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American Revolution Event Focuses on Ordinary People -- Not Founders

April 19, 2006 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A two-day conference titled “The Genius of the People: New Perspectives on the American Revolution” will explore the role that ordinary men and women -- not the Founding Fathers -- played in creating and shaping the American Revolution. The event will draw some of the nation’s most respected scholars in early American history and literature to Northwestern University’s Evanston campus for the April 28 and April 29 event.

The free and public conference is unusual not only for its focus on the role of ordinary people in the American Revolution but also for its efforts to promote innovative conversation about the American Revolution between top scholars from some of America’s outstanding universities and graduate students in history and English from Northwestern and other institutions.

“The Genius of the People” will take place in Room 108 of Harris Hall, 1881 Sheridan Road. Organized by T.H. Breen, Northwestern’s William Smith Mason Professor of American History and one of the country’s preeminent colonial scholars, and Sarah M.S. Pearsall, assistant professor of history, the conference is made possible by generous support from Northwestern’s Graduate School.

“’The genius of the people,’ a phrase widely used in the 18th century that referred to the spirit of the people, was a critical component of the American Revolution,” says Professor Pearsall. “Nonetheless, the Founding Fathers today remain a major focus in the way many people think about the Revolution. Our conference is a reminder of the many ways that all kinds of people influenced the events and ideas of the American Revolution.”

A schedule follows:


4 to 4:15 p.m., Welcoming Remarks, Sarah M.S. Pearsall, Northwestern University

4:15 to 5:30 p.m., Keynote Roundtable Panel on “Recasting Revolutions” with T.H. Breen, Northwestern University; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University; and Alfred F. Young, Northern Illinois University and Newberry Library

5:30 to 7 p.m., Reception


9 to 10:45 a.m., Panel on “Cultures of Revolution,” with chair Betsy Erkkila, Northwestern University, Papers: Sarah Knott, Indiana University, “Arranging Minds in the Culture Wars;” Heidi Kim, Northwestern University, “Freedom of Rhetoric, Rhetoric of Freedom: Mercy Otis Warren's Political Satires;” Comment: Eric Slauter, University of Chicago

11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m., Panel on  “Untold Stories from the Revolution,” with chair Ronald Hoffman, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and College of William and Mary. Papers: Woody Holton, University of Richmond, “Abigail Adams, Bond Speculator;” Christopher Sparshott, Northwestern, "Exporting the Revolution: The Popular Politics of the Loyalist Diaspora, 1783-1790;” Comment:  Jan E. Lewis. Rutgers University

2:30 to 4:15 p.m., Panel on “The Revolutionary Black Atlantic” with chair Philip D. Morgan, Princeton University. Papers: Christopher L. Brown, Rutgers University, “The British Are Coming: The Politics of Black Loyalism in the Revolution and After;” Chernoh Sesay, Northwestern, “We Have No City, No Country: The American Revolution, Black Abolitionism, and the Birth of Black Freemasonry, 1773-1807;” Comment: Sylvia Frey, Tulane University

4:30 to 5:15 p.m.: Assessing “the Genius of the People” with Northwestern’s Breen and Pearsall

5:30 to 7:15 pm: Reception in the Michigan Room of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive

For further information, e-mail d-davidson@northwestern.edu or call (847) 467-1194.

Topics: Campus Life