Annual Great Lakes History Conference to explore 'Division and Reaction'

Lending historical context to concerns about the fragility of democracy, particularly in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, is the focus of the 48th annual Great Lakes History Conference at Grand Valley.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be held October 5-7 on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. Participants are asked to register for events.

The keynotes and panels will address topics under the conference's theme, “Division and Reaction.” Organizers have sought to help those who attend the conference to understand democracy's tumultuous history and fears about its longevity which go all the back to ancient Greece.

Several flags on flagpoles fly outside of a building. A cement sign says "Richard M. DeVos Center."
The conference will be held at the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

While the United States has always been split, the current divisions in the country have created fears around talking about diversity and both the good and bad in American history, said Scott Stabler, professor of history and one of the conference organizers. 

"History tells us we're pretty divided right now, more so than in a long time, probably since the Civil War," Stabler said.

The conference features a keynote each day, with a Pulitzer Prize winner starting off the slate of speakers, which will all be featured in the Loosemore Auditorium:

  • October 5, 7 p.m.: Heather Ann Thompson, the Frank W Thompson Collegiate professor of History and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan who also won the Pulitzer Prize for history, will give a presentation titled “The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Why it Matters Today.”
  • October 6, 7 p.m.: National Book Award winner Kevin Boyle, William Smith Mason professor of American History at Northwestern University, will give a presentation entitled “Blood Ties: An Intimate History of Political Violence in Twentieth Century America.”
  • October 7, 1 p.m.: Randal Maurice Jelks, professor of African and African American Studies and American Studies at the University of Kansas, will be presenting on “Meditations on Democracy in Black America” and will explain how “creative maladjustment” is a way for democracies to flourish.


Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.