Future of the Past

Pandemic Labor Organizing and Activism in Historical Perspective

From worker shortages and the “Great Resignation” to a surge in union organizing, labor has become a central issue in pandemic America. Fueled by poor working conditions and treatment, rising hours, and largely stagnant wages while executive pay has soared, a record number of American workers have quit their jobs while thousands of others have turned to unionization as a path to address grievances. With arguably the most labor-friendly presidential administration since the New Deal and broad public support of unions, some argue that we are at a tipping point in organized labor’s long decline. Placing today’s labor environment and worker discontent in historical context, panelists will consider how past moments of labor solidarity and widespread unionization can inform our understanding of current events.

Moderator: Beth English, Organization of American Historians. Panelists: Claudrena Harold*, University of Virginia, William P. Jones, University of Minnesota, Mireya Loza, Georgetown University, and Lane Windham, Georgetown University.

*Please note, due to technical difficulties panelist Claudrena Harold connected via phone rather than camera.

The Assault on Democracy from Historical Perspectives: The January 6 Insurrection One Year Later

Since the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, it has been clear to most Americans that we are witnessing one of the greatest assaults on democracy in modern U.S. history. Yet, contemporary reports often fail to situate these threats to democratic practice in a wider historical lens. This session, featuring some of our nation’s leading U.S. historians, will orient recent social and political events and actions that have attacked U.S. democracy into deeper analysis informed by historical research and practice.

The links between the January 6th insurrection and the growth of the white power movement in the United States continue to frame our recent politics, as well as the perceived threat of the growing empowerment of people of color in the United States. Acts of physical violence are one product of that perceived threat, including those against women and the elderly in the Asian American community, even as they also reflect longstanding xenophobic sentiments in U.S. history. Another is the critical need to understand the persistence of anti-democratic ideologies in the Republican Party since the New Deal to place current voter suppression legislation into proper perspective. The mobilization of African American and other people of color voters in the 2020/2021 elections have raised the stakes of U.S. democracy in the future and foretold the continued battles over the very definition of the United States and its people.

Moderator: George J. Sánchez, University of Southern California Panelists: Anthea Hartig, National Museum of American History; Clarence Lang, The Pennsylvania State University; Erika Lee, University of Minnesota; and Nancy MacLean, Duke University.

The Electoral College in American Society

Every four years Electors convene to decide the next President of the United States. In its more than 200-year history, the Electoral College has selected the candidate who won the popular vote in all but four instances. Despite this seemingly solid record, more than 700 proposals have been submitted to Congress to either reform or eliminate it.


On Thursday, December 16th, four experts discussed the history of the electoral college and its place in American society. These experts addressed questions on the origins of the electoral college, its evolution over the past two centuries, the role of the National Archives and Records Administration in the process, and ongoing debates about whether or not it should be reformed or eliminated.


Speakers: Katerina Horska, Director, Legal Affairs and Policy Division, Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration; Alexander Keyssar, the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard University; Max Krochmal, Associate Professor of History at Texas Christian University; and Miriam Vincent, Staff Attorney, Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration.