History Society in 1995 for the best book on immigration history. She currently holds the Arthur K. Whitcomb Professorship at the University of New Hampshire and held a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies for 2003–2004.

Michael VorenbergMichael Vorenberg received his A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard. He was an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Buffalo and began teaching at Brown University in 1999. His first book, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Cambridge University Press, 2001) was a finalist for the Lincoln Prize and was used liberally for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln (2012). Currently, he is at work on books about the ending of the Civil War and the impact of the Civil War on American citizenship. He has published numerous essays and articles on topics ranging from Lincoln’s plans for the colonization of African Americans to the meaning of rights and privileges under the Fourteenth Amendment. From 2004 to 2007, Vorenberg was a member of Brown University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.