Race and Place in 19th Century New York State: Rethinking William H. Seward and Thomas Cole

This two-day conference about the juxtaposition of English American artist Thomas Cole (1801–1848) and politician William H. Seward (1801–1872), leading artistic and political figures in 19th-century New York, raises important historiographical questions that resonate to the present day.

This interdisciplinary program is prompted by The Huntington’s acquisition of a major painting by Cole, Portage Falls on the Genesee, ca. 1839, which was presented to Seward, then New York governor, to hang in the executive mansion in Albany and later in his personal residence, now known as the Seward House Museum, in Auburn, New York.

The conference, organized around 11 short papers, will be arranged in four sessions: Politics and Abolitionism; Native Americans and New York State; Black Experience in New York State; and Environmental Perspectives. There will also be discussion time in The Huntington’s galleries, during which the speakers and the audience can engage in close looking at Cole’s painting and at related works of art.

Conference registration includes free access to the grounds and galleries.



9 a.m. | Check-in

10 a.m. | Welcome & Remarks

Natalia Molina (The Huntington)

Tim Barringer (Yale University) and Graham Hodges (Colgate University)

10:30 a.m. | Session 1—Politics and Abolitionism

  • Leigh K. Fought (Le Moyne College)

    “Abolitionist Women in Frederick Douglass’s New York”
  • Sophie Lynford (Delaware Art Museum)

    “Abolition and the American Pre-Raphaelites”

11:30 a.m. | Break

12 p.m. | Session 1 (continued)

  • Van E. Gosse (Franklin & Marshall College)

    “William Seward: A Whig Radical”
  • Tom Balcerski (Eastern Connecticut State University)

    “Making the Irrepressible Conflict: William H. Seward and the Emergence of Anti-Slavery Politics, 1840-1861”

1 p.m. | Lunch

2 p.m. | Session 2: Native Americans and New York State

  • Jami Powell (Dartmouth College)

    “Indigenizing the Canon: Re-Imagining American Art History”
  • Andrew Lipman (Barnard College)

    “Manna-hata Memories: Natives, Myths, and Realities in Antebellum New York”
  • Shannon Vittoria (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    “Thomas Cole and the (Mis)Representation of Indigenous Peoples”


9:30 a.m. | Check-in

10 a.m. | Session 3: Black Experience in New York State

  • Christopher Bonner (University of Maryland)

    “Go West, Black Man: Citizenship, Race, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century African American Politics”
  • Anna Arabindan-Kesson (Princeton University)

    “Visualizing Black History? Robert S. Duncanson and the Potential of Landscape Painting”

11:15 a.m. | Gallery Session

Informal discussion of Thomas Cole’s painting Portage Falls on the Genesee and related works in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries. Discussion leaders Tim Barringer and Dennis Carr, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art

12:15 p.m. | Lunch

1:15 p.m. | Session 4: Environmental Perspectives

  • David Stradling (University of Cincinnati)

    “Realizing Thomas Cole’s Vision for the American Landscape at Portage Falls”
  • Kelvin Parnell (University of Virginia)

    “Casting the Wilderness: Native Imaginings in the Empire City”

2:15 p.m. | Session 5: Panel discussion with all speakers

3 p.m. | Closing Remarks

Funding provided by The William French Smith Endowment. Additional support provided by Christie’s.