Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

George and Ann RichardsCivil War Era Center

Colored Conventions


“Women’s Rights & the Post-Civil War World”

September 20 and 21, 2019

The post-Civil War world witnessed an explosion of rights demands by a wide range of women—more than at any point in U.S. history.  Yet we have little history of this. Instead, the conventional story focuses on women’s suffrage as the main event, eclipsing the many other rights campaigns women launched. This workshop aims to foreground those other rights demands and spur new thinking about how we might narrate this complex expansion in women’s claims upon dignity and equality. 

Additional details, program, and participants’ bios.

Past Conferences

Rethinking Violence in African American History: History, Memory, Trauma

October 6-7, 2017, at Penn State, University Park

In 2017, the Richards Center partnered with the Department of African American Studies and the Penn State Libraries to host a two-day conference titled Rethinking Violence in African American History: History, Memory, Trauma. Nan Woodruff, Professor of African American Studies and Modern U.S. History, organized the conference, which grew out of her research into the legacies of racist violence since the Civil Rights era. The conference explored the impact of racial violence from Reconstruction through Jim Crow segregation and from the Civil Rights movement to the present. Participants included social activists, Penn State faculty, and visiting scholars from the fields of history, anthropology, political science, and law whose collective work expose the historical dimensions of racial violence in U.S. history and the terror it created. Associate Professor of History and African American Studies Crystal Sanders, Richards Center director and Ferree Professor of Middle American History William Blair, and Woodruff presented papers drawn from their current book projects. Margaret Burnham, University Distinguished Professor of Law at the Northeastern University School of Law, delivered the keynote address, “Racial Violence, Rendition, and Radical Lawyering: 1930-1960.” Dianna Freelon-Foster, a longtime Civil Rights activist, gave the closing address, advocating for the use of history to effect social change in the present. 

The conference comes at a time of growing public discourse over racism in state violence and the criminal justice system. Dr. Woodruff noted that “racial violence has been central to U.S. history since the founding of a country built on African slavery. The legacies of racial violence and terror continue to resonate in our society as revealed in the persistence of state violence, the incarceration state, and growing racial inequality.” Rethinking Violence in African American History places the contemporary discourse on racial and state violence in a historical context and focuses on the recovery of the legacy of violence and trauma that can be found in the historical memories of African American communities, families, and individuals.

View the conference program here


Remaking North American Sovereignty:  Towards a Continental History of State Transformation in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

July 30-August 1, 2015, at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada

In 2015 the Richards Center joined with the University of Calgary in organizing an international conference, Remaking North American Sovereignty: Towards a Continental History of State Transformation in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. The conference took place from July 30 to August 1 at Canada’s renowned Banff Centre, an incubator for artistic, cultural, and intellectual projects. Convening amidst the 150th anniversaries of the end of the U.S. Civil War (1865), Canadian Confederation (1867), the restoration of the Mexican Republic (1867), and the prosecution of wars and signing of treaties between these states and Native Americans, the conference discussed shared patterns of change that remade the North American map in the 1860s. More than 60 leading scholars attended from Canada, England, Mexico, and the United States to pioneer a hemispheric approach to studying the profound social, political, and governmental transformations that took place throughout the continent in the Civil War era. As the conference organizers explained, the event allowed scholars the opportunity to examine “the real interconnections across the continent” to see “an inter-related struggle to re-define the relationship of North Americans to new governments.” Plans are under way to publish material from the conference in various venues, including in a special issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era titled Crises of Sovereignty in the 1860s.

Co-sponsor Frank Towers, Associate Professor of History at the University of Calgary, noted that “the event exceeded expectations for all involved” and thanked the Richards Center for “playing the lead role in funding the conference” and making it possible.

The Richards Center’s co-sponsorship of the conference was made possible through the NEH’s Wethe People challenge grant.

View the conference program here


The World the Civil War Made, June 21-22, 2013

The World the Civil War Made, a groundbreaking conference on Reconstruction, served as the 2013 Brose Lectures. The conference brought 15 leading scholars of the Civil War era to University Park to bring fresh insights to our study of Reconstruction. Marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of Eric Foner’s trailblazing work, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, the conference assessed a generation of Reconstruction scholarship inspired by Foner’s book and its emphasis on the revolutionary transformations of the post-war period. By wrestling with the concepts of revolutionary change and continuity, the conference provoked well-developed debates that challenged conventional understandings of Reconstruction and its legacy, while laying out pathways for future research.

Pulitzer and Bancroft Prize winning historian Steven Hahn, of the University of Pennsylvania, kicked off the conference with a keynote address that reconsidered the extent of change and the persistence of continuity occasioned by Reconstruction.

The conference participants’ revised and expanded papers subsequently appeared in The World the Civil War Made, edited by Gregory Downs and Kate Masur. The twelve essays collected in the volume explore how Reconstruction re-shaped politics and governance throughout the nation following the Civil War. The World the Civil War Made was published in September 2015 by the University of North Carolina Press as part of The Steven and Janice Brose Distinguished Lecture Book Series.