American Visions: The United States, 1800–1860

Time Period
1764 to 1824
1825 to 1860
Media Type
American Indian History
Black History
Business & Industry
Domestic Life
Politics & Government
Women's History

On November 8, 2023, award-winning author Edward Ayers delivered a lecture about his book, American Visions: The United States, 1800–1860

The early decades of the nineteenth century saw the expansion of slavery, Native dispossession, and wars with Canada and Mexico. Mass immigration and powerful religious movements sent tremors through American society. But even as the powerful defended the status quo, others defied it: voices from the margins moved the center; eccentric visions altered the accepted wisdom, and acts of empathy questioned self-interest. 

Edward L. Ayers’s rich history examines the visions that moved Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, the Native American activist William Apess, and others to challenge entrenched practices and beliefs. Lydia Maria Child condemned the racism of her fellow northerners at great personal cost. Melville and Thoreau, Joseph Smith and Samuel Morse all charted new paths for America in the realms of art, nature, belief, and technology. Ayers turns his distinctive historical sensibility to a period when bold visionaries and critics built vigorous traditions of dissent and innovation into the foundation of the nation. Those traditions remain alive for us today. 

Edward Ayers is university professor of the humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond. He has received the Bancroft and Lincoln Prizes for his scholarship, been named National Professor of the Year, received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama at the White House, served as president of the Organization of American Historians, and was the founding board chair of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond. He is executive director of New American History and Bunk, dedicated to making the nation’s history more visible and useful for a broad range of audiences. This lecture was co-hosted by American Civil War Museum, Black HIstory Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, and The Valentine. 

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud.