Council Lecture Series

Organized by the OI Executive Director and the Chair of the OI Council, the Council Lecture series reflects the Omohundro Institute’s ongoing commitment to excellence in early American scholarship. It is meant for both scholarly and non-scholarly audiences. No admission is charged and an informal reception follows the event. All speakers in the series have served on the Omohundro Institute Council—service for which we are enormously grateful.

The lectures are usually held on the first Saturday in May in Blow Hall 201 on the campus of William & Mary.

Visitor parking is available in the Zable Stadium lot anywhere that the Passport app is used. You can read more about parking HERE.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we cancelled the 2020, 2021, and 2022 Council Lectures.

We are excited to announce the return of the Council Lecture series in 2023. 



Michael Witgen will join us on Saturday afternoon, May 6, 2023, on the campus of William & Mary in Blow Hall 201 to deliver Unthinkable History: the American Settler State and the Political Economy of Plunder.

The American Republic was founded as a nation of settlers struggling to colonize Native North America. This project began as an extension of the original European colonial project in the western hemisphere, imagined as the discovery of a New World. Both the original colonial scheme, and the one undertaken by the United States, imagined North America as unsettled wilderness, and imagined colonization as a civilizing mission. Framed in this way the expansion of the republic beyond the original thirteen states into the western interior could be imagined as a benign conquest of nature, when in fact it was an audacious colonial project—a grandiose scheme to steal a continent. However, a theft this bold would require more than merely a plan for colonial subjugation, it would require a colonial power willing to organize itself around a political economy of plunder. It would require a totalizing colonial project that would make an Indigenous history of North America unthinkable.

Michael Witgen is a professor in the Department of History and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, and the Director of the Lehman Center for American History. He is a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.  Witgen studies Indigenous and Early American history with a particular focus on the Great Lakes. His publications include “An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), and Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America (Omohundro Institute with the University of North Carolina Press).

Join us! You can REGISTER HERE for the lecture.



Joyce E. Chaplin delivered “Climate in Words and Numbers: How Early Americans Recorded Weather in Almanacs.”

Professor Chaplin is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University. Her books include An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730-1815 (published by the Omohundro Institute with the University of North Carolina Press in 1993), Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier, 1500-1676 (2001), and The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius (2006). She is also the editor of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: A Norton Critical Edition (2012). Her reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the London Review of Books, and the Wall Street Journal. Professor Chaplin’s most recent book is the first history of around-the-world travel, Round about the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit (2012).


Robert C. Ritchie delivered “When Did We Start Going to the Beach?: Some Thoughts on the History of Leisure in early America.”

Robert C. Ritchie specializes in Early American history. His focus has been on the seventeenth century but he also has a strong interest in early modern England. After a distinguished career at the University of California, San Diego which included stints as a professor in the History Department and as Associate Chancellor, he became the W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington Library. He retired from that position in 2011 and is now Senior Research Associate there.


Peter C. Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at the University of Southern California and the Linda and Harlan Martens Director of the Early Modern Studies Institute delivered “Art and Violence in Early North America.”


Mary Kelley, Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and author, co-author, and editor of eight books including Learning to Stand and Speak, delivered “The Difference of Color.”


Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University and the author or co-author of numerous books, including the popular textbook A People & A Nation, delivered “The Seventh Tea Ship; or, a Tale of Shipwrecked Sailors, Combative Communities, and a Fractured Family.”


Alan Taylor Thomas Jefferson Foundation Chair in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, and the author of seven monographs, including the Pulitzer Prize winning William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic and the National Book Award Finalist The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, delivered “The West and the American Revolution: Causes and Consequences.”