The Kansas City Public Library was sieged by leading Civil War-era scholars last week for the Border Wars Conference. The three-day symposium began Thursday and explored the rich and volatile history of the border between Kansas and Missouri during warning period
Planning for the conference began four years ago by Diane Mutti Burke, an associate professor of history at UMKC, and Jonathan Earle, an associate professor of history at the University of Kansas. They said they deliberately limited the scope of the conference to the Kansas and Missouri border because of the importance of this area in the Civil War.
“Everything that the war became started here,” Earle said. “It’s fundamental to understand what happened here happened everywhere else.”
The speakers were a prestigious consortium of 17 scholars hailing from across the country including Ithaca College, University of Cincinnati, the University of Texas-Pan American, University of Kansas and UMKC. Many are published authors and distinguished experts in their fields.
The symposium, presented at the Plaza Branch covered a range of topics including slavery, Abraham Lincoln, westward expansion, white supremacy, politics, and a presentation by KU associate professor Jennifer Weber on the intense sports rivalry between the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas that was a crowd favorite.
“The Border War deserves a name derived from the Civil War era,” Weber said with a laugh.
Earle and Burke said they were meticulous in choosing the speakers for the symposium. They wanted to build long-lasting relationships by choosing scholars who started fairly early in their careers and they wanted equal representation of speakers from Kansas and Missouri. The goal was to cover a broad range of topics.
The symposium was organized and funded in part by the Kansas City Public Library, the University of Kansas and UMKC History Departments, the UMKC Center for Regional Studies, the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
“Kansas City was just such a good place to do this,” Earle said. “One of the participants told me, ‘Kansas City knows how to throw a good party.’”
Earle and Burke said organizing the conference together brought the KU and UMKC history departments closer together.
“It helped us break out of the silos of Missouri and Kansas,” Earle said.
The event was open to the public and Burke and Earle estimate the total attendance was 500 people over the course of three days, with many audiance members attending more than one day.
They plan on writing an estimated 300-page book with the tentative title “Border Wars-Kansas and Missouri during the era of Civil War,” it will compile the academic papers presented by the symposium speakers, and then they will shopping it around to different publishers.
“The topic is pretty hot, the Civil War in the west,” Burke said.