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. “For 2026: Contested Freedoms” is the second conference in the series and will take place October 26-28, 2023.
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 showcasing Virginia’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.
Proposals for scholarly sessions will be evaluated by an OI-appointed program committee. To read more about the 2022 conference and that Call for Proposals please refer to the bottom of this page.
A conference team comprised of OI, CW and W&M colleagues is collaborating to create a series of dynamic, public-facing events and generative workshops. While the OI takes primary responsibility for the academic component of the conference, the broader conference team (CW, W&M, OI) determines together the content for site visits, workshops, keynotes, and other components designed to reach a broader audience. These components are designed to incorporate major anniversaries and commemorative events related to each organization (e.g., the founding of the Brafferton School and closing of the Bray School, the founding of the Phi Beta Kappa society, the 100th anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg, etc.).
We expect to attract at least 100 scholars presenting research and can accommodate a range of audiences in the conference schedule designed for both researchers and the public. To support the participation of early career scholars and ensure the success of the program’s ambitions, some funds are available to offset the costs of travel for some participants and will be allocated based on need.
We expect the conference series to take place at CW venues, with some events on W&M’s campus. Some events will be available simultaneously via online video.