2009 Conference Overview

John Brown, Slavery, and the Legacies of Revolutionary Violence in Our Own Time: A Conference Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid

Gilder Lehrman Center’s 11th Annual International Conference
October 29-31, 2009
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Thursday, October 29, William L. Harkness Hall, Room 201 (Sudler Hall), 100 Wall Street
Friday and Saturday, October 30-31, Luce Hall Auditorium, 34 Hillhouse Avenue

Discussions of the place of violence – its forms, its causes, its justice or injustice – in American history often begin with John Brown and his exploits in Kansas and at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in the 1850s. Brown’s image has been appropriated by groups from the left and the right. He is a historical as well as a legendary figure, and often the myth overshadows the reality. This conference will explore the meaning and memory of John Brown as well as the problem of violence in American culture, past and present.

The conference opened on the evening of Thursday, October 29 with a performance of John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom by actor and playwright Norman Marshall. On Friday, October 30 and Saturday, October 31, conference panels focused on four major themes:

  • John Brown: A Problem in Biography
  • John Brown and the Arts
  • John Brown and the Legacies of Violence
  • John Brown and Abolitionism
  • Concluding Roundtable: A Problem for Our Own Time

Conference Participants