2020-2021 Seminar Schedule

Spring Semester 2021


Vagrants and Vagabonds: Povery and Mobility in the Early American Republic

February 5, 2021, 9am-2:30pm

Kristin O'Brassill-Kulfan, Coordinator & Instructor of Public History, Rutgers University

This workshop will explore the history of the criminalization of homelessness in the United States. Focusing on the experiences of people classified in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as "vagrants" and "paupers", we will work through the legal and social contexts in which systems of welfare and punishment operated.  We will consider issues of freedom of movement, slavery, race, class, gender, immigration, and labor during the first several decades of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York's existence. Through case studies, demographic data, and hands-on work with primary sources from almshouses, jails, and legal officials in the early nineteenth century, we'll lay out the case for arguing that the policing of vagrancy and the mobility of people experiencing poverty were key functions of local and state municipal authority in the early American republic.


Lincoln and the Civil War

February 12, 2021, 9am-2:30pm

Louis Masur, Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History, Rutgers University

Lincoln once proclaimed that "the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present." In this workshop we shall examine Lincoln's ideas about nation, secession, slavery, emancipation, democracy and peace. His beliefs never remained static and he changed his mind in response to changing conditions. We will pay particular attention to his ideas for how to reconstruct the nation once the war was over, ideas he did not live to see come to fruition.


Medical Ethics in times of Pandemic

March 3, 2021, 9am-2:30pm

Johanna Schoen, Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

 This seminar will explore issues of medical ethics by looking at the history of epidemics and pandemics, including COVID-19


Inventing America: Thomas Edison and the History of Technology and Industry

April 12, 2021, 9am-2:30pm

Paul Israel, Research Professor, And Director and General Editor, Thomas Edison Papers Project, Rutgers University

The Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers is documenting the career of the famous inventor and of his many technological innovations. These are not only of national and international importance, but they also have special significance for the history of New Jersey, where Edison lived and worked from 1870 until his death in 1931.  Edison helped to invent industrial research at his laboratories in Newark, Menlo Park, and West Orange. And the inventions developed in his laboratories laid the foundation for three major industries—electric light and power, sound recording, and motion pictures—and  contributed to many others, including telecommunications, electric batteries, electric automobiles, mining, cement and office technologies. This seminar will examine Edison's historical significance and introduce participants to ways of incorporating the resources of the Edison Papers and the history of technology and industry into the teaching of history and social science. The seminar will be held at Edison's last laboratory in West Orange, N.J., which is part of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park.


Revisiting the Gilded Age: the Making of Modern America, 1865-1920

April 23, 2021, 9am-2:30pm 

Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

We will explore how politics and economics intertwined with changes in cultural values to create the foundations of the modern United States.  Major themes will include:  the long shadow of the Civil War, the rising significance of race, the triumph of monopoly capital, and the emergence of empire as a way of life.


The Netherlands: Progenitor of the Modern Age

April 30, 2021, 9am-2:30pm

Michael Adas, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Rutgers University

Though often neglected or marginalized in history texts and teaching, the tiny Netherlands (often referred to as Holland, the most prominent of its provinces) was perhaps the greatest single progenitor of globalization in the early modern era. From city planning (think Amsterdam and New York), global exploration, and the slave trade to religious reformation, artistic expression, fundamental changes in waging war, and the international obsession with coffee, the Netherlands was a central and enduring factor. Using slides, a thoroughly entertaining historical novel, and wide-ranging discussion, we will explore the golden age of one of the most transformative cultures all of human history.