“Slavery and Politics at the University of Missouri, 1839-1856,” with KICD Postdoc Zachary Dowdle


In his February 21 talk, “‘Everyone…Denounces his Course’: Slavery and Politics at the University of Missouri, 1839-1856,” Kinder Institute Postdoc Zachary Dowdle will explore the university’s connections, and resistance, to the slave economy and slave politics in the decades after its founding (see abstract below). The final installment in our Spring 2020 series of Postdoctoral Fellow research presentations, Prof. Dowdle’s talk will be held at 3:30pm in Swallow Hall 101. It is part of our “Pursuit of Happiness Hour” Friday Colloquium Series, made possible with the support of Logboat Brewing Co.


The University of Missouri, being a public institution in a slave state, necessarily had direct and indirect ties to the slave economy from which many of the wealthiest people earned their wealth. Despite these indelible financial connections, the university as conceived and initially operated did not work to support the institution intellectually or politically. Only after proslavery legislators took control of the state government and installed James Shannon as the second president of the university did the public function of the school shift. As Shannon became increasingly radical, the citizens of the state rejected his extreme proslavery project, eventually forcing him to relinquish control of the university.

Zachary Dowdle earned his B.A. and M.A. in History from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, and his Ph.D. from University of Missouri, where his dissertation, completed with Kinder Institute Associate Director Jeff Pasley, looked at shifting conceptions of race and gender in the political culture of nineteenth-century Missouri and the United States through an examination of the career of James Sidney Rollins, a slave owner who was a leading Whig politician and pro-Unionist. Rollins served as a representative at both the state and national levels, working to establish the University of Missouri in the 1830s and providing a crucial swing vote in Congress that approved the Thirteenth Amendment. Zach has presented his work at conferences in Columbia, New Orleans, and San Diego; received a travel grant and a graduate fellowship from the Kinder Institute; and was a Fellow at the JMC Summer Institute in Philadelphia as well as a Goodrich Fellow with the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia. In his free time, he enjoys spending time outdoors, either cycling on country roads or hiking along local trails. A 2017-19 Research Affiliate in History at the Kinder Institute, he now serves as a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Political History.