Lucien Holness is an Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Tech, specializing in African American history and the early United States. His current book project examines the making of free soil and black freedom, as well as the abolitionist movement in southwestern Pennsylvania from 1780 to 1865. It illustrates how geography (physical and political) influenced ideas about race and abolitionist strategies, and traces the origins of free labor ideology to 1780s southwestern Pennsylvania, when it was one of the first territories opened to westward expansion and where the status of Black people remained uncertain. As the idea of free labor gained traction, African Americans and their white antislavery allies developed an oppositional culture shaped by their own experiences of work and place, leading to conflicting ideas about free soil, the west, Black freedom, race, and citizenship.
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The McNeil Center sponsors a seminar that meets on Friday afternoons approximately twice a month between September and May, with the paper for each session circulated in advance. Over two hundred people attend at least once a year, with an average attendance of 40 to 50 at meetings held at various sites in the Delaware Valley. While most of the regular attendees are graduate students and faculty from institutions in the Philadelphia area, participants come from as far afield as Long Island, New York City, Princeton, Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington.
The McNeil Center will utilize a hybrid format for seminars in which participants may gather together at the McNeil Center building (or occasionally at an MCEAS Consortium institution host in the Philadelphia area) or attend via Zoom. To get access to the seminar papers and Zoom links, or to join our mailing list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.