Conference Explores Lincoln’s Unfinished Work

Clemson University hosted more than 40 renowned historians at the Lincoln’s Unfinished Work conference Nov. 28-Dec. 1. Over those four days, an array of scholars spoke on panels and delivered papers on a range of topics including Abraham Lincoln’s sense of humor, reassessments of Reconstruction, the evolution of the Constitution, civil rights, voting rights and how we acknowledge difficult histories.

The conference was organized by Vernon Burton, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Jr. Distinguished Professor of History at Clemson and author of The Age of Lincoln.

It was vital to Burton, a national authority on the history of the South, that all sessions be open to the public, free to all attendees and held on the main campus at Clemson.

“We sweep our history under the rug. We don’t want to deal with it,” Burton said. He asks us all to look more honestly at our past — here at Clemson, in the South and across the country. “Only then can we move forward and do better,” Burton said.

Lincoln’s Unfinished Work began with opening addresses by Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Foner and Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, who described the gathering as “an intellectual feast.”

The diverse and distinguished field of presenters included Richard Carwardine, Catherine Clinton, Steven Hahn, Darlene Clark Hine, Thavolia Glymph and Heather Cox Richardson. Visiting historians were joined by Clemson faculty, including  J. Drew Lanham and Rhondda Robinson Thomas.

The conference included a workshop for public school teachers on how to teach about the history of race relations. Burton also made it possible for high school students from the SC Rural NextGen, a rural youth advocacy group, to attend.

Videos of Lincoln’s Unfinished Work sessions are posted on the website,, and a published volume of papers is planned.


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