Boston 2018

History Camp Boston Weekend 2018

Updated 2/14/18: We are very close to finalizing a special event for Saturday night and will open registration soon. We’ve added several more presentations (below) and are starting to hear from folks around the country who are buying their airline tickets and making their plans to attend.

Sign up so that you are notified when registration happens since it sold out months in advance last year. This year we’ve added space, so it shouldn’t sell out as quickly.

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 is in the works. We’ll post the design when it’s finished.


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 . . .

  • Come at the beginning and stay until the end. Please don’t come just for your session and leave.
  • No one is paid. This is an all-volunteer effort designed to break even.
  • You are your own A/V tech. 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; this is just individuals getting together to put this on every year. 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.

There are a two important rules for presentations:

  • No current/recent politics. This isn’t new; it’s always been our rule.
  • No selling. For authors, feel free to mention your book. You’re also welcome to reserve a table when you register and sell and sign books in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day. However, people who attend your session should leave feeling like they learned interesting things, as opposed to leaving feeling like it was one long commercial for your book.

Please finish on time and leave the room for any one-on-one discussions with attendees. Move beyond the doorway and down the hall so that the talking doesn’t interfere with the next presentation. History Camp moves along at a pretty rapid clip, and there isn’t much time between sessions.

Finally, be aware that your session might be streamed or taped and shown online later.

If History Camp sounds like it’s for you, send me your information in the style you see below. Browse prior years (such as 2017) to read about other presentations as well as the different formats that have been used. If you have questions, please let me know.


I’m adding to this list as people send them in to me. Note that these may change right up to History Camp. If we end up with more submissions than time slots, I’ll work with presenters to combine sessions or cut sessions, in the case of folks who are presenting more than one, but we’ve added rooms this year and hope that we won’t have to do that. — Lee


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 Trials and Ergot, the “Moldy Bread” Hypothesis 

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 which posited that during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, the visions of specters and painful physical sensations described by the girls who claimed to be afflicted by witches could have been caused, instead, from eating bread made with flour tainted by ergot, a naturally occurring fungal hallucinogen that grows on rye grain under certain growing conditions. It was debunked immediately and soundly by experts because the historical and medical data used to support the hypothesis was cherry-picked.

More than four decades later, however, this interpretation is still pervasive. In this session you’ll learn where this explanation of a lurid chapter in American history was born and how it became cemented in the public imagination. It’s a case study in how people come to believe myths about historical events.

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.

The Chautauqua Movement in New England and the Now Forgotten Framingham Chautauqua

—Anita Danker, Author and Lecturer, and

A century and a half ago Framingham was a destination vacation venue where thousands of middle-class folk relaxed and recharged in a bucolic setting replete with ponds, woodlands, and gingerbread cottages.  Now largely forgotten, the New England Chautauqua was well-known and widely written about.  Thousands attended from throughout New England.  We’ll take a look at the fascinating history of the chautauqua movement, how the Framingham Chautauqua came into being, how it grew, who attended, what people experienced, and why this major summer event here in Massachusetts ended while it continues in New York.

The Founding Fathers and the Electoral College

 Tara Ross, Author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule; We Elect a President: The Story of our Electoral College; and, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State. FacebookTwitterInstagramwebsite, and Amazon Author Page

This session will explore the true history of the Electoral College.  What were the delegates to the Constitutional Convention trying to accomplish? Were they concerned about 18th-century travel and communication difficulties or did they have other considerations in mind? What other alternatives did they consider?  What (if anything) did they really say about the institution of slavery during their debates about presidential selection? Did the Founders expect electors to vote in accordance with the states’ popular votes? What surprising expectation did they have about the back-up presidential election procedure in the House of Representatives? Tara will address all these questions—and more.

At Home with Louis Comfort Tiffany: When Tiffany Came to Boston
—  Jeanne Pelletier, Preservation Advisor, The Campaign for the Ayer Mansion, Inc.

While known today primarily for his elaborate lamps, favrile vases, and magnificent stained glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany was in his day also a sought-after interior designer, pioneering the concept of the house and home as an artistic masterwork. An amazingly versatile artist with an equally powerful ego, Tiffany applied his design skills successfully to a wide range of media, including metalwork, mosaic, plaster, woodwork, furniture, and architecture, as well as stained glass.

Entrepreneur and art-collector Frederick Ayer and his second wife, Ellen Banning Ayer, scandalized Boston society by bringing this innovative New Yorker to Boston to design their exotic new residence. Preservationist Jeanne Pelletier explores Tiffany’s ground-breaking interior and architectural work using images of his lost designs as well as his sole surviving residential commission, Boston’s Ayer Mansion, built in 1899-1902.

George Washington and the Separation of Church and State in the Early Days of the Republic

— Tara Ross, Author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob RuleWe Elect a President: The Story of our Electoral College; and, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and StateFacebookTwitterInstagramwebsite, and Amazon Author Page

The founding generation rejected the “wall of separation between Church & State” when it was initially proposed by Jefferson. The prevailing view was closer to Washington’s, who faced questions about this repeatedly, from his days as a young officer in the Virginia Regiment, to colonial legislator, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, head of the Constitutional Convention, and president of the United States. This session will discuss the questions that confronted Washington during his lifetime, how his views evolved, and the way in which his approach to this fundamental issue remains important today.

Great History Podcasts: How to Find Them and How to Create Your Own

Edward T. O’Donnell, Assoc. Professor of History at Holy Cross College host of the popular American history podcast, In The Past Lane (  He is the author of “Visions of America: A History of the United States,” and other books.

History podcasts range from engaging history storytelling (The Memory Palace) to long form history narratives (Hard Core History), from entertaining history myth busting (Professor Buzzkill) to serious academic history (Ben Franklin’s World). While it’s easy to start a podcast, it’s quite challenging to create a successful podcast that attracts a following.

This session will cover . . .

• Reasons to start a history podcast
• How to create a history podcast, from concept and format to equipment and software
• How to market your podcast and expand your audience

The session after this one is  a panel with people doing history podcasts explaining what they’ve learned and answering your questions.

The History Podcaster Panel

Edward T. O’Donnell, In The Past Lane (, Jake Sconyers, HUB History (, Liz Covart, Ben Franklin’s World (, and Mick Sullivan, The Past and the Curious ( each describe how they got started, what it took to get where they are today, and some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way. After short presentations from each of the panelists there will be a time for questions from the audience.

How to Use Images to Teach History: An introduction to the SIGHT Method

— Edward T. O’Donnell, Assoc. Professor of History at Holy Cross College host of the popular American history podcast, In The Past Lane (  He is the author of “Visions of America: A History of the United States,” and other books.

The SIGHT© method is a program developed during two decades of conducting teacher workshops and teaching students. The session includes 50+ vintage photographs, etchings, maps, cartoons, and historical documents.

Parents, teachers, interpreters, and guides can use the SIGHT method to bring to life a topic’s essential content, draw out the critical questions, concepts, and ideas of a given historical era, find and use visual primary sources on their own, develop simulations, projects, and debates based on historical images, and improve their student’s writing skills by fashioning assignments based on historical images. Those in the audience or in the classroom gain visual literacy, retain better essential historical concepts and content, enhance their skills in critical analysis and interpretation, make links between written and visual primary sources, develop an appreciation for the complexity of history, and develop historical empathy and resist present-mindedness.

From Pride to Protest to Rebellion: Tea in the American Colonies, From the Seven Years War Through the Revolutionary War

— Abby Chandler (, Associate Professor of Early American History, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The Townshend Acts in 1767 put taxes on a wide variety of goods including tea, cloth, paint, paper, and glass. The tax on tea would later lead to the event we know as the Boston Tea Party when 90,000 pounds of tea were dumped in Boston Harbor. But why was tea the commodity that created the most protests? And was more than just tea being thrown overboard that night in Boston?

This session begins with the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 when tea and tea sets were becoming exciting commodities for British colonists to purchase and to show off to family and neighbors alike. By the 1770s, however, tea and tea sets had become a touchstone for the arrival of the American Revolution, something to be publicly avoided, if not downright destroyed. Through the use of paintings, newspaper articles, and the leaves of Samuel Johnson’s “fascinating plant,” this session will explore these changes and what they can tell us about tea drinking and its changing role in the lives of British North America colonists.

The Real Story Behind the Hollywood Afghan War Epic, Twelve Strong: The True Declassified Story of the Horse Soldiers

— Brian Glyn Williams ( and, Professor of History, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and author, The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime

For four summers Professor Brian Glyn Williams roamed the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan retracing a covert operation that saw U.S. Green Beret Special Forces unite with ancient Mongol Uzbek horse warriors to fight the common Taliban foe in 2001. The result of his fieldwork and embed was his book, The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime.

Dr. Williams, who has worked extensively in Afghanistan for the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center and US Army’s Information Operations, will describe the story behind the events covered in his book and discuss working with a major Hollywood producer (Jerry Bruckheimer) and studio (Warner Bros.) to bring his historical account to the screen.

Meriwether Lewis’s Survey at Cumberland Gap: or What’s up with the 36-30 Line of North Latitude between Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee?

— Lorna Hainesworth (, Ambassador and National Traveler,
Lifetime member of the Surveyors Historical Society and the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, founding member of the Lewis and Clark Trust, associate member of the Department of the Geographer and the District of Columbia Association of Land Surveyors.

Why is the line between these four states so crooked? What are the reasons for so many anomalies? Where was the line supposed to be? Who is responsible for the dividing line? When did all this happen? Were there controversies or problems with the location of the line? If so, what resolutions were enacted? Given the technology we have today, why haven’t steps been taken to straighten the line? This session will present a talk on the dividing line between Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, which will describe all the involved issues and will answer the above questions plus describe a little known survey conducted by Meriwether Lewis in November 1806 near present-day Cumberland Gap.

Freeing Fayza: A Professor’s Journey to ISIS-Controlled Iraq to Help Free a “Pagan” Slave Girl

— Brian Glyn Williams ( and, Professor of History, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and author, The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime

In the summer of 2016, Professor Brian Glyn Williams returned to war-torn Iraq to visit the Yazidis, a dying race whose lands were brutally conquered by ISIS fanatics in 2014. There he visited Yazidi refugee camps and met with members of this ancient race who worship Mesopotamian gods forgotten over the centuries. But his real goal was to help free on one of the thousands of Yazidi slave girls captured by ISIS and taken to Mosul.

As Mosul fell to fury of US bombs and Iraqi troops, Dr. Williams had an urgent mission to free one girl by buying her from her ISIS captor who was negotiating to sell her to arrange his own escape from the doomed city. On this visit and a previous journey to this land, Professor Williams had the rare opportunity to visit the Yazidis’ ancient stone temple overlooking the battlefield where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian and met with their high priest. He also did an embed on the frontlines with Kurdish Peshmerga (“Those Who Face Death”) fighters facing off against ISIS. There he had the pleasure of meeting Kurdish female snipers and the Kurds’ legendary general Shirwan Barzani, the “Black Tiger.”

The 1918 Flu Epidemic: Impact on People in Local Communities in the Greater Boston Area

— Lori Lyn Price ( and, Independent Researcher.

The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) infected 500 million people around the world and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million, three to five percent of the world’s population. One hundred years later we’ll look at what was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history and it’s impact here in New England. Resources covered include local newspapers, a wide variety of town records (e.g., town minutes, annual reports, superintendent circulars, internal memos or newsletters, and hospital records).