The Institute for Honor Symposium

Frederick Douglass And
The Ethics of Historical MemoryMarch 5, 2021 - VIRTUAL EVENT

“Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature.”

Frederick Douglass, Blessings of Liberty and Education (1894)

For the 2021 Institute for Honor, we pause to reexamine one of America’s greatest orators and most perceptive autobiographers, the African-American leader Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). During the course of his fascinating life, Douglass, an escaped slave born in Talbott County, Maryland emerged as one of America’s deepest thinkers on the ethical questions surrounding American identity, on race, and on the issues of racial inequality in the nineteenth-century United States. A study of his life is indeed a study of how our nation encounters and addresses one of the great ethical challenges of American history, how Americans reckon with the legacy and memory of enslavement. Douglass was, as historian David Blight offers, “a living prophet” of the American historical experience.

From political outsider and radical abolitionist to political insider and Republican Party functionary, Douglass underwent his own evolution during the Civil War era. It is that inner Douglass of deep self-introspection, a person willing to challenge oneself to new heights, that Blight beckons us to seek out in his writing on Douglass’s life. Blight carefully reminds us that Douglass and his ideas have been appropriated by a wide range of influential figures from across the political and ideological spectrum during the course of the twentieth and twenty-first century as well. He was called by one influential writer “the greatest American of all time.” The radicalism of his early abolitionism has been overlooked by some thinkers, his commitment to self-reliance overlooked by others. But, all of these ideas were bound up in the mind of this complex intellectual. Douglass, the man, was a remarkable person who lived through extraordinary times and events, but he was also, as David Blight reminds us, “thoroughly and beautifully human.” Blight tells us he understood “the multiply meanings of freedom…as perhaps no one else ever has in America.”

Our 2021 IFH keynote speaker Dr. David W. Blight is Sterling Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. In October of 2018, Simon and Schuster published his biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, which has won numerous book awards including the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, the Bancroft Prize for History, and the Francis Parkman Prize. Blight is also the author of Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (1989); Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), which garnered eight book awards including the Bancroft Prize, the Merle Curti Award, the Abraham Lincoln Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize. He previously taught at North Central College in Illinois, at Harvard University, and at Amherst College. At the beginning of his career, he spent seven years as a high school history teacher in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. He was an undergraduate at Michigan State University and completed his Ph. D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Speakers

David W. Blight

David W. Blight is Sterling Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He previously taught at North Central College in Illinois, at Harvard University, and at Amherst College. In October of 2018, Simon and Schuster published his new biography of Frederick Douglass, entitled, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, which has won over seven book awards including the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, the Bancroft Prize for History, and the Francis Parkman Prize. Blight is also the author of Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (1989); Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), which garnered eight book awards including the Bancroft Prize, the Merle Curti Award, the Abraham Lincoln Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize; A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation (2008), which won the Connecticut book award for best book in non-fiction; and American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (2011), which won the Aniston-Wolf Prize in non-fiction for best book on race and racism. He has edited some six books, including editions of Frederick Douglass's Narrative and My Bondage and My Freedom; W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk; and Robert Penn Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro. Blight is featured in many documentary films on American history on PBS, the BBC, and other networks. He wrote one of the chapters for the book, To Dream A World Anew: A History of the African American People, a companion volume for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He writes frequently for the popular press, including the Atlantic, the New York Times, and many other journals. Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. His lecture course on the Civil War and Reconstruction Era at Yale is on Yale's open courses website. Blight has always been a teacher first. At the beginning of his career, he spent seven years as a high school history teacher in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. He was an undergraduate at Michigan State University and did his Ph. D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Barton Myers

Barton A. Myers is the Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics and History, associate professor of Civil War history and director of the Institute for Honor at Washington and Lee University. He is the author of the award-winning Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861–1865 (LSU Press, 2009) and Rebels against the Confederacy: North Carolina's Unionists (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), as well as co-editor with Brian D. McKnight of The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War (LSU Press, 2017). Myers received his B.A. from the College of Wooster and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. He teaches a number of popular American military history and public history courses, including his intensive battlefield travel course "The Art of Command During the American Civil War." In 2008–2009, he was a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation fellow for his research on violence, aggression and dominance. More recently, he served as a historian in the History Channel's documentary on the life of President and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant produced by historian Ron Chernow and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

 

Schedule of Events

2:15 PM - Program Welcome and Introduction
Barton Myers, Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics and History

2:30 PM - Keynote Address
"
Frederick Douglass and the Ethics of Historical Memory"
David Blight, Sterling Professor of History, Yale University

 

 

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