CLAW 2018 Conference: A Preview of “Freedoms Gained and Lost”

CLAW 2018 Conference: A Preview of “Freedoms Gained and Lost”

Reconstruction Era scholars are about to converge on Charleston, South Carolina.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention, scholars, public history practitioners, civic leaders, cultural heritage organizations, and other interested individuals will convene at the College of Charleston for the 2018 Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Conference (CLAW).

The three-day event from March 16-18 will include plenaries, panel presentations, and cultural tours of area heritage sites centered on the theme – “Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World.” The timing of the conference theme is quite fitting. Recent discussions over the public and scholarly meanings of Reconstruction and the future of Reconstruction Studies has been at the fore of the sesquicentennial celebrations. Lively discussions are expected.[1]

Today, I share an interview with one of the conference organizers. Adam Domby is an assistant professor at the College of Charleston. As a Civil War, Reconstruction, and American South scholar, his research focuses on how southerners fought their neighbors during the American Civil War and examines the legacy of those local fights that civil wars inevitably create. His current book manuscript project centers on the role these conflicts played in three divided southern communities during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He also currently has a book manuscript under review, tentatively titled The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Thank you for agreeing to talk to me. Why this particular theme?

For starters, we realized a need to garner attention on Reconstruction. Historians and the public spent so much time on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Then April 2015 came along and it all stopped. But 150 years ago, history didn’t stop. As we have seen with recent work by numerous historians the conflicts did not just disappear. My own dissertation was on the topic of how the war time divisions continued to influence society during Reconstruction, so I felt we needed to keep examining Reconstruction.  The fact that we were just ignoring Reconstruction, which arguably had an even greater impact on aspects of American history (for example legal history) seemed like an oversight.

Additionally, many Americans clearly have very little understanding of the time period.  Combined with President Obama’s designation of a long overdue Reconstruction Era National Monument, Charleston seemed the perfect location for such a conference. By falling on the anniversary of South Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention, we have paired the event with the dedication of a new state historic marker commemorating that momentous event.

Back when I was an undergraduate David Blight said something that really stuck with me: Reconstruction was “was one long, ten, eleven year agonizing referendum on the meaning of the war.  What had the war meant?”[2] How could we, as a society, spend four years celebrating a bloody war and skip the era when we find out what the war was for. The ongoing debates about Confederate monument are in many ways also a debate about the legacy of Reconstruction as they are about the war.  As for the actual theme of “Freedoms Gained and Lost,” many of the crucial political, social, cultural, and legal disputes of the period, especially the ones that are still impacting society today, largely revolved around the meaning of freedom, and who was entitled to which freedoms.

Most years CLAW hosts a conference with a unique theme. For example, in 2019 the College of Charleston and CLAW will be hosting one on “The Vesey Conspiracy at 200: Black Antislavery and the Atlantic World.” The call for papers is open until February 28, 2018 for anyone wanting an excuse to visit Charleston.[3] At the 2011 conference was on the Civil War as a Global Conflict, there were numerous discussions about how the war did not end really end at Appomattox, and so since then CLAW had planned to hold one on Reconstruction.[4]

The conference has attracted an impressive slate of Reconstruction-Era scholars. Are there any panels, papers, and/or addresses that you are most excited for attendees to see?

I am actually saddened I can’t attend every panel. There are so many good papers that it is hard to pick out just a few. When we saw how many people had applied, we realized how much this conference was needed and actually added a day to our original schedule to accommodate additional speakers but still had to turn down a lot of great proposals.  Clearly people were excited for an opportunity to bring Reconstruction scholars together. Normally, Reconstruction is just crammed into Civil War conferences, but this time the focus will be on Reconstruction.

A few highlights of the conference include an opening plenary on W.E.B. DuBois’s Black Reconstruction, Bruce Baker’s keynote on “Who was Reconstruction for?”, and fascinating panels on memory, new approaches to Reconstruction violence, and one on education. I am sure many people will be excited to watch the plenary featuring Eric Foner, Kate Masur, and many of the key individuals involved with the creation of Reconstruction Era National Monument.

I think one of the most exciting aspects is the international component. All too often historians see the story of Reconstruction as a story of the South. Recently, historians have been pushing us to look westward and northward.[5] Allen Guelzo declared “It is time to bring Reconstruction home to us all, not as a Southern event or even the shadow of a European one, but as a uniquely American one, on an American landscape.”[6] While I appreciated his call for more attention to Reconstruction, this conference will challenge that assumption that Reconstruction is just an American story. We have so many panels that include international and transatlantic elements of Reconstruction. Papers will touch on how Ireland, Benin, Mexico, Spain, France, Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, and even Australia, just to name a few, were either influenced by Reconstruction or had their own similar experiences that provide a comparative lens to understand America’s experiences.

I am excited for the concluding conference event. What do you hope that people gain from going to Reconstruction Era National Monument, especially with recent discussions of the historian’s role in pubic engagement?

I hope that along with a potential field trip to see Reconstruction Era National Monument the conference will both inspire scholars and give them the tools necessary for more public engagement.  Reconstruction is so often an overlooked period of history; so historians have an opportunity to help reach the public. On the first day of the conference, we will be dedicating a historic marker in downtown Charleston along a main carriage tour route. The second day includes a plenary on Reconstruction Era National monument, and the final day will have a panel on future plans for interpreting Reconstruction in South Carolina, followed by a trip to Beaufort. Reconstruction is not just a South Carolina story, though. I hope the dedication, panels, and trip will help historians bring Reconstruction history to their local communities.

Any information that you would like to share for participants and possible attendees?  

Scholars, both junior and senior, should consider attending!  This is probably the biggest conference devoted to Reconstruction in years. This is a great opportunity to see the latest cutting-edge Reconstruction research. We have kept the registration fees low. Papers are being pre-circulated so register early.  If anyone has questions, they can email Simon Lewis and I at freedomsconference@gmail.com. Hope to see everyone in March! Also we hope to publish as edited volume, so be on the lookout.


Thank you Adam and other CLAW organizers for providing a space for new scholarship, approaches, and essential conversations for addressing the scope, content, and directions of Reconstruction Studies and public engagement. My next post will reflect on the conference and early scholarly attempts to address the future directions of the field. For current schedule and registration information, see http://claw.cofc.edu/conferences/2018-conference-freedoms-gained-and-lost-reinterpreting-reconstruction-in-the-atlantic-world/.

See you in Charleston!

 

 

[1] Luke Harlow, “Introduction to Forum: The Future of Reconstruction Studies,” Online Forum: The Future of Reconstruction Studies, Journal of the Civil War Era, https://journalofthecivilwarera.org/forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies/; Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle, “When the South Was the Most Progressive Region in America,” The Atlantic, January 17, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/when-the-south-was-the-most-progressive-region-in-america/550442/.

[2]David Blight, “Lecture 21 – Andrew Johnson and the Radicals: A Contest over the Meaning of Reconstruction,” HIST 119: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877, Open Yale Courses, https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-119/lecture-21.

[3] For the 2019 CLAW Conference CFP, see https://networks.h-net.org/node/2606/discussions/1259568/deadline-extended-vesey-conspiracy-200-black-antislavery-and.

[4] The volume from that conference is David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis, eds., Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014).

[5] Elliott West, “Reconstruction in the West,” Online Forum: Future of Reconstruction Studies, Journal of the Civil War Era,, https://journalofthecivilwarera.org/forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies/reconstruction-in-the-west/. One excellent example is Heather Cox Richardson, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

[6] Allen Guelzo, “The History of Reconstruction’s Third Phase,” History News Network, February 4, 2018, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168010.

Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is an Associate Professor of History in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

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