2018 Conference “Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World”

Posted on June 21, 2017

Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World

 Call For Papers

In honor of the 150th Anniversary of South Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention, South Carolina’s biracial Constitutional Convention that fundamentally changed the state by ushering in legal reforms, provided for public education, expanded the franchise, and promised numerous other rights, the College of Charleston will be hosting a conference entitled “Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World.” In the decades following the 1868 conventions some of those rights guaranteed on paper by the convention would not always be protected or even remembered.

In partnership with various local, national, and international cultural heritage organizations, academic institutions, and historic sites, the Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World Program (CLAW), invite proposals for panels, and individual papers about the larger topic of gaining and losing freedoms. The conference will be held March 16th-17th, 2018.

Topics might include (but are not limited to) women’s rights; reinterpreting the Reconstruction Acts; enfranchisement and disfranchisement; access to education; civil rights activism;; the impact on people of African Descent; the ending of slavery in the Atlantic World; the meaning of emancipation; the modern legal principles Reconstruction created; Reconstruction from an international perspective; the lasting social and cultural legacies from Reconstruction; and the historical memory of the era, especially as manifested in public sites, literature, music, performance, film, and visual art. Today, Reconstruction is often seen as both a “Splendid Failure” and the foundation of the modern Civil Rights movement. As such organizers intend for proposals to take an expansive definition to Freedom, Reconstruction, and Atlantic World when considering proposals. In light of CLAW’s transnational focus we are particularly interested in papers that take a transnational or comparative approach, thinking about lessons to be learned from US Reconstruction in comparable post-conflict settlements.

Special Focus:

Mindful of the United Nations declaration of 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, and the conference location in Charleston, South Carolina, the planners particularly encourage proposals relevant to the history of Reconstruction’s race and class legacies in Charleston and historically interconnected international sites—though we welcome proposals on a range of issues related to the larger theme of gaining or losing freedom in geographic areas throughout the Atlantic World and beyond.

 Proposals, Conference Format, and Post-Conference Publication:

Please submit panel or paper proposals with session title, presentation title(s), contact information, and institutional affiliation for all participants in PDF or Word format to Adam Domby at freedomsconference@gmail.com. Deadline for proposals is September 1st, 2017. Paper proposals should be around 250 words long. Panels should include abstracts for each paper and an additional summary of the panel’s goals. As with a number of prior CLAW gatherings, this conference will take the form of a symposium where participants will discuss pre-circulated papers. Thus, if your paper is accepted, we will expect a complete version of the paper by February 1st for pre-circulation among participants. This allows presenters to pre-circulate full-length articles rather than the often-truncated versions that are read aloud. At the conference, presenters will then have a maximum of ten minutes to talk about the paper with the bulk of each session being devoted to discussion of the papers that participants will already have read.

Holding the conference in this manner allows us to move toward publication of selected papers in a greatly expedited fashion. Immediately after the conference, the organizers will complete their selection of essays to include in an edited volume. Final versions of papers for the volume will then be due some three months after the March conference (end of June 2018).


Keynote address will be given by Bruce Baker, author of What Reconstruction Meant: Historical Memory in the American South (2007), and editor of both Remembering Reconstruction: Struggles Over the Meaning of America’s Most Tumultuous Era (2017), and After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South (2013).

Some Questions to Consider:

Did Reconstruction fail? If so, why did it fail? If not, what did it accomplish?

Do we need a new interpretation of Reconstruction? Does its traditional periodization still work?

How does the public understand Reconstruction?

How does Reconstruction continue to shape popular culture?

What role does Reconstruction play in modern politics?

Reconstruction is often viewed as a southern story. Yet, the South is inherently tied to the rest of the world. How did Reconstruction impact the rest of the world?

How has Reconstruction continued to impact the Atlantic World?

How were international understandings of race and race relations shaped by Reconstruction?

How does the South’s post-emancipation experience compare to other parts of the Atlantic world’s which experienced emancipation? How does the South’s post war period compare to other parts Atlantic world that experienced similar post-war periods?

How did Reconstruction influence the Civil Rights movement?

How did education shape Reconstruction and its legacy?

How did the Civil War influence Reconstruction in ways previously unnoticed?

Public Exhibit

The College of Charleston Libraries will host an original exhibit curated by historians and archivists showcasing the documentary heritage of Reconstruction and the post-emancipation era in South Carolina and the Atlantic world. Informed by cultural heritage objects from repositories across the region, the display will offer the public the opportunity to engage with sources that inform the (re)interpretation of the freedoms gained and lost during the Reconstruction era.