Scholars from across the country to participate in symposium on St. Louis’ 250th anniversary

France’s consul general, Osage Nation’s leader and Quebec’s leading U.S. delegate to attend
By Susan Killenberg McGinn
article image

Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

This image, titled “Founding of St. Louis, 1764,” is from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat Sunday Supplement, Feb. 22, 1902.

As the City of St. Louis marks the 250th anniversary of its founding with a yearlong series of events, scholars from across the nation will provide their perspectives on the city’s historical significance during a daylong symposium Friday, Feb. 14, at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

Among the scholars participating in the symposium are Washington University in St. Louis’ Peter Kastor, PhD; Yale University’s Jay Gitlin, PhD; and Patricia Cleary, PhD, a St. Louis native, of California State University, Long Beach.

Titled “A Great City From the Start: The Founding and Lasting Significance of St. Louis,” the event is open to the public. For details on registration and costs, visit here.

The symposium will be held from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. in Lee Auditorium, lower level of the Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd. Registration begins at 8 a.m. on the museum’s main level.

The symposium is jointly sponsored by Yale University and Washington University, along with the museum and Les Amis (The Friends), the region’s French cultural heritage preservationist organization.

Scholars’ talks will range from “Creating St. Louis: A ‘Civilized Wilderness’ of Multicultural Cooperation” and the “Physical Geography of Early St. Louis” to “Mapping Women in the French Colonial World” and “Fashion on the Frontier: Clothing Choices and Cultural Identities in Colonial St. Louis.” 

Courtesy of Missouri History Museum
August Becker, “Founding of St. Louis” (1861). Becker painted this scene of the city’s founding after one of Carl Wimar’s Old St. Louis Courthouse murals. The scene depicts Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau landing on the site of St. Louis in 1764, greeted by American Indians. 

‘One of the finest cities of America’

Gitlin, who is a lecturer at Yale with an expertise in French colonial history and associate director of the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers & Borders, will conclude the symposium with a talk titled “A Great American City: Making the Case for St. Louis History.”

Since his undergraduate years at Yale, when he took a course taught by Lamar on the history of the American West, Gitlin has made the founding of St. Louis in 1764 a focus of his scholarly work.

“St. Louis encompassed cultural, racial and sectional divides and, at the same time, connected a vast region as a gathering place of peoples, cultures and goods,” said Gitlin, who is author of “The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion” (Yale University Press, 2010), which describes the key role the French played in developing the American West.

“French and American, eastern and western, southern and northern, multiracial, multicultural and multilingual, St. Louis may not be the geographic center of the nation, but its history — and its future — may hold the key to understanding our sense of self and our sense of purpose,” Gitlin continued.

“Pierre de Laclède is purported to have said that the settlement he had established might become, ‘one of the finest cities of America.’ And so it has,” Gitlin said of St. Louis.

Among the distinguished guests attending the symposium, as well as participating in other events during stl250’s birthday bash weekend Feb. 14-16, are Graham Paul, consul general of France in Chicago; Chief Scott Bighorse, principal chief of the Osage Nation; and Eric Marquis, Quebec's leading delegate to the U.S.

WUSTL Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton will host a luncheon on the Danforth Campus for symposium participants. Wrighton, along with Paul, Bighorse and Marquis, will present remarks at the luncheon.

Wrighton will speak about the history of Washington University, which is inextricably entwined with the history of St. Louis, and the university’s significant impact on St. Louis.

“As we continue to make progress toward our objectives, we will continue to influence — and be influenced by — St. Louis, the great city that gave birth to our university,” Wrighton said. “Two hundred and fifty years from now, I am certain the connection between Washington University and St. Louis will be stronger than ever.”

Symposium participants also are invited to attend a dinner that night at Windows on Washington, hosted by the Yale Club of St. Louis and Les Amis.

At the dinner, Ryan A. Brasseaux, dean of Yale’s Davenport College and author of a soon-to-be published work on French influence on 20th-century American culture, will deliver a talk titled “Being French in North America.” Also, the Poor People of Paris, a St. Louis-based French popular and jazz music group, will perform.

For a complete list of symposium topics and speaker bios, visit here. For questions about the symposium, call 314-454-3165, or for more on the yearlong 250th celebration, visit www.stl250.org.

Susan Killenberg McGinn
Executive Director of University News Service
(314) 935-5254; (314) 603-6008 (cell)
Peter J. Kastor
Professor of History in Arts & Sciences
(314) 935-7663