Symposium: Zebulon Vance Reconsidered

Ansley Wegner's picture

The Vance Birthplace and the University of North Carolina Asheville are partnering to offer a free symposium examining the complicated legacy of our state’s Civil War governor. Zebulon Vance was a prominent figure in North Carolina for four decades and was never anything less than controversial. The story of Vance is one of both a hero and a scoundrel. It is the story of a person who won major victories for the people he represented, but also benefitted from an unjust, exploitative economic system that affects us even today. The history and study of Zebulon Vance is a contested one; this symposium will encourage open dialogue between participants and speakers exploring that dichotomy.

Keynote Speaker:

Thursday, Sept. 14th, 7 p.m., at UNCA – Lipinsky Auditorium

David Blight is a class of 1954 professor of American history at Yale University, having joined that faculty in January of 2003. He is director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. In 2013-14 he was the William Pitt professor of American history at Cambridge University, UK, and in 2010-11, Blight was the Rogers Distinguished Fellow in 19th century American history at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. He is currently writing a new, full biography of Frederick Douglass that will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2018. Blight works in many capacities in public history, including on boards of museums and historical societies, and as a member of a small team of advisers to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum team of curators. In 2012, Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and delivered an induction address, “The Pleasure and Pain of History.” On the evening of Sept. 14th, Blight will provide a national context and speak to the Civil War and memory.


Friday, Sept. 15th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at UNCA – Sherrill Center, Mountain View Room

10 a.m. to noon

The Complicated Legacy of Zebulon Vance

A panel discussion with Zebulon Vance scholars, including Gordon McKinney, Joe Mobley, Steve Nash, and Darin Waters will discuss Vance’s story. As they place him in historical context, pre-Civil War, through the war days, and on, participants will be encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussion.

Gordon McKinney, has been recognized by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for expanding the reach of Appalachian studies far beyond the academic setting. He has published articles and books on a wide range of topics but is best known for his definitive study of Zebulon Vance in North Carolina’s Civil War Governor & Gilded Age Political Leader. Joe Mobley is the author of eight books on North Carolina history most notably War Governor of the South: North Carolina’s Zeb Vance in the Confederacy. Darin Waters is an Assistant Professor of History and Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Community Outreach and Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His research focuses on the history of African Americans in Asheville and Western North Carolina including an annual conference on the history African Americans in Western NC and Southern Appalachia.  More recently, Dr. Waters has written about issues surrounding the construction of the nation’s collective historical memory. Steven (Steve) Nash is Associate Professor of History at East Tennessee State University where he teaches 19th century U.S. History, Civil War and Reconstruction, and Appalachian History. He is the author of Reconstruction's Ragged Edge: The Politics of Postwar Life in the Southern Mountains which won the Appalachian Studies Association's Weatherford Award in 2017.

2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Vance in Fiction

Local author Sharon McCrumb will explore Vance’s influence on her books through storytelling. She will examine Zebulon Vance’s role in fiction and how that portrayal has affected modern views of Vance.

Best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels set in the North Carolina/Tennesse mountains, Sharyn McCrumb is known for her ability to write historic fiction and intertwine thorough research into new and exciting stories. McCrumb has many notable accomplishments, including the Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Southern Literature in April of 2014.

2:45 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Question & Answer followed by book signings.


Friday, Sept. 15th, 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Western Office, 176 Riceville Rd., Asheville 28805

A reception will follow at the NC Western Archives with an exhibit opening by photographer Brenda Scott. This exhibit, The Mountains Are Calling: At Home in Western North Carolina (c.1790-1830) utilizes photographs of the Vance Birthplace to explore the many facets of early life on a homestead in the mountains of North Carolina.