First LSA bicentennial symposium to host author Colson Whitehead


The first of five bicentennial symposia centered on the history of the University of Michigan, its relationship with the community and world, and its social and cultural impact will take place Thursday and Friday.

The event is sponsored by LSA, the Department of History, and the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, in conjunction with the U-M Bicentennial Office.

The symposium, “1817: Nation Building in the Old Northwest and the Making of the University of Michigan,” will kick off Thursday with a guest lecture by Colson Whitehead, who will discuss his 2016 National Book Award-winning novel, “The Underground Railroad.”

Whitehead’s book considers U.S. history during the period of U-M’s founding, and it links American slavery to the dispossession of native peoples. Whitehead will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. He will sign books after the event.

The symposium continues Friday with a discussion titled “The Political Economy of Plunder,” led by Michael Witgen, associate professor of American culture and history, LSA; and Tiya Miles, Mary Henrietta Graham Distinguished University Professor of African American Women’s History, professor of Afroamerican and African studies, American culture, history and women’s studies, LSA.

The discussion will center on the development of the Michigan Territory during U-M’s earliest years.

Witgen, a historian of the Anishinaabe peoples, will address treaties leading to the dispossession of Native American land that ultimately paved the way for the university’s expansion. Miles, a MacArthur Fellow and a scholar of relations between African Americans and Native Americans, will speak on the history of the slaveholding elite in Detroit, as well as the Underground Railroad that flourished there.

The event will take place from 4-6 p.m. Friday at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery.

Also in the winter 2017 semester, an exhibit called “The Leaders and the Rest: Boundaries and Belonging at the University of Michigan” is on view at the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery.

Curated by Michelle McClellan, Gregory Parker, Jonathan Farr, Nora Krinitsky, Emily Price and Kate Silbert, the exhibit examines how students have shaped the physical campus, the student body, the meaning of community, and the university’s mission as a public institution.

It will showcase key moments of student expression, politics, and culture from the first decades of the university’s existence in Ann Arbor, through the upheavals of world wars, and to the social and cultural turmoil of the late 20th century.

The exhibit will run through Feb. 25, with a ribbon cutting at 3 p.m. Friday.


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