Robert Pierce Forbes

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Robert Pierce Forbes (born April 27, 1958) is an American historian specializing in the politics and culture of the early American Republic, and the impact of slavery on the development of American institutions and modern society.


Robert Pierce Forbes was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the first son of Henry Ashton Crosby Forbes and Grace Pierce Forbes. His childhood was spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he attended Shady Hill School. His father is a historian of Asian decorative arts, founder of the Captain Robert Bennet Forbes House and curator of Asian export art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. His mother was a book editor and homemaker.[citation needed]

Forbes attended Concord Academy and graduated from the Cambridge High and Latin School (now Cambridge Rindge and Latin School) in 1976. He received his bachelor's degree in History from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences of The George Washington University in 1986, receiving its Distinguished Scholar Award. After graduation he worked at the Afro-American Communities Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History before enrolling in the graduate program in history at Yale University, where he received a Ph.D in 1994. His dissertation,"Slavery and the Meaning of America, 1819-1833," was awarded the John Addison Porter Prize and the George Washington Egleston Prize in American History.[citation needed]

From 1998 to 2006, Forbes served as the founding associate director of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, under the directorship of David Brion Davis. During this time he also taught undergraduate and graduate courses at Yale.[citation needed] Between 2006 and 2014, Forbes taught U.S. history and American Studies at the University of Connecticut, Torrington.[1] Professor Forbes is also the founder of Locally Grown History, an initiative founded in 2008 to promote public history and tourism in northwest Connecticut.[2][3]

His first book, The Missouri Compromise and its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America, the first major work on the subject in over fifty years, was described as “a profound study” by Oxford historian Daniel Walker Howe.[4] Forbes is also the author of two seminal essays on the cultural history of slavery, "Slavery and the Evangelical Enlightenment" (in McKivigan and Snay, eds., Religion and the Antebellum Debate over Slavery) and "'Truth Systematised': The Changing Debate over Slavery and Abolition, 1761-1916" (in McCarthy and Stauffer, eds., Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism.

In 2007, Forbes was an advising scholar for the PBS-documentary Prince Among Slaves.


Chapters in Anthologies[edit]

  • "'We Here Highly Resolve: The End of Compromise and the Return to Revolutionary Time," in Sean Conant, ed. (2015). Conceived in Liberty: Perspectives on Lincoln at Gettysburg. Oxford University Press. 
  • "The Missouri Compromise and Sectionalism," Paul Finkelman, Donald R. Kennon, eds. (2009). Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism: From the Missouri Compromise to the Age of Jackson. Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-1-56584-880-1. 
  • "'Truth Systematised': The Changing Debate over Slavery and Abolition, 1761-1916," Timothy Patrick McCarthy, John Stauffer, eds. (2006). Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism. The New Press. ISBN 978-1-56584-880-1. 
  • "Slavery and the Evangelical Enlightenment," John R. McKivigan, Mitchell Snay, eds. (1998). Religion and the Antebellum Debate over Slavery. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-1972-4. 


  1. ^
  2. ^ Karen A. Grava, "Torrington professor leads project promoting local history," University of Connecticut Advance, September 8, 2008 [1]
  3. ^
  4. ^ Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 862.


  • Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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