Keynote: William B. Hart, The Past as the Small and the Mighty


The Past as the Small and the Mighty: One American Historian’s Perspective on Atlantic-World History

Dr. William B. Hart, History Department, Middlebury College

American historians have begun to merge two seemingly disparate approaches to the study of the American past: “microhistory,” the study of seemingly “small” things – e.g., an individual, a community, an event – intended to probe and illuminate to great detail not just the entity under study but also larger historical forces that impacted that entity; and “Atlantic-world history,” the study of “mighty” spatial, geographical, and temporal currents that reveal historical processes on a near global scale.  This talk, focused on the American Colonization Society, a nineteenth-century reactionary reform movement that involved racially purifying American society, will show that we cannot fully understand colonization without adopting both microhistorical and Atlantic-world perspectives.  The former reveals local attitudes toward race, nation, and identity, informed by Africa’s persistently haunting hold on the white American imagination.


Prof. Bill Hart earned his PhD in American Civilization at Brown University and has been a faculty member of the History Department at Middlebury College since 1993.  Prof. Hart’s scholarly specialization is race, religion, and identity on the American frontier, with a special emphasis on Indian-Black relations. Over the years, he has taught a broad range of history courses, from “The Atlantic World, 1400 – 1900,” “Revolutionary America,” and “African-American History.” In Spring 2015, Prof. Hart curated the photo exhibition, “Many Thousand Gone: Portraits of the African-American Experience, 1840–1968,” at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. He has also held a number of fellowships, including most recently a Friends’ of the Princeton Library Research Grant (2016).  Prof. Hart has also been an on-camera spokesperson and adviser for a number of documentaries, including “Black Indians: An American Story” (2001), and the PBS series, “The War that Made America” (2006). He is currently writing a biography of Martin Freeman, the second black graduate of Middlebury College (1849), who became the first black college president in the nation (Avery College, Pittsburgh, PA, 1856–1863), and a faculty member at and President of Liberia College (1889), Monrovia, Liberia.


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