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Pulitzer Prize winning historian to speak on Lincoln and slavery at GCC

By Billie Owens

Press release:

The historian who captured the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for history in 2011 will bring his expertise to Genesee Community College this month, while the Batavia campus will simultaneously host a travelling exhibit exploring the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Columbia University history professor and author Eric Foner, Ph.D., regarded as the leading contemporary historian of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, will share insights from his award-winning book "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at a free lecture in the Stuart Steiner Theatre at 1 p.m. Immediately following the lecture, Foner will sign copies of his book.

"I am thrilled at the prospect of having Dr. Foner visit GCC. It is not often you can rub elbows with a Pulitzer Prize winner," says Derek Maxfield, who not only teaches GCC history courses, but has been the college's resident historian and coordinator or numerous Civil War initiatives throughout the past 18 months.

"As a historian, I recognize him as a giant in the field. His work on the Civil War and Reconstruction has shaped my own interpretation in important ways, and his newest book is destined to define the standards by which other works will be measured."

Foner's presentation coincides with an exhibit exploring Lincoln's influence from the Civil War through modern times. Using personal journals, official documents and other printed materials, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History used a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to assemble "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, a Man for All Times."

This impressive display has been traveling the country and sharing the life, accomplishments and the legacy of the revered 16th U.S. president. Interestingly, Foner was among the experts consulted during the development phase of the exhibit. The display in GCC's Alfred O'Connell Library will be open for free public viewing from through Oct. 28.

The Fiery Trial is essentially a political biography of Lincoln, delving into the president's personal convictions, and Foner "is able to provide the most thorough and judicious account of Lincoln's attitudes toward slavery that we have to date," according to a 2010 review in The New York Times.

Kirkus Reviews cites Foner as "particularly impressive in explaining the hesitations, backward steps and trial balloons -- including placating slaveholding border states and proposing colonizing blacks outside the United States -- that preceded his embrace of emancipation."

Foner is one of only two persons to serve as president of the three major professional organizations: the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians, and he is one of only a handful of authors to have won the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes in the same year.

He has written 19 critically acclaimed books, dozens of highly praised literary and historical articles, reports and editorials, and has served on editorial boards for several prestigious publications. Additionally, his mastery of scholarly research and presentation has earned him invitations to appear on television and radio shows, including as the on-camera historian for "Freedom: A History of Us," on PBS in 2003.

To learn about Foner's extensive accomplishments, visit his Web site:

The exhibit and Foner's visit continue GCC's commitment to exploring the Civil War and its enduring ramifications 150 years after the official ceasefire. Numerous lectures revolving around the war, a weekend long reenactors encampment, a Victorian Yule Celebration and the development of a topic-specific blog were offered last year, and several more enterprising initiatives are planned for the current academic year. A summary of the Civil War commemorative events at GCC's Batavia Campus also includes:

  • Lecture: The Search for Good Ground and Fair Weather: The Role of Climate and Topography in the Civil War. Wednesday, Oct. 3, Batavia Campus, 7 p.m. Presented by Aaron Wheeler, Ph.D., of Capital Community College.
  • Lecture: Among the Many Fires: Trials, Opportunities and Experiences of Native Americans in the Civil War. Wednesday, Nov. 7, Batavia Campus, 7 p.m. Presented by GCC History instructor Dan Hamner.

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