2024 Symposium

Dr. Edward Ayers

Dr. Edward L. Ayers
Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus, University of Richmond
Edward Ayers is a university professor of the humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond.  He has won the Bancroft and Lincoln Prizes for his scholarship, been named National Professor of the Year, received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama at the White House, served as president of the Organization of American Historians, and
was the founding board chair of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond. He is executive director of New American History, dedicated to making the nation’s history more visible and useful for a broad range of audiences. His latest book is American Visions: The United States, 1800-1860 (W.W. Norton, 2023)

The Erosion of the United States

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

The fissures that broke into the Civil War resulted from many pressures. The erosion of respect between the North and the South proceeded even during the years and months when political events calmed. As the abolitionist movement seemed to fade and fragment, what Frederick Douglass called “sympathies for the slave” grew in the North. As the white South’s economic power grew, so did its claims for moral superiority. These cultural developments revealed their power in the political crises of the 1850s and in the war that followed.

Past Events with the ACWM

Featured Products

American Visions: The United States, 1800-1860

With so many of our histories falling into dour critique or blatant celebration, here is a welcome departure: a book that offers hope as well as honesty about the American past. The early decades of the nineteenth century saw the expansion of slavery, Native dispossession, and wars with Canada and Mexico. Mass immigration and powerful religious movements sent tremors through American society. But even as the powerful defended the status quo, others defied it: voices from the margins moved the center; eccentric visions altered the accepted wisdom, and acts of empathy questioned self-interest. Edward L. Ayers’s rich history examines the visions that moved Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, the Native American activist William Apess, and others to challenge entrenched practices and beliefs. So, Lydia Maria Child condemned the racism of her fellow northerners at great personal cost. Melville and Thoreau, Joseph Smith and Samuel Morse all charted new paths for America in the realms of art, nature, belief, and technology. It was Henry David Thoreau who, speaking of John Brown, challenged a hostile crowd “Is it not possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong?”

Southern Journey: The Migrations of the American South, 1790–2020

Ayers’s history of migration in the South is a broad yet deep reinterpretation of the region’s past that informs our understanding of the population, economy, politics, and culture of the South today. Southern Journey is not only a pioneering work of history; it is a grand recasting of the South’s past by one of its most renowned and appreciated scholars.

What Caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History

The Southern past has proven to be fertile ground for great works of history. Peculiarities of tragic proportions―a system of slavery flourishing in a land of freedom, secession and Civil War tearing at a federal Union, deep poverty persisting in a nation of fast-paced development―have fed the imaginations of some of our most accomplished historians.