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2009 Public Programs

  • Adopt-A-Book Tuesday, March 31 - 6:00-8:00 p.m.
    Second Annual Adopt-A-Book Evening

    See books, pamphlets, newspapers, prints and other items that have found a home at AAS and make a contribution to help the library take in other waifs and strays. AAS curators will give a brief overview of what they buy and why. 2009 Adopt-A-Book Catalog

    The $30 entrance fee includes drinks and hors d'oeuvres. All proceeds will benefit the AAS acquisitions program for purchases in the coming year.


  • Blindspot Tuesday, April 7 - 7:30 p.m.
    Behind Blindspot

    by Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky

    Accomplished historians Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky have turned their talents to writing a novel, entitled Blindspot. Set in boisterous, rebellious Boston on the eve of the American Revolution, Blindspot is at once fiction and history, mystery and love story, tragedy and farce. Peopled not only with the celebrated Sons of Liberty but also with revolutionary Boston's unsung inhabitants—women and servants, hawkers and rogues and pickpockets—Blindspot restores the humanity, the humor, and the sex to the story of the American Revolution. In this program Lepore and Kamensky will share both the novel and the process by which it was created.

    Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and chair of Harvard's History and Literature Program. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her most recent book, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan (2005), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History; winner of the New York City Book Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Award; and an ALA Notable Book. She is also the author of A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States (2002); Encounters in the New World: A History in Documents (1999); and The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (1998), winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, and the Berkshire Prize.

    Jane Kamensky is Chair of the Department of History at Brandeis University. She is the author, most recently, of The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America's First Banking Collapse (Viking, 2008). Her other major publications include Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England (Oxford University Press, 1997); and The Colonial Mosaic: American Women, 1600-1760 (Oxford University Press, 1995). A member of the editorial boards of the Journal of American History, the Journal of the Early Republic, and the Massachusetts Historical Review, Kamensky co-founded Common-place, an award-winning online journal sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society that she and Jill Lepore created and co-edited from 2000 to 2004.


  • Samuel Adams Tuesday, April 21 - 7:30 p.m.
    Why Samuel Adams Matters
    by Ira Stoll

    When the top British general in America, Thomas Gage offered a general amnesty in June 1775 to all revolutionaries who would lay down their arms, he excepted only two men: John Hancock and Sam Adams. These two would hang. Speaking about his new book Samuel Adams: A Life, Worcester native, historian and journalist Ira Stoll will describe the pivotal role that Adams played in the fight for our nation's formation and the vital role religion played in the American Revolution. In doing so Stoll also restores Adams to the first tier of the founding fathers. As Jefferson later observed Samuel Adams was "truly the man of the Revolution."

    Ira Stoll was a founder and managing editor of The New York Sun. He has been a consultant to the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, an editor of the Jerusalem Post, managing editor and Washington correspondent of the Forward, editor of, and a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.


  • Passing Strange Wednesday, May 6 - 7:30 p.m.
    Passing Strange
    By Martha A. Sandweiss

    Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth century Western history; a brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist, best-selling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War. Secretary of State John Hay named King "the best and brightest of his generation." But King had a secret: for thirteen years he lived a double life—as the celebrated white explorer, geologist and writer Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steel worker named James Todd. In this lecture, based upon her latest book, Sandweiss reveals how she uncovered the life that King tried so hard to conceal from the public eye.

    Martha A. Sandweiss is professor of history at Princeton University. She previously taught for twenty years at Amherst College. She is the author or editor of numerous books on American history and photography including Print the Legend: Photography and the American West (2002), winner of the Organization of American Historians' Ray Allen Billington Award for the best book in American frontier history and the William P. Clements Award. Her other works include Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace, winner of the George Wittenborn Award for outstanding art book of 1987. She has also co-edited The Oxford History of the American West (1994), recipient of the Western Heritage Award and the Caughey Western History Association prize for the year's outstanding book in Western history.


Fall 2009

  • Friday, October 16, 2009 6:00 p.m.
    The 27th Annual Wiggins Lecture
    Catching His Eye:
    The Sporting Male Pictorial Press in the Gilded Age

    by Joshua Brown

    The post-Civil War pictorial press covered the gamut of the American reading public, but few publications were as brazen as illustrated sporting papers. Depicting blood sports, sex, scandal, crime, and, less predictably, current events, these weeklies reveled in impropriety and outrage and were ubiquitous in bars, barbershops, hotel lobbies, liveries, clubs, and other male enclaves. This lecture examines the two most prominent pictorial sporting weeklies, the National Police Gazette and The Days' Doings, and the vision of Gilded Age America they offered to a distinctly male readership.

    Joshua Brown Joshua Brown is executive director of the American Social History Project and professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is author of Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America (2002), co-author of Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction (2005), and executive producer of award-winning Web projects, including History Matters, The Lost Museum, The September 11 Digital Archive, and Picturing U.S. History. His illustrations and cartoons appear regularly in print and online.

    This is the twenty-seventh annual Wiggins Lecture, named for James Russell Wiggins (1903-2000), chairman of the Society from 1970 to 1977, who was editor of the Washington Post and, until his death at the age of 96, editor of the Ellsworth (Maine) American. Wiggins also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1968.


  • Thursday, October 22, 2009 7:30 p.m.
    The 6th Annual Baron Lecture
    The Nullification Crisis — and the Causes of the Civil War — Revisited
    by William W. Freehling

    William Freehling In his 1965 study Prelude to Civil War, one of the most distinguished historians of the Civil War era William Freehling, painted a vivid picture of a pivotal early sectional crisis between the North and the South: the Nullification Controversy of 1832-3. The crisis pitted President Andrew Jackson and the Union against John C. Calhoun and the most extreme southern state, South Carolina. Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836 examined how the reversal of South Carolina's economic fortunes, fears of slave rebellions, and guilt over slavery contributed to the crisis and the near session of South Carolina from the Union. Considered one of the finest studies of the antebellum period, the book won the Bancroft and the Allan Nevins History prizes. In this lecture, Professor Freehling will describe the inspirations for writing the book, reexamine his thesis of the centrality of slavery to this crisis and how it served as a window on all the slavery controversies to come, and reflect on the nature of writing history.

    William W. Freehling is Singletary Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at the University of Kentucky and Senior Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He is the author of eight books including: The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War, The South vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War and The Road to Disunion, Volume I: Secessionists at Bay and The Road to Disunion, Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant.

    Named in honor of Robert C. Baron, past AAS chairman and president of Fulcrum Publishing, the annual Baron Lecture asks distinguished AAS members who have written seminal works of history to reflect on one book and its impact on scholarship and society in the years since its first appearance.

  • In Cheap We Trust Tuesday, November 17, 2009 7:30 p.m.
    From Cheap-Jacks to Scrooge McDuck: A Brief History of Cheapness and Thrift in America
    by Lauren Weber

    Where's the boundary between thrift and miserliness? What happened to the frugal habits Americans adopted during the Depression? How did thrift, once a heroic national virtue, come to be seen after World War II as a character flaw and an affront to the American way of life? Is frugality a virtue or a vice during a recession?

    In answering these questions, journalist Lauren Weber, author of In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue (Little, Brown, September 2009), will offer a colorful ride through the history of frugality in the United States, from colonial days to our current recession-driven enthusiasm for low-cost living. She.ll explore the roots of Americans. complicated relationship with spending and saving, touching on the non-importation movements of the 1760s and 1770s, Ben Franklin's political economy, Hetty Green (the late nineteenth-century financier named "the world's greatest miser" by the Guinness Book of Records), and the branding of Jewish and Chinese immigrants as cheap in order to neutralize the economic competition they were thought to represent.

    Lauren Weber was formerly a staff reporter at Reuters and Newsday. She has also written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Lauren graduated from Wesleyan University and was a Knight-Bagehot fellow at Columbia University. She lives in New York City.

John Brown and New England

A series of public programs commemorating the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry


"The Harper's Ferry Insurrection" from Frank Leslie's Illustrated, October 29 1859


  • Wednesday, October 28, 2009 7:30 p.m.

    The Kaleidoscope of History:
    John Brown after Fifteen Decades

    by Bruce Ronda

    Bruce Ronda, the author of Reading the Old Man: John Brown in American Culture, (University of Tennessee Press, 2008) will provide an overview of the ways John Brown has been understood and portrayed, first in New England, and then nationally, from 1859 onward by focusing on four creative individuals — Henry David Thoreau, John Greenleaf Whittier, Jacob Lawrence, and Robert Hayden. This lecture will also suggest the deep moral and political questions that Brown's career posed to Massachusetts citizens in 1859 and continue to pose to Americans today, including: what do we do when law and justice seem in conflict? What justifies breaking the law? How might we understand the motives of those who choose to break the law in the name of a .higher law.? What role did religion play in motivating John Brown, and what role does it have for those who desire to change or challenge society and its culture? And finally, what perspectives do the creative arts and artists bring to these social and political questions, as they explore the nuances, complexities, and contradictions of such cultural icons as John Brown?

    Bruce Ronda is professor and chair of the Department of English at Colorado State University where he teaches American literature and culture, particularly of the nineteenth century. In addition to Reading the Old Man, Professor Ronda is also the author of Intellect and Spirit: The Life and Works of Robert Coles and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: A Reformer on Her Own Terms. He is the editor of The Letters of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: American Renaissance Woman. Ronda has also written various journal articles and reviews that have appeared in Emerson Society Quarterly, American Transcendental Quarterly, and other journals.


  • Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:30 p.m.
    at Mechanics' Hall, Main Street, Worcester

    Defending John Brown:
    Henry David Thoreau and Worcester's Reform Tradition

    by Kevin Radaker and Edmund A. Schofield

    Radaker as Thoreau On November 3, 1859, Henry David Thoreau delivered his impassioned lecture "A Plea for Captain John Brown" in Mechanics Hall's Washburn Hall. To commemorate this event, nationally- known Thoreau re-enactor Kevin Radaker will portray Thoreau in a one-person dramatic presentation. Weaving together passages from Thoreau's writing with biographical and historical information, Radaker skillfully presents Thoreau's personality, intellect and wit, making the audience feel that they are in the presence of the actual man. This performance will stress Thoreau's political views and will contain selections from Thoreau's famous speech defending John Brown. The dramatic monologue will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Thoreau, then with Radaker. Additionally, Edmund Schofield will present a brief overview of Worcester in the nineteenth century and why this community was a center for anti-slavery and other reforms in the mid-nineteenth century.

    Kevin Radaker is professor of English and Chair of the English Department at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. Since 1991, he has presented his portrayal of Thoreau over 350 times throughout the United States at universities, colleges, libraries, state and national parks, and his "Thoreau" has been a part of summer Chautauqua tours in the Great Plains states, Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Maryland, Ohio and Colorado. In addition, Professor Radaker has presented numerous papers on Thoreau at academic conferences, and he has published articles on Thoreau, Herman Melville, Annie Dillard, and Wendell Berry in encyclopedias and academic journals.

    Edmund A. Schofield is an independent scholar who has spent over forty years studying and writing about Thoreau and Worcester's nineteenth-century history. A former president of the Thoreau Society, Dr. Schofield has organized several Thoreau symposia and edited Thoreau's World and Ours: A Natural Legacy.


  • Friday, November 6, 2009 7:30 p.m.

    Warriors for Freedom:
    John Brown and Henry David Thoreau

    by David S. Reynolds

    David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights (Knopf, 2005), will describe how the Transcendentalists were the boldest and most publicly visible proponents of John Brown in the immediate aftermath of Harpers Ferry. Virtually everyone in the North, including radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, initially reacted negatively to Brown's attack on Virginia. Henry David Thoreau stood alone in coming out immediately and eloquently on Brown's behalf and planted the seed for the mass veneration of John Brown that grew steadily in the months before and after John Brown's execution on December 2, 1859. Focusing on three newly discovered letters housed at the American Antiquarian Society and written by Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Reynolds will argue that if it had not been for the positive reception and promotion of John Brown by Thoreau and other Transcendentalists, Brown may very well have passed into obscurity as a solitary, crazed anarchist.

    David S. Reynolds is distinguished professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His cultural biography John Brown, Abolitionist won the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award and was the most widely reviewed book in American in the spring of 2005. Professor Reynolds has authored or edited a dozen other books, including Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, Walt Whitman's America, and Beneath the American Renaissance. Among the awards his books have won are the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.


Dr. Ronda and Dr. Reynolds will also present their lectures at the Massachusetts Historical Society on October 27th and November 7th respectively. Kevin Radaker will perform Henry David Thoreau in Boston at the Old South Meeting on November 2nd, at noon and at the First Parish Church in Concord on October 30th at 7:30 p.m.

"John Brown Ascending the Scaffold Preparatory to Being Hanged"
from Frank Leslie's Illustrated, December 17, 1859

John Brown and New England is a collaborative project of the American Antiquarian Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Thoreau Society, Worcester State College, and Mechanics Hall. This program is funded in part by the Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mass Humanities .A Commonwealth of Ideas



When the AAS was founded in 1812, and for much of the nineteenth century, most educated men and women took an interest in history as one of the obligations of being citizens in the American republic. As the writing and teaching of history became increasingly professionalized and specialized in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, gaps developed between academic historians and the general public.

As one of the few American learned societies whose membership rolls include a substantial proportion of lay people as well as scholars, AAS is committed to help bring the work of American historians before the general public--to connect scholars and citizens, in other words. AAS public programs spotlight the work not only of historians but also of creative and performing artists and writers who have performed research at the Society.

Programs include a wide variety of events, including lectures, book discussions, theatrical and musical presentations, and film showings. Some of these public programs reach wider audiences by being taped for presentation of National Public Radio and on the weekend Book TV programming of the national cable network C-SPAN 2.


John Brown and New England A series of public programs commemorating the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry



Programs take place in Antiquarian Hall, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, unless otherwise noted.

For a complete listing of upcoming events at AAS, please view our calendar

For further information about our public programs, contact James David Moran at jmoran[at] or call our main number at 508-755-5221

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The American Antiquarian Society is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency that supports public programs in the arts, humanities, and sciences.
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Last updated October 21, 2009

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