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Second in a 5-year series, “For 2026: Contested Freedoms”

October 26, 2023 - October 28, 2023

For 2026, a five-year series of conferences

Sponsored by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Omohundro Institute, 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. “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.


The “For 2026: Contested Freedoms” Call for Proposals


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.

“Contested Freedoms” will feature scholarly and public conversations exploring how freedom was defined and experienced in the long era of revolution. In recognition of the 300th anniversary of the Brafferton Indian School, the conference sponsors (the OI, Colonial Williamsburg, and William & Mary) are committed to a strong throughline of programming focused on Indigenous history. In addition, submissions that include connections to other 1773 anniversary topics such as the Committees of Correspondence and the ramifications of the Boston Tea Party, and with a focus on mental health and Williamsburg’s Public Hospital (in recognition of the 300th anniversary of Williamsburg’s Public Hospital) are encouraged. The program committee also welcomes sessions exploring any aspect of Vast Early America. In addition to sessions featuring research-in-progress, the committee encourages sessions that provide perspective on the “state of the field” or comparative perspectives. Sessions devoted to freedom and unfreedom in the classroom or in public facing programming are also especially welcome.

Proposals for workshop and panel sessions are due by June 1, 2023. Participants who would like to be considered for a travel subvention should email us directly at This information will be collected by the conference organizer only. The program committee will not consider these requests when evaluating session proposals.