These lectures are sponsored by the Herbert P. Lefler fund.

Fall 2023 Lefler Lecture

Thursday, September 28, 5:15 pm

Seeing Women in Politics: Visual and Material Representations of Women’s Political Participation in America 1776-1876

Professor with long brown hair smiling while standing in front of a structure wearing a bright pink shirt
Dr. Cassandra Good

Dr. Cassandra Good is a historian and writer who has taught at Marymount University, George Washington University, and University of Mary Washington. She received her PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania. She also has experience in museums, new media, and public history through her work at the Smithsonian Institution.

Her latest book, First Family: George Washington’s Heirs and the Making of America, will be released on June 6, 2023 from Hanover Square Press (an imprint of Harper Collins) in 2023. The book tells the story of Washington’s step-grandchildren, the Custises, who achieved fame as the nation’s first “first family.” The Custis family story – long overlooked – parallels America’s story in its first century: military triumph and tragedy; democracy and old aristocratic ties; visions of liberty alongside the horrors of slavery. As a new nation, America evolved from the heady idealism of the Revolution to the challenges of democratic governing, from tenuous steps towards ending slavery to the entrenchment of slave labor, from Washington’s isolationist foreign policy to manifest destiny. By tracing the lives of a family who lived not just through but at the center of this evolution, we get both an intimate and sweeping view of a young nation’s growing pains.

Winter 2024 Lefler Lecture

Wednesday, February 21, 4:30 pm

Since Time Immemorial: Native Custom and Law in Colonial Mexico

Professor Yanna Yannakakis in front of a bookshelf
Dr. Yanna Yannakakis

Indigenous peoples in colonial Mexico used Spanish imperial law to pursue their own ends, and in doing so, mobilized the past to make claims to resources and local autonomy. Indigenous legal claims based on “custom,” a category whose roots can be traced to medieval Europe, and which refers to social practice that over time acquires the normative power of law, represented one of the most important means by which Native people engaged with Spanish law. The adaptation of custom to Spanish rule in Mexico pushes to the fore questions of Indigenous cultural continuity and change under the exploitative conditions of colonialism. Although custom represented a Spanish imperial strategy for governing an ethnically and culturally diverse subject population, it also provided a terrain upon which Indigenous peoples could contend with historical change and generate new rights for the future.

Yanna Yannakakis is a Professor, Associate Department Chair, and Mentor Coordinator (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, B.A. Dartmouth College) in the History department at Emory College of Arts and Sciences. She studies the social and cultural history of colonial Latin America, history of Mexico, ethnohistory, history of legal systems, and the interaction of indigenous peoples and institutions in Mexico.


Spring 2024 Lefler Lecture

Tuesday, May 7, 5:15 pm

Born in Blood: The Battlegrounds of American Democracy

Headshot of Dr. Scott Gac smiling in front of a dark background and wearing a black shirt
Dr. Scott Gac

Guns at voting sites, Black voter suppression, and a fractured political landscape. While this may sound like a scene from the United States in 2024, this lecture returns to the beginnings of American democracy in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. As the economic barriers to voting dropped and Black men were increasingly denied the right to vote, White men transformed democracy into a scary and violent place. Here, drunkenness, brawls, political intimidation, eye gouging, gun shots, and knife fights often reigned supreme. Let’s return, if only for a moment, to the election of Andrew Jackson, the battle over votes in Kansas, and the important election campaigns of 1860. What we learn from these earlier moments can help us imagine a safer and fairer political process today.

Scott Gac is an author, historian, and teacher. At Trinity College in Connecticut, he is a Professor of History and American Studies. As Director of Trinity undergraduate and graduate programs in American Studies from 2013-2023, he oversaw curriculum, lectures, working groups, and public outreach for one of the most distinguished liberal arts American Studies endeavors. He has published on American violence in Choice, Rethinking History, and Reviews in American History. His book Born in Blood: Violence and the Making of America (Cambridge University Press, 2024) is based on his popular lecture course of the same name. His first book, Singing for Freedom (Yale Press, 2007), details interracial social activism of the pre-Civil War era through the abolitionist musicians, the Hutchinson Family Singers. In spring 2015, the Rose Ensemble staged this book in a series of performances in St. Paul, Minnesota. Professor Gac is a graduate of Columbia University, The Juilliard School, and The Graduate Center at CUNY.


Questions? Contact Prof. Victoria Morse, History Department Chair


“History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

— James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt,” Ebony Magazine, August 1965