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2022 International Conference on Freemasonry: Video Presentations

Relive or catch up on expert presentations from the 2022 International Conference on Freemasonry, held April 9 in Berkeley. Expert speakers and academics present leading research on a range of issues related to Freemasonry, fraternalism, and social movements.

Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers

“The View from Here: The Golden Thread”

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After earning a Ph.D in British history at Washington University, Susan Mitchell Sommers joined the faculty at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Penn., where she is a professor of history. Sommers has been a fellow of the Royal Historical Society since 2014 and has been involved in editing the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism as well as Zeitschrift für Internationale Freimaurer-Forschung.

In addition to numerous articles and conference presentations, Dr. Sommers is the author of Parliamentary Politics of a County and its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century (Greenwood Press, 2002) and Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry (Pickering & Chatto, 2012). Her most recent book, The Siblys of London: A Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian England (Oxford University Press, 2018), was published as part of Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism.

Andreas Önnerfors

“Transatlantic Perspectives on Freemasonry: German Immigrant Lodges in the USA”

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After the 1848 revolutions in Europe, waves of European émigrés, many of them Germans, settled in the United States. These “Forty-Eighters” faced challenging choices in their relationship to American society, oscillating around assimilation, adaptation, alienation, and open antagonism. The arrival of thousands of refugees from revolutions repositioned U.S. politics within a transatlantic world, one increasingly shaped by multiple intersections and exchanges. Through the activities of German-speaking lodges in the U.S., this paper analyses ideological tensions between Masonic universalism as espoused by émigrés and U.S. Masonic practices. Persistent prejudices and significant differences in organizational culture led to escalating transatlantic Masonic tensions, pointing to deeper divergences in worldviews and self-perceptions. The history of Freemasonry is filled with names of people and lodges, dates and places and a host of information making sense within its own organizational history. In this talk, professor Önnerfors showcases how these elements of a history of events—firmly based on archival sources found in Masonic archives across the globe—are related to larger currents of cultural, social and political developments in time.

Speaker Bio: Andreas Önnerfors is a professor of intellectual history, currently serving as visiting associate professor and Fulbright scholar in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at UC Berkeley. At the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, he is dean of humanities. After completing his PhD on 18th century encounters between Sweden and Germany, Önnerfors has carried out research into Swedish Freemasonry, press history, and the history of science. Between 2007 and 2010, he was the director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism at the University of Sheffield. Having returned to Sweden, he subsequently has researched the links between political radicalization and conspiracy theories. He is the author of Freemasonry – A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2017) and editor of Europe: Continent of Conspiracies? Conspiracy Theories in and about Europe (Routledge, 2021). Andreas Önnerfors is a member of the Swedish rite and between 2019–2021 was the master of Research Lodge QC No. 2076 (UGLE).

Dr. Rob Collis

“The Avignon Society and Masonic Networks in Europe, 1779–1807”

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A great deal of conjecture and erroneous information has been written about the Avignon Society, much of which has centered on its links to Freemasonry. The Avignon Society was able to develop a unique identity as an initiatic group in Europe for over a quarter of a century at a time of monumental upheaval across the continent. Yet throughout its existence, the society leaned heavily on pre-existing networks of high-degree Freemasonry across Europe in order to establish foundations in specific locations, such as Valence, Avignon and St. Petersburg. Moreover, leaders within the society also actively utilized the Masonic credentials and links of pivotal members of the group in order to promote it more broadly via Masonic channels that traversed much of the European continent.

Speaker Bio: Dr. Robert Collis earned his BA and MA degrees from the University of Sussex in Britain. He began his doctoral studies at the University of Sheffield before transferring to the University of Turku (Finland), where was awarded his doctorate in 2008. His doctoral thesis, The Petrine Instauration: Religion, Science and Esotericism at the Court of Peter the Great, won the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism Thesis Prize in 2009 and a revised version was published by Brill in 2012. Collis was a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism at the University of Sheffield between 2008 and 2010. During this time, he co-edited Freemasonry and Fraternalism in Eighteenth-Century Russia with Andreas Önnerfors. He was also a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Sheffield between 2010-2012 and a research fellow of the Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki (Finland) between 2013–2014. In 2016, Collis was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (of Great Britain). Collis was the co-editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism between 2009-2012 and has been the managing editor of Vivliofika: E-Journal of Eighteenth-Century Russian Studies since 2015.

Dr. Kevin Quarmby

“The Masonic Detective: Freemasonry and the Founding of Emory University”

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On the morning of April 4, 2013, a massive tree uprooted on the quadrangle of Oxford College of Emory University. Crashing to the ground, the tree narrowly missed demolishing the Few Memorial, dedicated in 1849 to the first president of Emory College, Ignatius A. Few, and adorned with a prominent Masonic square and compasses emblazoned on its column. Having stood proudly as a symbol for Emory College and then Oxford College for over 160 years, the Few Memorial survived its ordeal relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, Quarmby and a colleague from Emory were meeting with members of San Marino Lodge No. 34 in Greensboro, Georgia, to negotiate the acquisition by Emory of manuscripts, documents, and assorted paraphernalia belonging to the lodge. The names of the founding fathers of Emory College, and thus Emory University, filled the pages of this remarkable antebellum archive. The archive offers a unique opportunity to discover the significance of Freemasonry as a philanthropic association dedicated to elevating the educational standards of the state of Georgia in the early decades of the 19th century.

Speaker Bio: Kevin A. Quarmby is a leading expert on Shakespearean studies. He was awarded a PhD in English in Shakespeare and early modern drama by King’s College London and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He won the King’s College Inglis Prize and gained full Arts and Humanities Research Council funding for his doctoral research. Quarmby began teaching at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre London as a globe education lecturer, followed by London faculty positions for Florida State University and the Foundation for International Education. In the Fall of 2011, prior to accepting an assistant professorship at Oxford College of Emory University, Quarmby was guest lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s Homerton College. In 2017, Quarmby joined the School of Arts and Letters faculty at the College of St. Scholastica, where he is now an associate professor of English. Away from the physical classroom, Quarmby is passionate about digital scholarship and social justice. His Shakespeare classes regularly invite outside participants to join his students, while also interacting with academics and practitioners from around the world.

Dr. Heather K. Calloway

“The Paraphernalia of the Lodge: Preserving the Material Culture of Fraternal Organizations”

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While cleaning out a closet filled with old lockers and boxes, a janitor took out a brown envelope, about 12 by 14 inches. The envelope was open and looked like it contained an American flag. It appeared to be of some importance, so he took it to the museum curator for inspection. She looked inside and found a flag and a letter which read, “These will occupy permanent places in our museum as memorabilia with appropriate credit to you.” The thank you letter was written to Lt. Col. Richard C. Delsi from Sovereign Grand Commander Clausen, of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, USA in 1985, but was seemingly lost until its discovery in a closet in 2002. Was the flag misplaced? What was its story? How had it arrived at the museum? Was it of any importance? Stories like this one are all too familiar in libraries, archives, and museums. Collections are filled with countless artifacts. Proper storage for artifacts is always limited. Some donations arrive in person. Other gifts come through the mail. And even more are added to a collection through an intentional acquisition. Although professionals work tirelessly to keep track of a collection’s items and their provenance, sometimes an item—or its history—is misplaced. Dr. Calloway’s talk will cover the unique role archivists, librarians, curators, and even volunteers have in preserving fraternal collections.

Speaker Bio: Dr. Heather K. Calloway is currently serving as the executive director of University Collections at Indiana University. Her position has broad responsibility for the stewardship of IU’s myriad collections, consistent with the university’s teaching, research, and service missions. In 2021, she founded the Center for Fraternal Collections and Research at IU and will serve as its inaugural director. The center will collect, preserve, and make accessible historical and cultural materials related to fraternal organizations. Dr. Calloway spent 14 years at the headquarters of the Scottish Rite Freemasons in Washington, D.C., as the museum curator and managing director of digital and social media. Under her direction, new approaches to museum tours, exhibits and collection access were instituted as a renewed public became interested in Freemasonry. Previously she also held the positions as the inaugural archivist for the archives and special collections at Washington College, the university archivist for the Perdue Museum and Archives at Salisbury University and as the librarian/archivist for the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Chernoh M. Sesay, Jr.

“Emancipation, Citizenship, and Prince Hall Freemasonry during the Revolutionary Era”

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Relatively speaking, Prince Hall and his fellow brethren are everywhere in the records of late- 18th century Boston. Members of the first Black lodge in Masonic history occupied crucial positions of leadership in America’s first period of emancipation. In addition to organizing African Lodge No. 1, Hall and others penned an antislavery petition and a denouncement of kidnapping. Hall pledged the aid of Black Masons to the Massachusetts government. He and other asked for financial support for both African emigration and African American education. In addition, Hall published three Masonic charges that represent critical work within African American literary traditions. Yet historians have not yet fully acknowledged the centrality of the African Lodge for understanding freedom and citizenship during the Revolutionary Era. In this presentation, Dr. Sesay will discuss how social history, literary studies, and intellectual history are necessary in making the case for the broader importance of Prince Hall Freemasonry. The social and ideological origins of the African Lodge offer an interesting view of North America through a lens combining Masonic perspective and racial experience.

Speaker Bio: Chernoh M. Sesay, Jr. is a historian of the Black Atlantic and colonial North American and antebellum United States history whose research focuses on the intersection of religion, Black political thought, identity, and community formation. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Black Boston and the Making of African-American Freemasonry: Leadership, Religion, and Community in Early America. In this study, the early development of Black Freemasonry, from its founder, Prince Hall, to its prominent antebellum member, David Walker, becomes a prism through which to consider various relationships between religion, gender, community, and interracial and Black politics. He is also exploring how different forms of 19th and 20th-century African American historicism were comprised of aligned and competing theological and secular concerns.

Dr. James Smith Allen

“Women in the Judeo-Masonic Conspiracy: A French Cultural Fixation”

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Dr. Allen’s talk traces the cultural origins of the role of women in the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory in France. It begins with the Marquis de Luchet’s infamous account of mixed Masonry in the Egyptian Rite on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789, an account reprised by the Abbé Augustin Barruel’s more extensive study of the Illuminati as the forerunners of the revolutionary Jacobins. The 1872 publication of Barruel’s views of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, at the moment that anti-Semitism became a major political issue in French politics, coincided with the rapid rise of the women’s movement and Maria Deraismes’s 1882 initiation into an all-male lodge of the Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise.

Speaker Bio: After serving as the vice president for academic affairs for the Southern Illinois University system, James Smith Allen is an emeritus professor of history with a cross appointment in women, gender, and sexuality studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. A specialist in 19th century French social and intellectual history, Dr. Allen is interested primarily in the social history of romanticism, reading, feminism, and memory. His publications include three books, Popular French Romanticism: Authors, Readers, and Books in the 19th Century (1991)—also available in Italian translation—as well as In the Public Eye: A History of Reading in Modern France (1991), and Poignant Relations: Three Modern French Women (2000). In 1994 he also edited In the Solitude of My Soul: The Diary of Geneviève Bréton, 1867-1871. He completed an autobiographical study of personal and historical memory, entitled A Privileged Past (2010).