Robert C. Baron Lectures

The Robert C. Baron Lecture Lecture, inaugurated in 2004, is an annual activity of the American Antiquarian Society. Each year the Baron Lecture brings a distinguished AAS member who has written a seminal work of history to Antiquarian Hall to reflect on the book’s impact on scholarship and society in the years since its first appearance.

 

2018 - Mary Beth Norton

Breaking with the standard pattern of Baron Lectures, Mary Beth Norton (with the concurrence of AAS) discussed not one book but the four related works in which she examined aspects of the same theme: the relationship of women and the public sphere in Early America, from the beginnings of English settlement through 1800. The talk will examine the trajectory of her work and describe the surprises she encountered along the way.

The four books Norton discussed include:

  • Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (1980)
  • Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (1996)
  • In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002)
  • Separated By Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (2011)

Norton is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University, where she has taught since 1971, and current president of the American Historical Association. A distinguished scholar of women’s studies, her book Founding Mothers & Fathers was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1997 and she was a founder of the Women's Studies Program (now Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) at Cornell. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and AAS (elected 1976).


 

2017 - Robert A. Gross
Minutemen Revisited

In this lecture, AAS member Robert Gross discussed his 1976 Bancroft Prize -winning book, The Minute Men and their World. Providing a provocative and compelling look at the everyday lives of New England farmers and their community as they rebelled against Great Britain, The Minute Men and the World was reissued in a 25th anniversary edition in 2001. In the tradition of the Baron Lecture—named in honor of Robert C. Baron, the past chairman of the AAS Council—Gross will reflect on the conception of this ground-breaking work and its ongoing impact on scholarship and society.


 

2016 - Eric Foner
Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

Columbia University professor and AAS member Eric Foner (elected 1989) discussed his groundbreaking and definitive 1988 book, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. This work won the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Avery O. Craven Prize, and the Lionel Trilling Prize. Reviews of this work when it first appeared called it a “history written on a grand scale, a masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history." In the tradition of the Baron Lecture, Foner will reflect on writing this work and the book’s impact on scholarship and society in the years since its first appearance.

Foner is the author of ten other works, including: Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1970); Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (1976); Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (1980); A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877 (1990); Slavery and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America (1994); The Story of American Freedom (1998); and Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World (2002). His book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.


2015 - Linda K. Kerber
Women of the Republic

AAS Member Linda Kerber (elected 1981) discussed her 1980 book, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. This work is a landmark study of American political thought and has transformed our understanding of the Revolutionary period.

Linda K. Kerber is May Brodbeck Professor in Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Iowa. She is the author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (1998), for which she was awarded the Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in U.S. legal history and the Joan Kelley Prize for the best book in women's history (both awarded by the American Historical Association). Among her other books are Toward an Intellectual History of Women (1997) and Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America (1970). She is co-editor of U.S. History As Women's History (1995), and of the widely used anthology, Women's America: Refocusing the Past (2010).


2013 - Richard Lyman Bushman
The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities

Richard BushmanRichard Bushman’s The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992) examines the historical origins, the geographic spread, and the cultural consequences of the rise of “gentility” in early America—a complex of ideas and behaviors that encompassed how to talk, worship, and dress, how to paint your house and furnish your parlor. Combining cultural and social history with the sensitive study of material culture, The Refinement of America offers a comprehensive account of how manners and consumption were used to mark (or obscure) class boundaries from the colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century, and how these shifts interacted with the political and social transformations in early American society. In this lecture, Richard Bushman will reflect on the impact of this work that he said, “began in a museum and expanded to encompass the entire western world for three centuries and seemed to explain everything, including the author’s relationship with his mother.”

Richard Lyman Bushman is the Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University and the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Bushman's scholarship includes studies of early American social, cultural, and political history, American religious history, and the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he is a member. His publications include: From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765, which won the Bancroft Prize in 1967; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts; and Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.


2012 - Patricia Nelson Limerick
The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West

Baron Lecture BookThe Legacy of Conquest was a groundbreaking book in scholarship on the West. It examined how the environmental characteristics of the West, combined with the dynamics of the ongoing conquest of the Native Americans, helped define the history of the region. Now, twenty-five years later, Limerick shares the instructive and amusing journeys that her book undertook, reflecting on the “substantial and genuine virtue” that Legacy would have gained from time spent in Worcester. As a “big picture” historian, Limerick feels herself indebted to historians who delve deep into the archives and work closely with the actual documents and manuscripts, as well as to those who manage these collections.

Limerick is the Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between academics and the general public and to demonstrating the benefits of applying historical perspective to contemporary dilemmas and conflicts. Her other books include Desert Passages (1985) and Something in the Soil (2000). Limerick has received a number of awards and honors recognizing the impact of her scholarship and her commitment to teaching, including the MacArthur Fellowship (1995 to 2000) and the Hazel Barnes Prize, the University of Colorado’s highest award for teaching and research (2001). She regularly contributes essays to op-ed pages of local and national newspapers, and in the summer of 2005 she served as a guest columnist for The New York Times.


2011 - John Demos
The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America

Baron Lecture BookWhen Demos’s book The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America was published by Knopf in 1994, it won the Francis Parkman and Ray Allen Billington prizes in American history. Since then, it has become a model for new approaches to writing narrative history. In The Unredeemed Captive, Demos offers a striking retelling of the aftermath of the 1704 French and Native American raid on the Puritan settlement in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Reverend John Williams, his wife, and five children were captured during this raid, forever altering the bonds that held the Williams family together. Although Williams and four of his children were later released, his wife died on the march. His fifth child, Eunice, converted to Catholicism and married a Native American in Canada. Despite the ongoing attempts of Eunice’s family to persuade her to return to Massachusetts, she chose her new life, and her new family, thus remaining “unredeemed.”

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 Antiquarian Society, and he will be the Mellon Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence during the 2012 calendar year.


2010 - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812

Baron Lecture BookThe book A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 quickly became a model of social history when it was published in 1990. The book examines the life of one Maine midwife and provides a vivid examination of ordinary life in the early American republic, including the role of women in the household and local market economy, the nature of marriage, sexual relations, family life, aspects of medical practice, and the prevalence of crime and violence. The book won many awards including the Pulitzer Prize for History and the Bancroft Prize. A Midwife’s Tale was also developed into a film of the same name which aired on The American Experience television program.

The book even became the basis for a website called DoHistory (http://dohistory.org/). The site invites you to explore the process of piecing together the lives of ordinary people in the past. It is an experimental, interactive case study based on the research that went into the book and film A Midwife’s Tale. The website aims to help users learn basic skills and techniques for interpreting fragments that survive from any period in history, and to become inspired by Martha Ballard’s story to do original research on other “ordinary” people from the past.

Laurel Ulrich Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University, where she teaches in the History Department. She is also the author of Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Early New England, 1650-1750 (1982); The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (2001); and Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History (2007).


2009 - William W. Freehling
Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836

Baron Lecture BookIn 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.


2008 - David Brion Davis
The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture

Baron Lecture BookOne of the world's leading scholars of slavery and abolitionism, David Brion Davis reflected upon the influences and impact of his 1966 work The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. This study examined the various ways that different cultures responded to the contradictions of slavery from antiquity to the early 1770s. The book, which won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, inspired new approaches to the historical and sociological research of the subject and greatly expanded our collective understanding of the impact of slavery on the history of the United States, the Americas and the world.

David Brion Davis David Brion Davis is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University where he taught from 1970-2001. He is also the Director Emeritus of the Glider-Lehrman Center for Slavery, Abolition and Resistance which he founded in 1998 and ran until 2004. Winner of the Bancroft Prize, the National Book Award, and the Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association, Davis is the author of several books, including Slavery and Human Progress and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution.


2007 - William S. McFeely
Grant: A Biography

Baron Lecture BookIn 1982, William S. McFeely won the Pulitzer and Francis Parkman prizes for his book Grant: A Biography (W.W. Norton, 1981). This seminal biography of one of America's towering and enigmatic figures traced Grant's entire life from his birth in 1822 through his boyhood in Ohio to the battlefields of the Civil War and his presidency during the crucial years of Reconstruction and finally his heroic battle with cancer and death in 1885. McFeely's work is a penetrating examination of Grant's successes and failures and his extraordinary ordinariness. During his presentation at AAS, McFeely recounted some of his experiences writing the book, its reception, as well as some thoughts on the craft of biography.

William S. McFeely taught for many years at Mount Holyoke College and is the Abraham Baldwin Professor of the Humanities emeritus at the University of Georgia. His many works of biography and history include: Grant: A Biography (1981); Frederick Douglass (1991), which won the Lincoln Prize; Proximity to Death (1999); Sapelo's People: A Long Walk into Freedom (1994); Yankee Stepfather: General O. O. Howard and the Freedmen (1983); and Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins (2006).


2006 - Martin E. Marty
Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America

Baron Lecture BookMartin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he taught chiefly in the Divinity School for thirty-five years. His study, which appeared as part of a series, Two Centuries of American Life, commemorating the United States Bicentennial, was awarded the National Book Award in Philosophy and Religion in 1972.

This lecture was published in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society.


2005 - Leon F. Litwack
Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery

Baron Lecture BookOne of the foremost shapers of the new history of American slavery, Leon Litwack discussed his book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (1979).

Leon F. Litwack is Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. His many publications include North of Slavery: The Free Negro in the Antebellum North (1961) and Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (1998).


2004 - Bernard Bailyn
The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson

Baron Lecture BookWhen Bernard Bailyn's biography of the last colonial governor of Massachusetts was published in 1974, the Times Literary Supplement called it "a biography that is a work of art: exquisitely written, delicate in insight, and imbued with a wisdom about men and affairs that is the true hallmark of a great historian." The book subsequently won the National Book Award for History in 1975.

Bailyn returned to AAS to discuss his reasons for writing The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, how he interpreted Hutchinson's career as the despised anti-hero of the American Revolution, the book's original reception, and his own assessment of his work, thirty years after its publication.

Bernard Bailyn is Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, emeritus, at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of seventeen books and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) and Voyagers to the West (1986).

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