Past Conferences

Since 2019, when authors for the second volume of Cambridge University Press’ Cambridge History of America and the World series descended on Columbia to workshop their chapters, the Kinder Institute has made it more or less a yearly tradition to host a major academic conference that brings scholars from around the globe to Mizzou and introduces them to the vibrant intellectual community we’re continuing to build and grow on the fourth floor of Jesse Hall. As the tabs below show, these gatherings have explored everything from electoral regimes, to the Missouri Crisis at 200. Our next conference, scheduled for September 2024, will re-interpret federalism for the 21st century, and more information about that can be found here.

Spring 2024: Electocracy in America

Throughout the world, disinformation, political violence, and other attacks on established political norms are inspiring citizens to defend open and competitive elections, fact-based political debate, and the rule of law. But what is it, exactly, that we are defending?

The favored term is “democracy.” The ideals behind this word are worth embracing, but the term itself is normative and hard to define. As an analytical term, “democracy” does little to clarify how electoral systems actually function. What if we approach such regimes instead as “electocracies,” which we define as systems in which political power is allocated primarily through competitive public elections? A brief account of the rise of electrocracy in the United States might go like this: Building on a colonial tradition of elites buying off landowning settlers with representative institutions, America’s gentleman revolutionaries expanded the electoral principle of the English Parliament to every conceivable jurisdiction, while leaving actual standards of representation and inclusion up to local circumstances. The result was a patchwork, in which the makeup of the electorate and the underlying principle of representation varied from place to place, usually predicated on exclusions by gender, race, wealth, and other factors. What had been a community ritual of allegiance became an unpredictable game without set rules, played for enormous stakes on a shifting and varied terrain. Through recurring struggle, the democratic values of majoritarianism, transparency, equality, and inclusivity were gradually applied to this process, but in a wholly uneven and open-ended manner. Over time, electocracy gave rise to a roller-coaster of democratization and retrenchment, often inextricable from racial, class, and gender hierarchies but always marked by a search for electoral advantage at almost any cost. The process continues to this day.

On March 15-16, 2024, the Kinder Institute gathered scholars from across the globe for a two-day conference test-driving this new lens through which to view the political history of democracies and their alternatives.

Spring 2022: BrANCH Annual Meeting

Organized around the theme of “Atlantic Histories: America in 19th-Century Atlantic Context,” and making the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Kinder Institute’s M.A. in Atlantic History & Politics, scholars from each side of the Atlantic gathered in Columbia from April 7-9, 2022, for the annual meeting of the Association of British American 19th-Century Historians, which featured a pair of keynotes delivered by Indiana University Sarah Knott and Richard Carwardine of Corpus Christi College Oxford.

Spring 2019: A Fire Bell in the Past, the Missouri Crisis at 200

On February 15-16, 2019, as near as possible to the 200th anniversary of the Tallmadge Amendment that tried to ban slavery in Missouri, the University of Missouri’s Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, as a partner in the Missouri Bicentennial Alliance, convened the first-ever national conference reassessing the Missouri Crisis. The best papers presented at the conference were selected for development into chapters of a multi-authored, two-volume edited collection published as part of the Kinder Institute’s Studies in Constitutional Democracy MU Press imprint in conjunction with the bicentennial commemorations in 2021. While the Missouri Crisis shows up in nearly every American history textbook, it has rarely received its due as the multi-faceted, watershed event it was, or been fully analyzed in light of modern historical scholarship. Missouri’s bicentennial seemed the right occasion to fill this gap.

Spring 2018: Cambridge History of America and the World

In recent decades, the lens through which we view the development of U.S. politics has steadily widened. Thanks to the efforts of a new wave of scholars, national history, once the default method of studying America’s past, is now complemented, and complicated, by a transnational approach that more dutifully acknowledges the global interactions that have shaped the United States’ narrative since before it was the United States. Once scattered between various academic journals, the work of these historians now has a common home in Cambridge University Press’ four-volume series, Cambridge History of America and the World.

From May 17-19, 2018, the University of Missouri’s Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy played a small part in constructing this common home, hosting over 30 leading scholars from as far away as University of New South Wales (and as close as William Woods University) for a three-day conference to workshop all chapters for the Cambridge series’ second, 19th-century volume. The scale of the conference reflected the ambitions for the project as a whole, which editors believe has the potential to redefine study of the complex and varied relations between the United States and foreign nations over the entire course of U.S. history.