Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Adams-Jefferson Conference Day 3

The Boston leg of the Adams-Jefferson Libraries conference concluded today, with two panels at the BPL. Richard Ryerson, Keith Thomson and Brian Steele gave papers this morning on "Adams, Jefferson, and Nationalism," and Joanne Freeman commented. In the afternoon there was a panel on "Libraries and the Enlightenment," which featured Frank Shuffelton and Billy Wayson, with comment by Mary Kelley.

The papers today were intentionally provocative, in some ways raised more questions than than answered. They all prompted good discussions. There were some amusing moments: Keith Thomson, in speaking about Jefferson's defense of the Americas against Buffon, commented on the relative warmth of Europe and North America, noting "in fact if Franklin hadn't discovered the Gulf Stream, all of Europe would be quite uninhabitable."

And I think today was probably the only time John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Klingons have been discussed in the same conversation - that came about in a discussion of cosmology and Ryerson's suggestion that Adams believed it quite possible that there was life on other planets. He quoted JA's diary for 25 April 1756: "Astronomers tell us, with good Reason, that not only all the Planets and Satellites in our Solar System, are inhabited, but all the unnumbered Worlds that revolve round the fixt Starrs are inhabited, as well as this Globe of Earth. If this is the Case all Mankind are no more in comparison of the whole rational Creation of God, than a point to the Orbit of Saturn. Perhaps all these different Ranks of Rational Beings have in a greater or less Degree, committed moral Wickedness. If so, I ask a Calvinist, whether he will subscribe to this Alternitive, 'either God almighty must assume the respective shapes of all these different Species, and suffer the Penalties of their Crimes, in their Stead, or else all these Beings must be consigned to everlasting Perdition?'" Hence, would Christ have to appear as a Klingon too for them to be saved? Probably more a thought experiment than anything else, but a very interesting one indeed.

Again, all the papers are available here, and the commenters' remarks are going to be uploaded as well (in addition, which I did not know until today, the panels were taped, and audio files of them will be edited and made available online as well, so I'll certainly note when they go live).

Following the afternoon session we bussed to Quincy to the Adams National Historical Park, to see the house lived in by several generation of Adamses. Since I (for shame) had never been, I figured what better time to go than with a group of big fans? That was a delightful little trip, and a fitting send-off for the conference. The second leg resumes in Charlottesville, VA on Thursday afternoon with a keynote address by former Sen. Gary Hart. I've got to go back to the real world tomorrow so I will miss the second section of the conference, but will look forward to the audio of the discussions and will remember the Boston leg very fondly.