Historian to speak on American civil liberties and Eugene Debs

  • on 3 Feb 2014
  • Convocation Hall

Historian Ernest F. Freeberg of the University of Tennessee will deliver a lecture, “Eugene V. Debs and the Fight for Free Speech in World War One,” at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, in Convocation Hall. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will focus on the fight for American civil liberties that developed as part of the effort to free American socialist leader Eugene Debs after his arrest and imprisonment for opposing American involvement in World War One.

In 1919 Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking against the U.S. role in World War One. The incident sparked a national debate over the meaning of the First Amendment and the government’s power to silence its critics. The fight to free Debs raised fundamental questions about the balance between individual liberty and national security, and helped to expand the right to protest against war ever since.

Freeberg’s lecture is drawn from his award-winning book, Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, The Great War, and the Right to Dissent. Democracy’s Prisoner was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and winner of the David J. Langum Sr. Prize in American Legal History and the Eli M. Oboler Award from the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Roundtable.

He has pursued a broad research agenda on 19th- and 20th-century cultural and intellectual history in the U.S. In 2013 he published The Age of Edison, which examines how electric light influenced and shaped the development of modern American culture. His first book, The Education of Laura Bridgman, explores the philosophical and religious controversies raised in antebellum America by the education of the first deaf-blind person to learn language. The book won the American Historical Association’s Dunning Prize.

Freeberg, who is chair of the History Department at UT, was educated at Middlebury College and received his Ph.D. from Emory University. He is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, has served on the editorial board of the History of Education Quarterly, and has produced a number of public radio documentaries on historical themes.

The lecture is sponsored by Associated Colleges of the South Faculty Advancement Program, the University Lectures Committee, the Jessie Ball duPont Library, the American Studies Program, and the Department of History.