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Making Michigan Series

Join us for the Bentley Historical Library’s series of talks exploring the history of the University of Michigan.


Keeping Resistance Alive: Chandler Davis and Academic Freedom at U-M

Thursday, February 2, 2023
7:00 P.M. Eastern Time

Detroit Observatory

In 1954, Chandler Davis was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His fellows on the stand were his colleagues Mark Nickerson and Clement L. Markert, and his student friends Edward Shaffer and Myron E. Sharpe. All were “unfriendly witnesses, refusing to confess” their political dissent.

Davis, unlike the others, based his refusal to answer only on the First Amendment, waiving his protection under the Fifth Amendment. Thereby he deliberately invited a citation for Contempt of Congress, so as to give himself standing to argue in court that the Committee’s proceedings were unconstitutional. He got the citation, but he did not prevail in court; his appeals were exhausted in 1959 and he served prison time in 1960.

Meanwhile, he and Professor Nickerson had been dismissed from their positions at the University. Davis’s deliberate and strategic approach to this assault on intellectual freedom was reflected throughout his long life of activism. His actions and those of his colleagues were eventually acknowledged by the Faculty Senate with the creation of the Davis/Markert/Nickerson Lecture in Academic and Intellectual Freedom in 1990.

This Making Michigan discussion will reflect on Davis’s life, actions and legacy at U-M and beyond and will seek to understand and recognize his contributions.

Panelists for this discussion will include:

  • Steve Batterson, professor emeritus of mathematics, Emory University, and author of a forthcoming biography of Davis, The Un-American Treatment of a Red Mathematician in the 1950s (Monthly Review Press). Batterson is also the author of Stephen Smale: The Mathematician Who Broke the Dimension Barrier (American Mathematical Society Reprint, 2000). Batterson will focus on Davis’s stand on the First Amendment — rather than the Fifth — in refusing to answer HUAC’s questions, in comparison to others who relied on that strategy and those who did not.
  • Peggie Hollingsworth, assistant research scientist emerita, Environmental and Industrial Health, School of Public Health. Hollingsworth was chair of the Faculty Senate when the DMN Lecture was created and served as the lecture’s longtime organizer as director of the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund. Hollingsworth will focus on Davis’s legacy at U-M, including the creation of the lecture and his annual engagement with it.
  • Alan Wald, H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. He is a specialist in United States Literary Radicalism, and the author of many books including American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). Wald will focus on Davis’s strategy in the context of American leftist activism, in the McCarthy era and since, including Davis’s concern in the years before his death about the rise of a “new political blacklist.”

Watch previous lectures

Fifty Years of Native American Student Activism with Bethany Hughes 

A Difficult Archive: Reckoning with U-M’s Complicity in the U.S. Colonization of the Philippines with Deirdre de la Cruz

To Put Living Force Into the Symbols: The Journeys of Anatol Rapaport

Wolverine Writers: History and Storytelling Across Campus and through the Years

Seeing Anew Symposium 1: The Observatory and 19th-Century Science and Scholarship 

Seeing Anew Symposium 2: The Observatory in the History of Astronomy

Seeing Anew Symposium 3: The Observatory as an Historic Site for Contemporary Education

Seeing Anew Keynote: Astrophysicist Brian Nord in conversation with Gary Krenz

The McCarthy-Era Red Scare in Michigan: Its Meaning, Then and Now with David Maraniss

Sing to the Colors: My Complicated Love Song to the University with James Tobin

Conquering Heroines: How Women Fought Sex Bias at Michigan and Paved the Way for Title IX with Sara Fitzgerald

Michigan Football Game Films, 1930-1986: Digitizing Game-Day History with Brian Williams and Greg Kinney

Undermining Racial Justice at the University of Michigan with Matthew Johnson 

Pathways to Greatness: How the University of Michigan Became a World-Class University…and What it Cost with Terry McDonald

Campus Chords: Devotional Harmonies and the Dissonance of Difference in the University of Michigan’s Songbook with Mark Clague

Constructing Gender: The Origins of the Michigan League and Michigan Union with Nancy Bartlett and Sarah McLusky

Anti-Fascism at U-M: Defending Democracy During the Spanish Civil War with Juli Highfill

Radical Roots, Contested Place: African American and African Studies at U-M with Stephen Ward

The Boundaries of Pluralism: The World of the University of Michigan’s Jewish Students from 1897 – 1945 with Andrei Markovits and Kenneth Garner

Stars Rising: Why U-M’s Detroit Observatory Matters — and Where It’s Going with Gary Krenz

Lilly Stalks, Pounded Murphies and Caramel Ice Cream: Investigating the Food System that Fed U-M Students a Century Ago with Lisa Young

“We must work off our surplus animal spirits”: 19th-Century Origins of Athletic Competition at the University of Michigan with Greg Kinney and Brian Williams

Telling the Truth About the Liberal Arts: Histories and Futures with Terry McDonald

Coeducation for Democracy: The Changing Moral Vision for Educating the Sexes at U-M, 1870-1920 with Andrea Turpin