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For 2026: A Five-Year Conference Series

This year’s Conference

October 24-26, 2024

More information including themes, call for proposals, and registration coming later this year!

Marking the 250th Anniversary of American Independence

Hosted By The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, And William & Mary

In 2026 the United States of America will mark the 250th anniversary of independence. This is an unparalleled opportunity for exploring and reflecting upon the American past, the foundation of the nation, and its legacy into the present. Complex, inspiring, and often violent, this period informs our experience as Americans today. The better we understand that past, the better we are equipped to understand ourselves, address the challenges we face, and seize opportunities for the future.

Colonial Williamsburg, the Omohundro Institute, and William & Mary are joining together to host a series of five annual conferences to spotlight emerging research, connect a diverse public to scholars and research, and convene significant conversations about how and why understanding the early American past is especially meaningful today. The first of these conferences, “For 2026: Revolutionary Legacies,” took place October 28–30, 2022.

About the “For 2026” Conference Initiative

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum, dedicated to its mission that the future may learn from the past through its expert and distinctive events, collections, programs, and site interpretation. The Omohundro Institute is the leading hub for inquiry into early American history, broadly understood as all points in the Atlantic World between roughly 1450 and 1820, and supports and publishes the leading research into this expansive Early America. William & Mary is the top-ranked university in the nation for its early American history offerings, and a leader in integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion programming and creating opportunities for civic discourse. Together, our three institutions are committed to serving the public good through historical education and research and outreach to the community, the region, the nation, and beyond. This mission has never been more resonant, or more relevant.

The series of annual conferences leading to 2026 builds on our exceptional legacy of convening scholarly discussions, educating a broad range of learners, fostering community engagement, and connecting the public to expert historical interpretation through events and programs. Each installment features a broadly comparative exploration of a theme central to the era of the American Revolution; in addition, sessions exploring all aspects of Vast Early America are welcomed on the program. The CW-OI-W&M conference series is committed to an expansive, inclusive history of early America that accounts for the diversity of people and experiences of the period. The themes of the conferences are designed to facilitate this commitment and amplify significant new knowledge about this essential period.

All five conferences feature a four-module structure incorporating both public facing and scholarly conversations:

  • Researcher–to-researcher panels and workshops throughout each day to allow presenters to share their work and benefit from expert peer feedback. These include sessions on the American Revolution as well as sessions on other aspects of Vast Early America.
  • Public audience plus researcher events that introduce diverse publics to cutting-edge research. Formats might include scholar roundtables with question-and-answer periods; scholarly presentations of familiar and understudied primary sources from the period; landmark lectures or interviews with award-winning scholars, museum professionals and leaders in this arena.
  • Site visits that introduce participants to the Commonwealth’s local and regional resources. In addition to showcasingVirginia’s centrality in the founding of our nation, we leverage these sites to explore questions of evidence and methodology; themes of freedom, democracy and belonging; and strategies for engaging historic sites, collections, exhibitions and resources in academic and public learning and programming.
  • Workshops focused on how museums and other public history sites can incorporate new research, featuring both scholars who presented research at the conference and public history experts and practitioners.

Past Conferences

“For 2026: Contested Freedoms” October 26-28, 2023

If the American Revolution inaugurated new ways of speaking and thinking about freedom, it also took place in and helped to create a world marked by multiple forms of unfreedom. Within the European-dominated colonies, nations, and empires of early America, slavery and subjugation as well as distinct economic and political constraints curtailed its rhetoric of universal rights. Indigenous polities, too, sought to exercise their own ideas about freedom and unfreedom, while African-descended people struggled to enact projects of liberation and belonging. The contests between and within these groups throughout the Atlantic world were powerfully shaped by the efforts of individuals, communities, colonies, and nations to grapple with the opportunities and challenges of freedom and servitude in an Age of Revolution.  The United States’ own contest for and over freedom both emerged in this context and reshaped it in ways that we continue to debate today.  Those debates require engaging with early America’s contested freedoms.

“For 2026: Revolutionary Legacies” October 28-29, 2022

The public portion of last year’s event included a series of panel discussions, as well as a keynote address by Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for History and the 2008 National Book Award as well as over a dozen other major book prizes.

Among last year’s programs was a discussion of how the way we commemorate our history has been revolutionized. Scheduled panelists included Christy Coleman, formerly Colonial Williamsburg’s director of interpretive programs development and currently executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation; Ed Ayers, president emeritus of the University of Richmond and one of the founding co-hosts of the history podcast Backstory; and State Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment. Barbara Hamm Lee, best known as the executive producer and host of WHRO’s Another View, who moderated the panel.

Other panels discussed how research on African American, Indigenous Peoples and LGBTQ+ histories has evolved and how it has been incorporated into public programs. Select sessions were part of the Slate Seminar, supported by the William & Mary Bray School Lab and the Mellon Foundation.

Watch Past Plenaries