Public history PhD candidate and adjunct faculty member James R. Wils presented his doctoral research at the 2018 Annual Meeting for the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) in Cleveland, OH. Under the direction of Dr. Craig Friend, Wils’ work explores public interaction with monuments during the early republican era, focusing on democratic contributions in shaping American commemorative culture.
Wils presented at SHEAR as a member of the panel, “Stones and Bones: Negotiating Memory and Politics in Early American Monuments.” In his presentation, he discussed the well-known toppling of George III’s equestrian statue in lower Manhattan in 1776, arguing that that scene of iconoclastic memorialization, driven by democratic ideals and contrasting with elite efforts to memorialize the Revolution, became a new kind of monument, forever etched in American collective memory.
Wils’ conference experience also included attending several very interesting panels and plenaries, with topics ranging from public history and the early republican historian, to Indigenous “statecraft” in the earlu 19th-century Pays d’en Haut, to standards and conventions in the eulogizing of George Washington. He also had the opportunity to meet and brainstorm with many historians whose work has inspired and informed his own.
Highlighting the weekend was an incredible presidential address by Professor of History, Dr. Craig Friend. Speaking on “Lunsford Lane & Me: Life-Writings and Public Histories of an Enslaved Other,” Friend explored the relationships of historical actors like Lane to those who write their biographies and to public audiences, calling for greater personal connection in both cases. Said Wils of Friend via Twitter, “Honored and humbled to be trained in my craft by this amazing scholar and mentor.”