Boston 2018

History Camp Boston Weekend 2018

Updated 11/28/17: More sessions added.

Updated 11/28/17: Already have seven sessions listed and more coming in. In addition to people throughout the Northeast, we’ve heard from folks in CO, IL, TX, NC, SC, and MD who are coming—and we’re still many months out.

History Camp Boston 2018 will take place Saturday, July 7, 2018 at Suffolk University Law School, just across the street from the Old Granary Burying Ground and a short walk from Boston Common.

This will be the fifth year for History Camp Boston. It will also be first time it hasn’t been in March. The facility wasn’t available in March 2018, and after polling members of the History Camp Boston community, the overwhelming response was to find another date that would enable us to return to the Suffolk University Law School, which was the site of History Camp 2017.

Sessions below 

Location, transportation, and lodging page

How you can help

If you’re interested in helping, either now, a few days before History Camp, or at the event, thank you and see this list for what we’re looking for.

Changes for History Camp Boston 2018

Adding capacity is a very high priority.  Registration for History Camp Boston 2017 in mid-March opened on December 12 and was sold out by January 1. Even after adding more rooms and more spots, there were still many more people who wanted to attend.

In 2018 we’ll have more rooms, including more large lecture halls. We’re also making a slight to the opening “round the room” introductions. This is my favorite part of the day since it helps build the community that has come together for that day and gives everyone a sense of wonderful variety of backgrounds of those assembled.

The room for these introductions was our capacity constraint in 2017. In order to hold History Camp Boston 2018 in the same building, we’ll gather for very brief remarks in the same large room on the first floor, and then head to the first sessions of the day, which will be extended so that the “round the room” introductions can take place there. While this means that you’ll be hearing from perhaps one-fourth or one-fifth of your fellow attendees, we felt this was the right tradeoff.

Better planning and communication of Saturday night dinners. We’re looking for one or two volunteers to arrange these. People will be on their own, but with a little planning, it will be less of a scramble than it has been the last couple of years.

Here’s what we have in mind for whomever wishes to take this on: Block tables for a dozen or so people at four or five restaurants. Put up sign up sheets in the registration area and have them up throughout the day. Label one “Open” and let folks self-organize and pick a theme or area of interest for the others. Put up a sheet for “overflow” in case there are more people who want to join a group for dinner than we have spots. Make arrangements with additional restaurants, as needed. If you’re interested, please let me know.

More activities for Sunday. This will be the the second year we’ve expand to the weekend. Local institutions are invited to create programming for or otherwise extend an offer to attendees for Sunday, July 8. They may also wish to promote events earlier in the week for people who travel to the area to visit and sightsee before History Camp. (We already know of people flying in from Colorado and Texas, and coming up from Maryland.)

Special offers and events, either before History Camp or on the Sunday of History Camp Weekend will be posted here. Just send them in.

More outreach. We’re looking for one or two volunteers who will help with outreach to the media (in all forms). Please let me know if you’re interested.

For updates, including when registration opens

We expect to have more information available by the end of the month, including posting initial sessions and a call for volunteers to help plan and execute History Camp Weekend.

To receive updates, including when registration opens, subscribe to the History Camp Boston mailing list.

Thanks to Suffolk

Our thanks to Bob Allison and all of the folks at Suffolk who are making their beautiful facility available again next year.

Background on History Camp if you’ve not attended before

Finally, if you’ve never been to History Camp before, this is a good introduction, and this is the archive from last year, with photos, session descriptions, the schedule, and presentations.

The 2018 History Camp shirt

Please send me your suggestions for the theme or image and I’ll post them here.

  • Arrival of British troops in Boston in the fall of 1768, 250 years before that year. There was a close-to-violent conflict over the use of a building called the Manufactory, which was near our meeting space. Revere issued a woodcut of the troops’ landing.  (JL Bell)
  • America’s involvement in WW1, 100 years ago. (JL Bell)
  • Boston Massacre/Crispus Attucks Memorial on the Common, which will be 130 years old next year. (JL Bell)
  • Shaw and 54th Massachusetts Memorial at top of Common, showing parade 155 years ago. Shaw and some of his men died later in 1863. (JL Bell)
  • The red line of the Freedom Trail superimposed on a 1630 map of the city (since the freedom trail is right out front). (Jake Sconyers)
  • State House Dome (also nearby). (Jake Sconyers)
  • The golden grasshopper weather vane on Faneuil Hall. (Jake Sconyers).
  • Something regarding Paul Revere’s engraving of the British troops landing (250th anniversary). (Jake Sconyers, and also suggested by JL Bell above)
    Paul Revere statue by Old North

Lee Wright |  Founder  |  The History List  |  History Camp


If you are interested in presenting and haven’t been to History Camp before, there are important ways in which being a part of History Camp is different than being a speaker at a conference.  It comes down to this: We’re all in this together, which means, among other things . . .

  • Everyone comes at the beginning and stays until the end. Speakers do not just come for their session and leave.
  • No one is paid. This is an all-volunteer effort designed to break even.
  • You are your own A/V tech. Just arrive early if you are doing the first session so you have plenty of time to set up, and stay until the next person comes so you can help them. You’ll find detailed instructions here.
  • Everyone pays. There is no formal organization behind History Camp. Your payment, along with those from everyone else, means that the organizers don’t have to dig in to their own pockets to make up the shortfall.
  • Everyone shares. If you have slides, we’ll help you post them to the History Camp site. We may also videotape or stream your presentation live (such as on Facebook) so that people who can’t attend can benefit from History Camp.

If History Camp sounds like its for you, send me your information in the style you see here. Browse prior years to read about other presentations as well as the different formats that have been used. If you have questions, please let me know.

The Founding Fathers and Covert Operations

 Stephen Knott ( Professor, National Security Affairs Department, United States Naval War College. @publius57 and Amazon Author Page

George Washington once said that “there are some secrets, on the keeping of which so, depends, oftentimes, the salvation of an Army: secrets which cannot, at least ought not to, be entrusted to paper; nay, which none but the Commander-in-Chief at the time, should be acquainted with.” Washington was not only the father of his country, he was America’s first intelligence director. Significantly, Washington’s first major expenditure after taking command of the Continental Army was the payment of $333.33 to send an agent “into the town of Boston to establish secret correspondence.”

Following the ratification of the Constitution, President Washington requested a “secret service fund” in his first annual message to Congress. This appropriation of $40,000 allowed the president to conduct sensitive operations without providing an accounting of those expenditures to Congress. Building on this foundation, Thomas Jefferson authorized the first American mission to overthrow a foreign head of state, used private citizens for intelligence operations, proposed burning down St. Paul’s Cathedral in retaliation for the burning of the White House, and used covert operations as a centerpiece of his policy toward Native Americans.

In the 41 years between the time that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to when James Madison left the White House, the nascent US government authorized an astounding number of covert operations. These covert actions included kidnapping, bribing foreign leaders, using clergy and media for intelligence purposes, overthrowing a foreign government, and assisting various insurgencies.

The April 19, 1775 Evacuation of Lexington and Concord

Alexander Cain, Author, We Stood Our Ground: Lexington in the First Year of the American Revolution and I See Nothing but the Horrors of a Civil

When Lexington’s alarm bell rang, panic set in. A hostile military force was marching directly towards the town. Plunder and destruction were feared.  The Reverend William Gordon of Roxbury reported, “the inhabitants had quitted their houses in the general area upon the road, leaving almost everything behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives.” Some took a few belongings. Others hid or buried valuables. The roads were clogged with “women and children weeping.” Residents escaped to woods and fields or to nearby towns.  While much attention has been paid to the shots fired that day, we’ll take a close look at what happened to those who weren’t engaged in combat.

The Salem Witchcraft Toxin Theory That Just Won’t Die

Margo Burns, Project Manager and Associate Editor, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (Cambridge, 2009)

On April 2, 1976, Science Magazine published an article by Linnda R. Caporeal that posited that during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, the hallucinations and physical sensations described by the so-called afflicted girls could possibly have been caused by eating bread made with flour tainted by a naturally occurring fungal toxin that grows on rye grain. This toxin has a chemical similarity to lysergic acid—LSD—a drug with similar symptoms. Although refuted immediately in the press by Stephen Nissenbaum, the co-author of Salem Possessed, and refuted again seven months later in Science Magazine by Nick Spanos and Jack Gottlieb—who did a thorough review of all the data, historical and medical—the public latched onto the theory and have not let go.  Over four decades later, this unsupportable interpretation is still pervasive and closely held “knowledge” by the public. This lecture explores why.

Behind the Devil’s Shield: Counter-Magic in Early New England

Alyssa G. A. Conary (, MA history candidate at Salem State University and President & co-founder of the Salem Historical Society

Early New England ministers took a hard line against the practice of magic. All magic, whether harmful or beneficial in intention, was believed to be demonic. The archaeological, architectural, and documentary records show us that things weren’t so black and white for their congregations. This lecture will explore evidence for the practice of protective counter-magic in seventeenth and eighteenth-century New England, including witch bottles, deliberate concealments, and ritual marks on historic timber.

Finding Phebe: Uncovering the History of Slavery in Warren, Rhode Island’s Smallest Town

Patricia Mues ( and Sarah Weed ( are co-chairs of the Warren Middle Passage Project and board members of the Warren Preservation Society.

Much smaller than the nearby slave centers of Newport, Bristol, and Providence, Warren, Rhode Island’s small size has made it a footnote in much of what has been written about slavery and the slave trade until now.

Drawing on their research of wills, inventories, town meeting records, censuses, and other documents, Patricia and Sarah will describe the lives of the enslaved of Warren and the lives of the postmasters, town councilmen, justices of the peace, farmers, ship builders, and innkeepers, and others in Warren who used the work of the enslaved to further their own families’ futures.

James Madison Reflects on Efforts and Circumstances Surrounding the Ratification of the US Constitution in its Anniversary “30th year” of 1818

Kyle Jenks ( is a professional interpreter of Pres. James Madison ( and and a member of the League of Most Interesting Gentlemen.

Pres. James Madison will take you back to July 7, 1788, after Virginia ratified the U.S. Constitution and before New York had done so. Madison, who was involved in both processes, will reveal the anonymous identity of Publius, the three co-authors of the Federalist essays, provide a synopsis of the Federalist essay campaign, explain the reason for anonymity, describe the tenuous nature of the ratification process, and offer his perspectives on the events.

Robert Smalls, From Slave to American Civil War Hero

Patrick Gabridge ( is the playwright of Blood on the Snow (recently staged at the Old State House) and many other historical plays, as well as the novel Steering to Freedom, about Robert Smalls.

In May 1862, Robert Smalls, an enslaved ship’s pilot in Charleston, South Carolina, crafted a daring plan to steal the steamship Planter and deliver it, along with the crew and their families, to the Union blockade. After risking his life to escape slavery, Robert faced an even more difficult challenge: convincing Abraham Lincoln to enlist black troops. He returned to serve the Union on many missions (including the Battle of Charleston) as a ship’s pilot. In this session, Patrick will relate the powerful and inspirational story of a young man who became the first black captain of a US military ship, while struggling to navigate a path to freedom for himself, his family, and his people.

Henry Wilson: Natick Cobbler to Vice-President

Joe Weisse (, Natick Historical Society

Henry Wilson was born February 16, 1812, in Farmington, New Hampshire, as Jeramiah Jones Colbath. From a poor family, he was indentured to a nearby farmer for 11 years. At the age of 21, he changed his name to Henry Wilson and walked to live the rest of his life as a resident of Natick Massachusetts. He learned and manufactured shoes with his 10-foot shop still standing in Natick. Wilson served in both houses of the State Legislature and was a Colonel in the Army 22nd first artillery Brigade Massachusetts. A Senator from Massachusetts (1855-1873) he was known as the Natick cobbler. Wilson was Vice-President to Ulysses S. Grant, March 4, 1873 to his death just off the Senate floor on November 22, 1875. A longtime abolitionist and supporter of rights for every individual, he stood for principle not party.

 Heroic Souls: Puritan Women as the First American Individuals

— Lori Stokes, Ph.D. (

“…to go back, I would not.” This confident statement was made by a woman known to us only as “Katherine, Mrs. Russel’s maid”; it was part of the spiritual autobiography she gave in her Puritan church in Cambridge, Massachusetts Bay Colony in the late 1630s. These spiritual autobiographies, or relations, as they were called, were required of any person wishing to join the church as a full member. Minister Thomas Shepard recorded the relations of 31 women in his congregation between 1638 and 1649.

In these women’s relations, we hear uncanny echoes of the modern hero: a sole individual, relying on her unique powers, suffering through many failures and dangers to complete an epic personalquest. This type of narrative is wholly uncharacteristic of the 17th century, anticipating the modern hero by over 200 years. The individual in this relation is not anchored in family, class, location, religious tradition, history, marriage, or motherhood. What we read in these relations are narratives of the heroic soul, struggling alone against cosmic forces, rejected by and rejecting of all others, ultimately acting in a theater reduced to two players: the seeker and the Lord.

All of the people, male and female, who gave relations in the Shepard church exhibit this oddly modern individuality. But it is most remarkable to find it in the women’s narratives, since women’s identities were usually so completely folded into men’s, and so completely confined to the roles of daughter, wife, and mother. A personal narrative unshaped by sex is unexpected at any moment in history; women’s narratives with none of the traditional markers of female identity even more so. We will explore these heroic narratives and hear these women speak for themselves, as they did over 370 years ago.

“Katharine Gibbs: Trailblazing Woman in Business”

 Rose A. Doherty ( is the author of Katharine Gibbs: Beyond White Gloves, the first history of this world-renowned institution.

Katharine Gibbs created her school from nothing.  She was a 46-year-old widow with no income, two sons to support, and only a high school education when she began her school in 1911.  She was CEO of three schools two years before women had the vote.  She was an entrepreneur who educated women for business when they were not welcome.

After her death, the family fostered the icon of Gibbs excellence worldwide and added campuses including Bermuda.  The last owners were large corporations who kept the core tradition of excellence. Multiple campuses, new programs of study, the introduction of degrees, and the return of male students remade Gibbs with adaptability reminiscent of the founder.

The Gibbs family motto ”Hold to Your Purpose” motivated graduates from 1911 to 2011. Graduates include a college president, US ambassador, CIA operatives, bank president, lawyers, writers, business executives and owners, graphic designers, and professionals in many fields.  Those who care about business history, education history, or women’s history will be interested in this illustrated talk.