The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, in partnership with William & Mary and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, is pleased to announce the second conference in the five-year “For 2026” series, “Contested Freedoms.”

Following the success of last year’s inaugural conference, “Contested Freedoms,” will be held Oct. 26–28, 2023, and will delve into the exploration of how freedom was defined and experienced in the long era of revolution.

“William & Mary is the university for exploring this country’s first 250 years — with strong, enduring cultural partnerships and deep ties to the foundation of U.S. democracy,” said William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe. “Our Vision 2026 democracy cornerstone amplifies new stories of revolution. We are pleased to join our close research partners in Williamsburg for this second leg of our ‘For 2026’ series.”

“Early American history is as relevant to the general public as it is to scholars,” said Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “As a leading public history institution, Colonial Williamsburg is honored to collaborate with William & Mary and the Omohundro Institute to make content about our nation’s origins available to as broad an audience as possible.”

Each conference in the five-year series, leading to the commemoration of the American Semiquincentennial, brings together scholars, public historians, educators and students to discuss emerging research about the revolutionary era, connect a diverse public to current historical research via lectures and panel discussions and engender significant conversations about our shared history and the challenges we faced then — and still face today.

“Contested Freedoms” will feature a mix of researcher-to-researcher panels, public audience events, roundtable discussions, site visits, workshops and plenary sessions designed to engage scholars, public historians, students and other interested audiences in questions and insights about competing and contentious definitions of freedom in vast early American history. This year’s conference features scholars from across the country and around the globe.

Scholarly daytime panels on Friday and Saturday, hosted at the W&M School of Education, will tackle diverse topics ranging from the exploration of LGBTQ+ people in Revolutionary America to “Indigenous Politics and Polities,” to “Storytelling as Meaning Making and History,” providing diverse perspectives on a broad range of topics.

“By creating this event in Williamsburg we are taking full advantage of the resources in our City, our region and across the Commonwealth,” noted Ann Marie Stock, presidential liaison for Strategic Cultural Partnerships. “Our significant locale positions us as collaborators and conveners; and our partnership positions us to activate an array of resources and expertise to invite questions, promote debate and discussion and foster understanding.” 

Contested freedoms

Highlights of the conference will include two evening plenary sessions covering topics relevant to the Indigenous experience in America. Friday’s plenary will be held at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg in the Hennage Auditorium. Fleet will introduce “Restoring the Indigenous Voice in Museums of Early America,” moderated by Mariruth Leftwich from the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation. Panelists will include Fallon Burner and Sean Devlin from Colonial Williamsburg; Russell Reed from Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation; Dave Givens from Jamestown Rediscovery; and Darius Coombs from Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

The panel will focus on exploring the interpretation of archaeological and historical evidence of the Indigenous peoples of early America, and the approaches museums are taking to give those communities a voice. A reception at the Art Museums Café will follow the Friday plenary. Both the reception and the plenary are open to all Colonial Williamsburg ticket holders, OI registrants, Colonial Williamsburg staff and William & Mary staff and students. Colonial Williamsburg tickets may be purchased at

On Saturday evening ,Rowe will introduce an address by Ned Blackhawk, acclaimed American historian and award-winning author of “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History.” Blackhawk, an enrolled member of the Te-Moak tribe and a member of the faculty at Yale University, will discuss his work centering the Native American experience as essential to understanding the evolution of modern America. Saturday evening’s plenary will be free and open to the public, hosted in the Integrated Science Center at William & Mary. Following his keynote, Blackhawk will sign books for attendees during a light reception in the Integrated Science Center.

Catherine E. Kelly, executive director of the Omohundro Institute, says, “For the last 80 years, the Omohundro Institute has been at the center of every important conversation about the early American past, and we are fully committed maintaining that place today.  ‘For 2026: Contested Freedoms’ will provide scholars, museum educators, and members of the public with the opportunity to consider the complicated, even contradictory, meaning of ‘freedom’ in early America and to learn about cutting edge research unfolding across our field. These conversations have never been more vital for our republic, and I’m grateful to Colonial Williamsburg, William & Mary, and scholarly partners from across the nation for helping bring this important conference to Williamsburg.”

RevEd and Slate Seminar return

Returning this year to “For 2026” is the RevEd Teacher Summit, a convening of K-12 teachers, teacher educators, and museum and historic site educators that will share strategies for pedagogical practices and lessons along the theme of “Contested Freedoms,” convened by Dr. Mark Hofer, Senior Director of W&M Learning & Design Lab in the office of Strategic Cultural Partnerships.

The Slate Seminar, made possible by the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, also returns, offering sessions to illuminate the history and legacies of the Williamsburg Bray School (1760-1774) and the mission of the W&M Bray School Lab to study, preserve, and disseminate broadly the Williamsburg Bray School story. Organized by Director of the W&M Bray School Lab Maureen Elgersman Lee, highlights will include a broad overview of the history and operation of the Williamsburg Bray School, insight into engaging in descendant-generated research and an overview of the upcoming 250th anniversary of the closing of the Williamsburg Bray School in 2024.

Passes to the academic conference will be available through the Omohundro Institute starting Sept. 16.  Full conference registration (through Omohundro Institute) is available at low-to-no-cost for Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary staff/students, Indigenous communities, and more. All Omohundro Institute registrants receive a ticket voucher to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area and Art Museums valid for seven consecutive days from the time of redemption.

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