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Vermont Humanities Fall Conference Explores Optimism in American History

Image of painting of man at harvestThe Vermont Humanities Council will look at how optimism has shaped America at its 45th annual fall conference November 16-17 at the University of Vermont’s Dudley H. Davis Center. The conference, called The Ebb and Flow of Optimism through American History, runs from Friday afternoon through Saturday.

The hope that tomorrow will be better than today has been a key element of America’s history, its self-image, and even its character. However, Americans have not always been optimistic. VHC’s fall conference will examine how Americans’ sense of optimism has changed during the nation’s history, and how people have responded to the good times and the bad.

“Looking at history is necessary to re-imagine our future,” said Tess Taylor, VHC’s Director of Community Programs. “I’m excited that our range of conference speakers will examine America’s historical view of itself through many lenses, including art and poetry, race and gender, and religion and philosophy. They’ll explore the uniquely American tendency toward optimism, and may even suggest ways for us to move forward as a country.”

The conference begins Friday afternoon with a choice of breakout sessions covering topics including the optimism of Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass, American utopian movements, and how to be an anti-racist in today’s America.

Friday evening, National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi will trace the history of racist ideas through American history and offer reasons to hope for the future in his plenary talk, Racist Ideas in America: From Slavery to Black Lives Matter. His talk will take place at UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel beginning at 7:30 pm.

Saturday includes three more plenary talks, beginning in the morning with Yale professor David Blight considering the ebb and flow of optimism through America’s history in his talk, Composite Nation: Can America Find a Unifying Historical Narrative Rooted in Progress?

In the afternoon, Boston College professor Heather Cox Richardson presents The American Pendulum and the Renewal of American Democracy, exploring how economic and political crises of the past inspired Americans to reclaim their government. The conference’s final plenary, Emerson and the Literary Landscape of Optimism with UVM professor Mary Lou Kete, examines Ralph Waldo Emerson’s faith in America’s future and his faith in the power of poetry.

Saturday also offers several more breakout sessions in the morning and afternoon, exploring topics such as optimism and apocalypticism, Manifest Destiny and Native writers, the birth of the Progressive Era, what the historical struggle for women’s political rights says about democratic optimism, and more.

Conference registration is $129 ($79 for students), which includes all conference sessions, continental breakfast, buffet lunch, and snacks. Registration and payment deadline is November 5; after the deadline, registrations will be accepted as space is available. Register for the conference online at vermonthumanities.org/optimism.

The Vermont Humanities Council offers a fall conference each November. The conference is an opportunity to delve into a humanities topic in depth. Recent conferences have considered technology, leadership, the legacy of the Civil War, and why stories matter.

Dr. Kendi’s appearance at the Fall Conference 2018 is made possible with support from the Vermont Community Foundation, the Fountain Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation, and Patricia Fontaine.

About the Vermont Humanities Council

A statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1974, the Vermont Humanities Council seeks to engage all Vermonters in the world of ideas, foster a culture of thoughtfulness, and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning. Because Ideas Matter.