Lectures and Performances

Previous 2014 Lectures and Performances

Tuesday, March 25, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
The Drama of the Dram: A Play Reading and Conversation about Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Alcohol Past and Present

Hanover Theatre
2 Southbridge Street
Worcester, MA 01608

Drama of the DramThis program will feature professional actors reading selections from the nineteenth-century melodrama The Drunkard, interspersed with discussions about the play’s importance in American culture and attitudes about substance abuse past and present. Thomas Augst, associate professor of English at New York University, and Jim McKenna, vice president of Marketing and Development at AdCare Hospital, will lead the discussions. The temperance play The Drunkard, or The Fallen Saved by William H. Smith was written in 1844 and quickly became one of the most popular plays of the nineteenth century. It was particularly famous for its on-stage depiction of the delirium tremens. While largely forgotten today, this work continues to influence our perceptions and imaginings about substance abuse and recovery.

This program is presented in partnership with the Hanover Theatre All Access Lyceum Series and is sponsored by Adcare


Thursday, April 10, at 7:00 p.m.
“The incredible journey of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth--and its bibliographical traces”
By Kenneth Carpenter

The James Russell Wiggins Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture

Benjamin Franklin’s “Way to Wealth” began its existence in Philadelphia as the untitled preface to Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1758. Despite not having a formal title—or author’s name—and despite being published on the periphery of the British Empire, it gradually spread around the world, eventually being published in twenty-six languages, in well over a thousand appearances. Franklin’s paean to hard work and frugality was issued for a variety of audiences, from elites to peasants and servants, and in formats ranging from newspapers to advice manuals to schoolbooks. Thanks to digitization, it has been possible to produce a bibliography that describes distinct appearances, not just editions. This lecture will explain the process by which Franklin’s anonymous text spread widely and deeply into the Western world.

Kenneth Carpenter retired in 2000 after a thirty-five-year career in Harvard University’s libraries. He is the author of numerous works of bibliography and library history including Readers & Libraries: Toward a History of Libraries and Culture in America (1996), The Legacy of James Bowdoin III (1994) and Dissemination of the Wealth of Nations in French and in France, 1776-1843 (2002).

Inaugurated in 1983, the annual Wiggins Lecture honors the late James Russell Wiggins, who served as editor of the Washington Post, United States ambassador to the United Nations, and editor of the Ellsworth (Maine) American. From 1970 to 1977, he also served as head of the Council of the American Antiquarian Society.


Tuesday, April 22, at 7:00 p.m.
“Dreaming up a Nation Forever on the Move: The Strange Quest for the ‘Great American Novel’”
By Lawrence Buell
Co-sponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College

There have been hundreds of candidates for the Great American Novel in the nearly 150 years since John William DeForest first introduced the idea, but why have these books been contenders for this title? What do claims of being the GAN really mean? In this lecture based upon his recently published book The Dream of the Great American Novel (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), lecturer Lawrence Buell charts the history of the quest to write the Great American Novel and then uses this history as a platform for exploring some of the characteristic ways that GAN candidates have acted as explorations and reference points for imagining a national identity. The concept of this book originated with Buell’s 1994 James Russell Wiggins Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture.

Lawrence Buell is Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature at Harvard. He has written and lectured worldwide on American fiction, on the Transcendentalists and their legacies, and on the environmental humanities. His books include Literary Transcendentalism (1973), New England Literary Culture (1986), The Environmental Imagination (1995), Writing for an Endangered World (2001), and Emerson (2003). Before coming to Harvard in 1990, he taught for two decades at Oberlin College. He has held fellowships from the Mellon and Guggenheim foundations and from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2007, he received the Modern Language Association’s Jay Hubbell Award for lifetime contributions to American Literature scholarship. Buell was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.


Adopt-a-BookTuesday, May 6, 6-8 p.m.
Seventh Annual Adopt-A-Book Evening The Society’s 7th Annual Adopt-a-Book event, which raises funds for library acquisitions, will take place on Tuesday, May 6, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. During the evening, you will have the opportunity to view rare books, pamphlets, newspapers, prints, and manuscripts that have been recently acquired by AAS.

Adopt an item in your name or in memory/in honor of a special person. Your generous contribution will be permanently recorded on a special bookplate and in AAS’s online library catalog.

Entrance to the event is FREE if you have pre-adopted from the catalog.

You can adopt online, or if you have questions contact Lauren Hewes at lhewes@mwa.org or (508) 471-2124.

To adopt in person, come to Antiquarian Hall on May 6th (6:00-8:00 pm). Hear what library curators are buying and why. Browse the exhibition of new acquisitions and examine exclusive items which will be available for adoption the night of the event only. Otherwise, $10 entrance fee on the night of May 6, 2014.


Tuesday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m.
“‘Slavery in the Bowels of a free & Christian Country:’ People of Color and the Struggle for Freedom in Revolutionary Massachusetts”
By Thomas Doughton

Co-Sponsored by Africana Studies at the College of the Holy Cross

Regional people of color submitted three important petitions to the provincial legislature: one calling for an end of slavery in the colony, another asking that former slaves be transported back to Africa, and a third that the legislature set aside lands in the western part of Massachusetts for former slaves. This presentation will explore the relationships of people of color in central New England as “A great number of Negroes …detained in a state of Slavery” to an emerging political discourse of revolutionary freedom and racial equity in rural Massachusetts.

Thomas Doughton is the Senior Lecturer at the Center for Interdisciplinary and Special Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. He received his PhD from the Universite de Paris. Doughton specializes in the history of people of color and their relationships with whites in Central New England.

This program is being presented as part of the Worcester Revolution of 1774, a celebration of Worcester County’s overthrow of British Authority seven months before the fighting at Lexington and Concord. For further information about this project see http://www.revolution1774.org/
Worcester Revolution


Thursday, May 29, at 7:00 p.m.
“Sifting the Uneven Archive: Researching the The Forage House"
By Tess Taylor

Tess TaylorIn this program, poet Tess Taylor will recount how a residency here at the AAS helped her as she researched and wrote her latest book of poems, The Forage House. Her poems layer oral histories, documents, and folksongs to craft an exploration of her ancestors- a mix of New England missionaries and Southern slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson. Taylor's poems are as much about the imperfect material of family stories as they are about the politically charged material of history. Natasha Trethewey, our current poet laureate, described The Forage House as “a brave and compelling collection that bears witness to the journey of historical discovery. Sifting through archives, artifact, and souvenir, Taylor presents dialectic of what’s recorded and what is not, unearthing the traces that give way to her own history – and a vital link to our shared American past.” The San Francisco Chronicle called The Forage House “stunning.” The Oxford American says, “On their own, the poems are visceral, densely detailed, and frequently playful... Read together, in order, the details are illuminated by context and gain historical sweep.” Taylor researched The Forage House as a Robert and Charlotte Baron Creative Artist Fellow in 2006.

Tess Taylor’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, Boston Review, Harvard Review, Literary Imagination, The Times Literary Supplement, and The New Yorker. She currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley.


Tuesday, June 10, at 7:00 P.M.
“On the Trail of the ‘Heathen School’: Local History, American History, and World History”
John Demos

The lecture will be based on Demos's newly published book unraveling the forgotten story of a special school for “heathen youth” brought to New England in the early 19th century from all corners of the earth. Located in the little town of Cornwall, Connecticut, this uniquely fashioned institution embodied an early version of what we now call American exceptionalism. Convert them, educate them, civilize them, then send them back to found similar projects in their respective homelands, and the world will be saved in the shortest time imaginable: thus the goal of the eminent Protestant ministers in charge. After a seemingly brilliant beginning, however, the plans ran afoul of racism ̶ when some of the heathen students courted local women. The result was scandal, widespread controversy, and permanent closure of the school. In the aftermath two of the graduates, both Cherokees, returned to their Nation to lead the process of removal ̶ and paid for it with their lives. Demos will also reflect on the process of his research, including his time as a distinguished scholar at the Antiquarian Society and his visits to places central to the story. Copies of the book, entitled The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (Knopf), signed by the author, will be available for purchase after the lecture.

John Demos is the Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. Demos’s award-winning books cover topics ranging from family life in Plymouth County, Massachusetts to witch-hunting in the Western World. These works include A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (1970), the Bancroft Prize-winning Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982), Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America (2004), and The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western World (2008). Demos is a member of the American Antiquarian Society, and was the AAS-Mellon Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence during the 2012 calendar year.

Friday, September 12, 2014, at 7:00 p.m.
Cartographic Innovation in the Early Republic
By Susan Schulten

In this talk, Susan Schulten will explore how the early nineteenth century represents a new era of visual thinking. In the United States, the experimental use of maps and graphic representation was in part a way to search for order in a highly unstable moment marked by economic and diplomatic crises, the rapid addition of western territories and states, the recurrence of epidemics, and the ongoing determination to achieve cultural as well as political independence from Europe. Through innovative maps and charts of the mail, internal improvements, climate, and vegetation, several individuals sought to uncover patterns in the human and natural world. These efforts may seem unrelated, but in each case the goal was to use graphic techniques to make sense of complex systems: the geography of vegetation and its relationship to the environment; patterns and dynamics of climate; networks of transportation and communication; the arc of national history and identity. This involved the use of traditional cartographic techniques, but also the attempt to redefine the map in order to capture multiple dimensions of analysis. In a moment that evokes our own, these individuals used visual tools to navigate an increasingly complex, interdependent, and data-driven world.

Susan Schulten is professor and chair of the History Department at the University of Denver, where she has taught since 1996. She is the author of The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950 (2001) and Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (2012), both with the University of Chicago Press. In 2010, she was named a Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2013 Mapping the Nation was awarded the Norris and Carol Hundley Prize for historical scholarship. Schulten also contributes regularly to the New York Times' "Disunion" series, which commemorates the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. You can read more about her work at www.mappingthenation.com.


Monday, October 6, at 7:00 pm
Disappearing Medium: Poetry and Print in the Antebellum United States
By Meredith McGill

The thirty-first annual James Russell Wiggins Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture

Book historians have for the most part told the story of the rise of a mass-market for literature with reference to short fiction and the novel, leaving poetry curiously out of the picture until the arrival of America’s great printer-poet, Walt Whitman. And yet poetry thrived in the antebellum marketplace, circulating across a wide range of popular and elite print formats. Moreover, poetry was understood as a test case for the viability of American literature itself; many writers and readers assumed that the very possibility of a democratic culture depended on the fate of American verse. In this talk, Professor McGill will ask how we might understand the explosion of mass print as formative event in the history of American poetry, and how we might look to antebellum poetry as a primary means for taking the measure of the cultural impact of print.

Meredith McGill is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University. An elected member of the Society, she is the author of American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853 and the editor of The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange. The Wiggins Lecture, inaugurated in 1983, honors James Russell Wiggins, former editor of the Washington Post, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, and editor of the Ellsworth (Maine) American, and from 1970 to 1977, the president of the American Antiquarian Society.


Thursday, October 16, 2014, at 7:00 p.m.
Old Towns in a New Nation: New England Village Life in the Early Republic
By Mary Babson Fuhrer

We sometimes romanticize New England towns in the first decades of the nineteenth century as peaceful, bucolic havens -- they were not. In this talk, Mary Babson Fuhrer will discuss the remarkable stories of conflict and transformation that reshaped local communities in the decades leading up to the Civil War. The Boylston, Massachusetts, diaries, letters, and account books she draws on form the basis of her recent book, Crisis of Community: Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848 (2014).

Mary Babson Fuhrer is a public historian and independent scholar who lives in Littleton, Mass. She specializes in using primary sources to recover everyday lives from the past; she was recently honored by the MassHumanities with their 2014 History Commendation for 20 years of contribution to public history. Her research has been supported by MFH, Old Sturbridge Village, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the American Antiquarian Society.


Thursday, October 23, at 7:00 pm
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
By Kenneth Silverman

The eleventh annual Robert C. Baron Lecture has been postponed


Friday, October 24, 2014, at 4:00 p.m.
Performance of The Chains of Liberty
by James David Moran,

Chains of LibertyThe Chains of Liberty depicts the popular uprising that swelled throughout Worcester County in the summer of 1774 and ended all British Authority in rural Massachusetts. This play features four principal characters: Timothy Bigelow, a blacksmith and leader of the Whig resistance to British Authority. Bigelow is instrumental in forming the American Political Society, a secret organization that seeks to control town meetings and coordinates the efforts to resist the actions of both the local Tories and the British Parliament. Bigelow will eventually become a war hero fighting throughout the entire Revolution. Bigelow’s antagonist is, Timothy Paine, a wealthy loyalist. In the course of the play we watch Paine be publicly humiliated and forced to resign his positions as mandamus councilor and then as judge of the Worcester Court of Common Pleas. Yet after the war, as Bigelow dies in debtor’s prison, Paine has regained his economic and social prestige even serving as a state representative.

The Chains of Liberty also features a teenage Winslow Worcester, Timothy Paine’s black slave. Winslow seeks to determine his own place in the world and fights for his own liberty amidst so many free white men claiming to be enslaved by Parliament. And finally, The Chains of Liberty depicts Mary Stearns, a widower who runs the Kings Arms Tavern where many of the meetings of both Loyalists and Whigs take place. She is an elderly widow with no legal or political standing. The play is very interactive with the audience participating in the political meetings of the time.

Moran researched the play in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society. “Much of the play utilizes historic documents with both actors and the audience reading from the newspapers, broadsides and official transcripts of public meetings. I wanted to incorporate as much of this eighteenth century language as I could but I also wanted to convey how the “public prints” – the newspapers and broadsides were circulated and consumed by people living at the time,” said Moran.

This is the fourteenth play Moran has written. Most of Moran’s works have been commissioned and are based on historical themes. Additionally, he has created a wide variety of video, audio, and theatrical presentations for corporations, cultural institutions, and individuals. His plays, Beating the Demon, about the nineteenth century temperance orator John B. Gough, and Isaiah Thomas-Patriot Printer, about the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, are currently touring to schools and civic organizations throughout New England. He also developed an innovative radio program entitled The History Show, which appeared on 151 public radio stations in 47 states. Moran is director of outreach at the American Antiquarian Society, where he is in charge of the Society’s public programs, programs for K-12 students and teachers, and coordinates a fellowship program for creative and performing artists and writers.

The Chains of Liberty was commissioned by the Worcester Revolution of 1774 Project and was funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was first performed on September 7, 2014 as part of a daylong celebration on Worcester’s role in beginning the American Revolution. During that day the play was performed twice to full houses and given a standing ovation. The play will be directed by JT Turner and features a professional cast of actors including: James Turner, Marci Diamond, Michael Barry and Trinidad Ramkissoon. It is produced under a guest artist agreement with Actors’ Equity Association.


Thursday, November 6, 2014, at 7:00 p.m.
Sampling Urban Appetites
By Cindy R. Lobel

Chains of LibertyIn this talk Cindy Lobel, author of Urban Appetites: Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York (University of Chicago Press, 2014), will discuss the rise of New York City and the evolution of its food culture in the nineteenth century when New York grew from a small seaport to a booming metropolis. The city’s foodways changed markedly over this time period which saw the rise of restaurants and the shift from public markets to retail food shops as the main suppliers of New Yorkers’ daily food needs. By 1890, New York had the most varied and abundant food landscape in the country. But as the city and its food became increasingly cosmopolitan, corruption, contamination, and undeniably inequitable conditions escalated. Urban Appetites gives a complete picture of the times and the evolution of the city, its politics, and its eating habits.

Cindy R. Lobel teaches in the History Department at Lehman College, CUNY. She studies nineteenth-century U.S. social and cultural history, urban history, women’s history, and New York City history. Lobel conducted research for Urban Appetites as a Hench Post Dissertation Fellow in residence at AAS during the 2004-05 academic year.