Harriet Beecher Stowe at 200: Home, Nation and Place in the 21st Century June 22-26

Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

On the bicentennial of her birth, novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe and her considerable contributions will be celebrated with the conference “Harriet Beecher Stowe at 200: Home, Nation and Place in the 21st Century” at Bowdoin College June 22-25, sponsored by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society.

Stowe’s anti-slavery book, the seminal Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is called “the most influential novel in American history and a catalyst for radical change both at home and abroad” by author and Stowe scholar David S. Reynolds in the New York Times op-ed piece, “Rescuing the Real Uncle Tom.

Reynolds will be delivering a presentation at the conference entitled “Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America.”

The keynote address “Stowe in Her Time and Ours” by University of Nebraska Professor of English Susan Belasco is to be delivered at 8 p.m. Friday, June 24, in Lancaster Lounge, Moulton Union, and is open to the public.

Following the conference, the Walking Tour of Stowe’s Brunswick, led by historian Dr. Polly Kaufman and sponsored by the Pejepscot Historical Society, begins at 12:30 p.m., Sunday, June 26, outside the Pejepscot Historical Society building at 159 Park Row, Brunswick.

The walking tour ends at Curtis Memorial Library, where, at 2 p.m., Elizabeth Davidson is to present the performance “Harriet Beecher Stowe: Literary Soldier.” Both Sunday events are free and open to the public.

While living in Brunswick in 1850-1851, when her husband Calvin, of the Bowdoin Class of 1824, was teaching theology, Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of the most influential novels in American history.

Stowe wrote in her husband’s study in Appleton hall and in the family home on Federal Street, where she hosted Bowdoin students to read and discuss the book before it was published.

Among the students that gathered at her home was Joshua Chamberlain, who, along with Stowe, were among the subjects of this year’s “Voices from Bowdoin’s Past” reading by Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster at Bowdoin’s Baccalaureate ceremony May 27, 2011.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, of the Class of 1852, called Stowe a genius, and he would later recall the privilege of Saturday evenings spent with the author and fellow students on Federal Street:

“On these occasions,” Chamberlain remembered, “a chosen circle of friends, mostly young, were favored with the freedom of her house, the rallying point being, however, the reading before publication, of the successive chapters of her Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the frank discussion of them.”

The conference will examine how Stowe creates her own place in the world of American letters through her expansive consideration of familial and national life, and will explore the themes of home, nation, and place in her work through lenses such as politics, education, reform, race and religion.

“‘Stowe at 200’ brings together more than 50 scholars of American literature and history from the United States, Canada, Japan and Israel to Bowdoin College where they will discuss the contributions of Harriet Beecher Stowe,” says Tess Chakkalakal, assistant professor of Africana studies and English, and Stowe Society secretary.

Chakkalakal, a Stowe scholar, teaches a course called Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin that allows students to unlock the novel’s power and to experience the places in Brunswick that inspired Stowe.

Her article, “‘Whimsical Contrasts': Love and Marriage in The Minister’s Wooing and Our Nig,” appears in the March 2011 issue of The New England Quarterly.

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