Home» News» News» Focus»

American historian Eric Foner visits Peking University

APR . 03 2017

Peking University, April 2, 2017: Eric Foner, an American historian and lecture professor of American history in Columbia University visited Peking University between March 4 and March 28, as a Peking University Global Fellow. This is Foner's second visit to China since his last visit 17 years ago. During this visit, Foner delivered four academic lectures on the general topic of "The Political Legacies of Nineteenth Century United States", attended an academic symposium, and a meeting of academic exchanges, as well as communicating with postgraduate representatives from different departments in PKU.

Eric Foner is one of the most influential historians in modern America. He has published a large number of literary works in fields such as the history of  American civil war and reconstruction, the history of African Americans, slavery in America, cultural history of American politics as well as studies of President Abraham Lincoln.

Foner's four academic lectures were given respectively on March 6, March 8, March 13 and March 16, giving a specific and overall introduction to slavery, civil war, Abraham Lincoln and after-war reconstruction in 19th century  America.

On the evening of March 6, Foner delivered his first lecture focusing on "Slavery, Antislavery and American Politics". The lecture was presided over by Wang Xi, professor of history in Peking University and Indiana University. During the lecture, concentrating on the core contradiction between the pursuit of freedom and the existence of slavery in early America, Foner explained how slavery rose up as a political crisis which caused the danger of national division.

On the evening of March 9, Foner gave his second lecture on the topic of "Fugitive Slaves, The Underground Railroad and the Coming of the Civil War". Wang Hui, professor at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and Director of the Institute of Arts and Social Sciences in Tsinghua University, presided over the lecture. The lecture was concentrated on the activities of abolitionists in the North and the slaves' positive revolt against slave owners during the first half of the 19th century. It ended with the historical reality of fugitive slaves and "underground railroad" ,the secretive transportation network to the North built by abolitionists to help save the salves in the South in New York.

On March 13, Foner delivered his third lecture on "Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery in the United States", which was presided over by Qian Chengdan, Director of the Institute of World History of Peking University. In this lecture, Foner pointed out that the emancipation of slaves in America was as complicated as other social transformations with historical significance in the world. The end of  slavery in America should be owed to the tight cooperation between abolitionists and Lincoln as anopen-minded leader.

Foner's last lecture on the topic of "Reconstruction & Its Long-term Significance for American History" in PKU was held on the evening of March 16 and was presided over by Wang Lixin, professor at the Department of History. Focusing on American reconstruction after the civil war, Foner especially emphasized its in-depth influence on American politics and society as well as its transitional significance to American history. Foner claimed that America today seemed to be trapped in the same dilemma in which the rights of some of the citizens were neglected or even deprived of unreasonably. Therefore, historical legacies inherited from after-war reconstruction wereas precious to modern Americans.

Later, on March 18 and March 19, Foner attended an academic symposium on the topic of "American Historical Heritage in the 19th Century" followed by ameeting of academic exchanges held jointly by the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of Peking University and the Chinese Association of the Study of American History . During the meeting on March 19, Foner shared his own academic experience and introduced the tendency of development of historical research in America with the audience. Foner also gave his opinion on those questions paid close attention to by young scholars, including how to decide on a research topic.

In the meantime, he also visited the library of the Department of History in which his personal donated books to PKU in 2009 were stored. Foner said that he hoped his books would contribute to American studies in PKU. Besides, Foner also interacted with postgraduate representatives from History Department, Law School and Yen-ching Academy during luncheon.

Foner's visit to Peking University in March is his second time coming to China since his last visit 17 years ago. His lecture series in PKU brought the most in-depth and systematic introduction of research on American history to teachers and students here, and triggered audiences' interest in this research field successfully. As an experienced scholar, Foner's rigorous academic attitude and his rich knowledge did impress teachers and students in PKU.

Written by: Zheng Yuan
Edited by: Xu Liangdi
Source: PKU News (in Chinese)