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Bard College Hosts Bicentennial Conference on Lincoln, March 13

Two Centuries After the Birth of Abraham Lincoln, One-Day Conference at Bard Addresses the Question of Why He Still Matters

Participants Include Harold Holzer, Douglas L. Wilson, James Oakes, Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Bard Professors

Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
Bard College Hosts Bicentennial Conference on Lincoln, March 13  Image Credit: THE MESERVE-KUNHARDT FOUNDATION
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—On Friday, March 13, Bard College will host a one-day conference on America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of his birth. As our nation inaugurates a new president from Illinois and faces another significant turning point in its history, there is a great appetite for new insight into the character of Lincoln. The conference explores the ways in which Lincoln’s actions, words, and decisions—real and imagined—have had an enduring impact on America’s political and social fabric, showing how Lincoln’s ideas have profoundly shaped our national creed and why, as so many believe, he still matters.

“Lincoln has lived on in American memory more strongly than any other figure from the nation’s past,” says project director Philip Kunhardt. “Though his impact has waxed and waned over the decades, he has been brought back forcefully into a national conversation by Barack Obama. Why Lincoln has continued to exercise so much influence will be the subject of this special event at Bard College.”

The conference will focus on three major themes: “Lincoln in American Memory,” “Lincoln and Words,” and “Lincoln and Emancipation.” Prominent guest speakers will give three keynote talks followed by panel and group discussions led by Bard professors. All events are free and open to the public, and run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Olin Auditorium. For further information about the day or any part of it, contact Bard’s Office of Development and Alumni/ae Affairs at 845-758-7405.

Harold Holzer, one of the nation’s leading authorities on Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era, will participate in all sessions of the conference and will deliver the keynote address on “Lincoln in American Memory.” He currently serves as cochairman of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. The keynote speaker on the subject of “Lincoln and Words” will be Douglas L. Wilson, George A. Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College. The keynote speaker on “Lincoln and Emancipation” will be James Oakes, Professor of History at the City University of New York. The conference will be moderated by third-generation Lincoln scholar, author, and Bard Center Fellow Philip B. Kunhardt III.

In addition, three distinguished Bard College history professors—Myra Armstead, Mark Lytle, and Christian Crouch—will serve as panelists to respond to the major addresses. Noted Bard literature professor Geoffrey Sanborn will participate in the noon session.

The conference is sponsored by the Bard Center, the Bard College Historical Studies Program, the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Dutchess County.
Why He Still Matters: A Bicentennial Conference on Lincoln
Friday, March 13, 2009, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Olin Auditorium
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Lincoln in American Memory
10:00 a.m.
“Lincoln in American Memory” examines both the historical Lincoln and the mythic figure that has lived on in the national consciousness since his death. Why has this man has held such an amazing grasp upon American memory? The conference’s morning session will allow the public to better understand how professional historians work; how historical reputations are constructed and revised; and how folklore, popular culture, and scholarly history are interconnected.

Keynote Speaker: Harold Holzer
Panelists: Christian Crouch, Mark Lytle
Moderator: Philip B. Kunhardt III

Lincoln and Words
1:00 p.m.
“Lincoln and Words” examines Lincoln as a writer and public speaker. Lincoln used writing to think through difficult issues and to communicate the essential ideas of his presidency. With words he built bridges across political chasms, articulated a vision, created relationships, and paved the way for social change. This session will examine the power of Lincoln’s writing, and how words can be used in the service of leadership and teaching.

Keynote Speaker: Douglas L. Wilson
Panelists: Geoffrey Sanborn, Mark Lytle, Harold Holzer
Moderator: Philip B. Kunhardt III

Lincoln and Emancipation
3:00 p.m.
“Lincoln and Emancipation” focuses on Lincoln’s role in emancipation and on the issue of race within his political thought. As a nation we are still trying to realize the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. Moreover, we are still doing it with reference to Lincoln—and to the idea that emancipation means equality. But was Lincoln heading toward a vision of an interracial America, or did he still have doubts about those possibilities at the time of his death? We will examine Lincoln’s role in the end of slavery—from his issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation to his high-stakes labors on behalf of the 13th Amendment and ask pertinent questions about his motives and methods.

Keynote Speaker: James Oakes
Panelists: Myra Armstead, Harold Holzer, Christian Crouch
Moderator: Philip B. Kunhardt III


Philip B. Kunhardt III is the project director and moderator of this conference. Over the years he has done considerable work on the topic of Lincoln. He coauthored Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography (1992), The American President (1999), and Looking for Lincoln (2008), and is currently at work on a new book on the subject. He is the writer and coproducer of the ABC mini-series Lincoln, Discovery’s documentary on Mary Lincoln entitled The Insanity Files, and PBS’s The American President, Mandate: The President and the People, and many other films. A trustee of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, he also serves on the Board of Directors of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation. Kunhardt is currently a Bard Center Fellow.

Harold Holzer is one of the nation’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and on the political culture of the Civil War era. He currently serves as cochairman of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, a congressionally authorized commission charged with overseeing the national observance of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Holzer is Senior Vice President for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is the author of numerous books on Lincoln including Lincoln At Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President; Lincoln Seen and Heard; The Lincoln Mailbag: America Writes to the President; and Lincoln and the Popular Print.

James Oakes is Graduate School Humanities Professor and Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of acclaimed works on slavery and the South, and most recently of an important book on Lincoln and race entitled The Radical and the Republican (2007). His other books include: Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (1990) and The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders (1982, second edition 1998).

Douglas L. Wilson is the George A. Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College. He is the author of Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. Wilson’s current projects include editing, with Rodney O. Davis, a collection of William H. Herndon’s letters, lectures, and interviews about Abraham Lincoln.

Myra Armstead is a professor of history at Bard College and a faculty member of Bard’s Master of Arts in Teaching Program. Armstead is the recipient of Danforth-Compton, Josephine de Karman, University of Chicago Trustees, and New York State African-American Research Institute fellowships; and the Frederick Douglass Award from the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (Sullivan County, New York, chapter). She is Speaker in the Humanities for the New York Council for the Humanities (2003–present). Armstead is the author of “Lord, Please Don’t Take Me in August”: African Americans in Newport and Saratoga Springs (1999) and Mighty Change, Tall Within: Black Identity in the Hudson Valley (2003).

Mark Lytle is a professor of history at Bard College and a faculty member of Bard’s Master of Arts in Teaching program. He is the recipient of the Horace Kidger Distinguished Scholar Award of the New England Social Studies Council (1989) and grants from the Council on International Relations, Kellogg Foundation, and National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a member of the editorial board of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and a contributor to American Historical Review, Middle East Journal, Journal of American History, Political Science Quarterly, and Hudson Valley Review. Lytle is a member of the scholars panel for the Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt Institute. He is the author of The Origins of the Iranian-American Alliance, 1941–1953 (1987) and Shang: A Biography of Charles Wheeler (1984), and is the coauthor of several books. Lytle was a Fulbright Scholar in 2001 and has held the position of the Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History at University College in Dublin, Ireland.

Christian Crouch is assistant professor of history in Bard’s Historical Studies and American Studies programs. She received her B.A. from Princeton University and her Ph.D. from New York University. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Newberry Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Ford Foundation.

Geoffrey Sanborn is an associate professor of literature at Bard College. He has also taught at Williams College, Fairfield University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Sign of the Cannibal: Melville and the Making of a Postcolonial Reader (1998) and was the editor of the New Riverside Edition of Herman Melville’s Typee (2003). Professor Sanborn was the recipient of the 2005 Foerster Prize for best essay in American Literature; the 2002 Parker Prize for best essay in PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association of America; and the 1999 Cohen Award for best essay or chapter on Melville. Recent essays include studies of Frances Harper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Sandra Cisneros, and Emily Dickinson.

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This event was last updated on 03-10-2009