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Conference draws international experts to explore lasting impact of ‘Lincoln’s Unfinished Work’


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Clemson professor Vernon Burton stands outside Hardin Hall on campus
Vernon Burton is a prolific author and scholar. His title “The Age of Lincoln” won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Literary Award for Nonfiction and was selected for Book of the Month Club, History Book Club and Military Book Club. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

CLEMSON — Vernon Burton, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Jr. Distinguished Professor of History at Clemson University, will host a “Lincoln’s Unfinished Work” conference Nov. 28 through Dec. 1.

Registration is required and is open to the public for the free, three-day conference that will bring more than 35 internationally renowned scholars to the Clemson University campus to explore the many dimensions of Lincoln and his legacy in current-day American society. K-12 teachers in South Carolina can receive 10 hours of professional development activity (1 CEU) for attending.

Through panel discussions and individual addresses, leading historians, authors, legal scholars and educators will address a number of issues related to political and social reconstruction spanning from 1865 to the present day.

“This is a conference that speaks to our time and will allow us to learn from our past as we move from the present into the future,” Burton said. “It is intended to drive conversations in our community about the successes we’ve had and the reality of the work left to do on the road ahead of us.”

Award-winning authors Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winner and the DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University; and Randall Kennedy, the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard University Law School, will kick off the conference at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, in Tillman Hall auditorium. Foner will speak on “The Second Founding: How the Civil War Changed the Constitution” and Kennedy will address “Optimism and Pessimism in the African American Racial Imagination.”

The conference will conclude on Saturday, Dec. 1, with a luncheon address by historian Heather Cox Richardson on “The Unfinished Work of Democracy”.

At 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, Burton, James W. Loewen (author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me”), Amanda Arroyo (Clemson University) and Paul Harleston (The Green School of Baltimore) will conduct a workshop for educators about teaching the history of race relations in secondary schools. An additional 10 hours (1 CEU) will be provided to South Carolina teachers who attend the workshop. Those who attend both can earn a total of 20 hours of professional development (2 CEU).

Sessions each day begin at 9 a.m. and will take place in the Watt Family Innovation Center, including the “Public History After Charlottesville” roundtable at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29, with panelists Loewen, Gregory P. Downs (University of California, Davis), Alan Grubb (Clemson University), Kate Masur (Northwestern University), J. Drew Lanham (Clemson University) and Adrienne Petty (College of William & Mary).

Conference speakers include:

  • Richard Carwardine, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Oxford. His research centers on the United States between 1776 and the Civil War, with a particular interest in the life, presidency and international legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
  • Catherine Clinton, Denman Chair of American History at the University of Texas-San Antonio. She is the author and editor of 25 books and has served as president of the Southern Historical Association and has taught at The Citadel, Wesleyan University, Brandeis University and Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
  • Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. Finkelman is a legal historian interested in issues of race, slavery and the Constitution. He has lectured on slavery, human trafficking and human rights issues at the United Nations, throughout the United States and in more than a dozen countries.
  • Thavolia Glymph, professor of history and law at Duke University. She was the John Hope Franklin Visiting Professor of American Legal History at Duke Law School in 2015 and was selected again this year, and is an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer.
  • Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of history at New York University. He is a specialist on the international history of slavery, emancipation and race, American empire and the social and political history of the “long 19th century” in the United States.
  • Darlene Clark Hine, the John A. Hannah Professor of History at Michigan State University and Board of Trustees Professor Emerita of African American Studies at Northwestern University. Hine was awarded the National Endowment of Humanities medal by President Barack Obama in 2014 and has served as president of the Southern Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians.
  • Stephen Kantrowitz, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History and an affiliate faculty member in the department of afro-American studies and the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He authored “More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889and “Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy,” which won several scholarly awards and was a New York Times Notable Book.
  • Marjorie J. Spruill, Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of South Carolina. Her work focuses on women and politics from the suffrage movement to the present, and also the American South. She is the author of “Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics.” The book addresses the rise of the modern women’s rights movement to a peak period of success, the mobilization of social conservatives in opposition and the impact on American political culture.
  • Gavin Wright, the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History Emeritus at Stanford University. His longstanding interest in the economy of the American South goes back to his participation in a 1963 voting rights project.

The conference and workshop, co-directed by Burton and independent historian Peter Eisenstadt, is made possible by the generous support of the Congressional Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation; the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.; South Carolina Humanities; Self Family Foundation; University South Caroliniana Society; Jean Soman; Friends of the Library and Special Collections of the College of Charleston; and, at Clemson University, the Office of Inclusion and Equity; Watt Family Innovation Center; Humanities Hub; College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; department of history and geography; College Libraries; department of English; department of sociology, anthropology and criminal justice; department of political science; the Pearce Center for Professional Communication; the Rutland Institute for Ethics; the Pan African Studies program; and the department of philosophy and religion. 

To view the schedule, register or learn more about speakers and sessions, visit


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