2023 NCHE Conference - Freedom From, Freedom To

John Csepegi's picture
March 23, 2023 to March 25, 2023
Utah, United States
Subject Fields: 
American History / Studies, History Education, Teaching and Learning, World History / Studies, Social History / Studies


Join the National Council for History Education (NCHE) for the Freedom From, Freddom To conference in Salt Lake City, UT on March 23-25, 2023.  

Nestled at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City occupies the ancestral homelands of both Shoshone and Ute peoples. These tribal homelands were claimed by Spain, and then Mexico, for more than 200 years before the United States acquired the territory in 1848. Utah is now home to eight sovereign native nations, along with generations of migrants from all over the world. Today, over 100 languages are spoken across the state, reflecting diversity that is both remarkable and typical of the American West.

Utah is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). In the 1840s, these Euro-Americans followed the overland trails west to escape mob violence and legal persecution in Illinois and Missouri. They went on to settle a vast domain reaching from Idaho to southern California. African Americans were among the earliest migrants to Utah; before 1862 their numbers included both freed and enslaved people. Colonization happened at a breathtaking pace in the region, and it did not follow a simple, westward trajectory. Within a few short decades, railroad jobs and resource extraction drew Latina/o workers northward from Mexico and the Southwest, Chinese and Japanese people from across the Pacific, and eastern and southern Europeans from across the Atlantic. At the same time, faith drew thousands of LDS immigrants from Britain, Scandinavia, and Polynesia to the region. 

Many of these migrants sought some kind of freedom in the American West—freedom from poverty, insecurity, or persecution; freedom of conscience, of choice, or of opportunity. 

In his seminal 1958 address, Two Concepts of Liberty, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin distinguished between the concepts of negative and positive freedom. Negative freedom indicates the freedom from something- freedom from the tyranny of the majority or the coercion of the state. LDS migrants, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans during World War II would certainly have recognized this type of freedom. In contrast, positive freedom represents something far more self-directive, the freedom to act on one’s own will and to pursue opportunities. Positive freedom seeks to place authority in the hands of an empowered individual or collective. American history has often involved individuals and groups attempting to gain freedoms that were originally denied to them. The struggle to have access to equal education, to gain citizenship, to secure voting rights, and to marry the person of one’s choice are all examples of positive freedoms. Many argue that the creation of the welfare state is an example of positive freedoms at work. Going a step further, supporters of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) argue that the program will provide citizens with the financial means necessary to make personal choices that empower their lives. In not placing any restrictions on how funds are to be used, UBI advocates note that participants can live life with a measure of dignity otherwise unavailable to them.

Yet, Isaiah Berlin, watching the Cold War unfold, grew increasingly concerned that the noble goals of the socialist revolution in the former U.S.S.R. had succumbed to the machinations of totalitarian rulers. The freedom and self-actualization of the individual became increasingly equated with the needs of the larger community. “Once I take this view,” Berlin says, “I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies, to bully, oppress, torture in the name, and on behalf, of their ‘real’ selves, in the secure knowledge that whatever is the true goal of man ... must be identical with his freedom.” Berlin argued that positive freedom could have an authoritarian streak that may lead some to believe that people should be, in the words of Rousseau, “forced to be free.” Ultimately, positive and negative concepts of freedom rest upon two, at times, competing visions of the world. Although it is not always possible to reconcile these views, we also must acknowledge that they arise from deeply human convictions and therefore merit our deepest consideration and deliberation. 

The NCHE Conference features over 70 Breakout, Mini, and Poster Sessions, Enrichment Excursions to historic sites in and around the city, the NCHE Exhibit Hall, and our Friday Night at the Natural History Museum of Utah.  Keynote Speakers for the conference are: Nicole Maskiell (University of South Carolina), Luis Martínez-Fernández (University of Central Florida), and Jeremi Suri (University of Texas).   

The national conference is a place where historical thinkers can come together and share their passion for teaching and learning.  Join teachers, historians and university faculty from around the nation for three days of History Education!

Contact Info: 

John Csepegi
Director of Conferences & Events
National Council for History Education
13940 Cedar Road, #393
University Heights, OH  44118
(240) 888-4105

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