Florida Southern College

Center for Florida History

The Lawton M. Chiles Center for Florida History strives to enhance the teaching, study, and writing of Florida history.

Founded in 2001, the Center seeks to preserve the state’s past through cooperative efforts with historical societies, preservation groups, museums, public programs, media, and interested persons.

As such, the Center’s long-term goals are to:

  • Expand and upgrade the Florida Lecture Series.
  • Offer training in Florida history for public and private school teachers.
  • Work with and advise historical associations in the collection and preservation of historical artifacts, including oral histories, photographs, and manuscripts.
  • Hold symposia on special topics in Florida history.
  • Host a visiting scholar in Florida history.
  • Publish new and out-of-print works of Florida history.
  • Continue and add to our Oral History Collection.

This unique center, housed in the Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr., Archives Center is a source of continuing information created to increase appreciation for Florida history.

In the News

Henry B. Plant

Henry B. Plant, “King Of Florida,” Is Subject Of Lecture ...

Henry B. Plant, the man who helped create the modern city of Tampa as a thriving com...

Frontier life exposed in book by FSC professors

Frontier life exposed in book by FSC professors

Denham and Huneycutt discussed the book and signed copies on 9/26/2019 at 7:00 PM in th...

Ryan White

Media Advisory: Ryan White To Lecture At Florida Southern...

Journalist and author Ryan White will give the next lecture in the Florida Lecture S...

Florida Lecture Series

The lecture series covers a wide range of disciplines, including history, public affairs, law, sociology, criminology, anthropology, literature, and art. The overall objective of the series is to bring members of the community, the faculty, and the student body together to interact with and learn from leading scholars in their fields.

Florida Lecture Series

The State You’re In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and other Wildlife
Craig Pittman

In the opening lecture of this year’s series, Craig Pittman, award-winning reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and most recently the Florida Phoenix provides a humorous and sobering look at the politics and culture of his native state. For more than thirty years Pittman has covered the wildest stories Florida has to offer, and will share many of them with the FSC community and our friends. With a keen eye for history and the environment, Pittman will describe some of Florida’s oddest wildlife as well as its quirkiest people. Pittman is a New York Times best-selling author and a four-time winner of the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida. He is the author of six books, including Paving Paradise, Manatee Insanity, Cat Tale: The Wild Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther, Oh Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country and, most recently, The State You’re In.

Face masks are required.

Location: Branscomb Auditorium, Robert Davis Performing Arts Center

This event is open to the public.

September 29 @ 7:00 PM EST

Florida Lecture Series

Swamp Peddlers
Jason Vuic

Beginning in the 1950s, the so-called “installment land sales industry” hawked billions of dollars of Florida residential property, sight unseen, to retiring Northerners. For $10 down and $10 a month, working-class pensioners could buy a piece of the American dream in planned communities like Cape Coral, Port Charlotte, Deltona, Port St. Lucie, and Palm Coast. Eventually “swamp peddlers” completely transformed Florida’s landscape and demographics. The result was long lasting, and in many instances cases devastating to the environment. Jason Vuic will share this raucous tale, and provide an overview of this American economic and cultural phenomenon. Jason Vuic resides in Dallas, Texas, and is the author of The Swamp Peddlers: How Sellers, Land Scammers, and Retirees Built Modern Florida and Transformed the American Dream, The Yucks!: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History, and The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History..

Face masks are required.

Location: Branscomb Auditorium, Robert Davis Performing Arts Center

This event is open to the public.

October 28 @ 7:00 PM EST

Florida Lecture Series

Florida Governors
Boyd Murphree (University of Florida) and Robert Taylor (Florida Institute of Technology)

Until 2020, no serious work provided Floridians and lovers of Floridiana with an in-depth look at the fifty men who have served the Sunshine State as governor since the American era began two centuries earlier. This omission represented a woeful gap in our ability to comprehend the state and its evolution. Professor Boyd Murphree set out beginning in 2008 to remedy the situation. He aimed to offer—within the pages of a single volume—insightful biographical sketches of each of the individuals who have administered the territory and state. To further his quest, the respected archivist-historian turned to thirty of the top historians, political scientists, and writers who have demonstrated keen grasps of Florida and its experience. Ultimately, Murphree and his distinguished co-editor Robert Taylor produced a resonant and telling portrait of Florida and its executive leadership. The Governors of Florida—published by the University Press of Florida—earned the Florida Book Award Gold Medal in Florida Nonfiction. Editors Murphree and Taylor will share the details of their arduous quest in pursuit of their monumental achievement. Selected authors, and perhaps even a governor or two, will join them.

Face masks are required.

Location: Polk County History Center, Bartow

This event is open to the public.

November 4 @ 7:00 PM EST

Florida Lecture Series

Chesterfield Smith: America’s Lawyer
Mary E. Adkins (University of Florida School of Law)

Chesterfield Smith spearheaded the American Bar Association’s condemnation of Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Smith’s damning statement “No man is above the law” turned him into a national figure. Yet his outsized accomplishments, and equally outsized personality, had already made the Florida attorney a legend in his home state.   A child of the rural South turned war hero, Smith earned a law degree and rose fast to lead the Florida Bar and mastermind the drafting of a new state constitution. Meanwhile, he grew his small Bartow law firm into the legal leviathan Holland & Knight. Mary E. Adkins uncovers Smith’s life and legacy.  She is master legal skills professor at the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law and the author of Making Modern Florida: How the Spirit of Reform Shaped a New State Constitution and Chesterfield Smith, America’s Lawyer that earned the Florida Historical Society’s Rembert Patrick Award.

Face masks are required.

Location: Branscomb Auditorium, Robert Davis Performing Arts Center

This event is open to the public.

January 13 @ 7:00 PM EST

Florida Lecture Series

Doing What Comes Naturally: A Cracker Talks Stories
Janis Owens (Writer, Newberry, Florida)

Janis Owens is a novelist, memoirist, folklorist and premier storyteller who enjoys sharing her experiences as a writer and native of old Florida. Born in Marianna in 1960, the last child and only daughter of an Assembly of God preacher who later became an insurance salesman, Owens attended the University of Florida, where she was a student of Harry Crews’ Creative Writing Workshop. Pat Conroy called her, “one of the finest novelists of our time." She is the author of acclaimed novels, including My Brother Michael, Myra Sims, The Schooling of Claybird Catts, and American Ghost. Her essays on Florida life have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Writer’s Digest and many other publications. Also the author of a memoir cookbook, The Cracker Kitchen, Owens’s most recent project is a work of creative non-fiction, Hidden in Plain Sight—a twisted tale of death and destruction in her adopted home of Newberry, Florida.

Face masks are required.

Location: Branscomb Auditorium, Robert Davis Performing Arts Center

This event is open to the public.

February 10 @ 7:00 PM EST

Florida Lecture Series

The Mariel Boatlift
Jose Garcia (Florida Southern College) and Victor Triay (Middletown, Connecticut)

During the spring and summer of 1980, over 125,000 desperate Cuban refugees set out across the Straits of Florida to escape economic and political repression. Many longed to reunite with family members in the United States, who had already escaped from Fidel Castro’s communist dictatorship. Professors Jose Garcia and Victor Triay capture and interpret this human drama— in written form, and from personal experience, and both will share their perspectives on this human drama. José Manuel García, himself a Marielito, is associate professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Florida Southern College, and the author of Voices from Mariel: Oral Histories of the 1980 Cuban Boatlift. Victor Andres Triay is professor of history at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut, and he is the author of several books, including Operation Pedro Pan, Bay of Pigs: An Oral History of Brigade 2506 and The Mariel Boatlift: A Cuban-American Journey, which earned the gold medal non-fiction Florida book Award.

Face masks are required.

This event is open to the public.

March 17 @ 7:00 PM EST


Join our mailing list for information regarding the Florida Lecture Series

Past Florida Lecture Series and Speakers

Among our Series speakers have been distinguished leaders, historians, writers, and public officials such a Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Janet Reno, Douglas Brinkley, H.W. Brands, and Robert V. Remini. | Learn more about our past series and speakers»

"Fascinating Foundations of Florida’s African-American Experience: What you Need to Know about Lakeland, Polk County, and Central Florida Region."

Chairside Chat with Canter Brown, Jr, James M. Denham, and LuAnn Mims, Curator, Lakeland History Room at the Lakeland Public Library, February 25, 2021. This is the second in a series of discussions about topics related to the history of Florida, Polk County, and the Central Florida Region.

Florida Bookclub Season 2, Episode 3

Florida was as violent a place as anywhere in the US in the early 1800s as in the 21st century. “Stand your ground” was the dominant ethos, there was a distrust of law and government, belief in self-determination and personal “rights,” and tons of guns and booze, just like now! My guest today is James Michael Denham, author of A Rogue’s Paradise: Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida. We’ll discuss the frontier era of Florida and the violent legacy it bequeathed to future generations of criminals and law enforcement.

Recent Publications

Book: None Can Have Richer Memories Polk County, Florida, 1940-2000

None Can Have Richer Memories Polk County, Florida, 1940-2000
Canter Brown, Jr.
Polk County Historical Association

Book: Echoes from a Distant FrontierThe Brown Sisters' Correspondence from Antebellum Florida

Echoes from a Distant Frontier
The Brown Sisters’ Correspondence from Antebellum Florida

Edited by:
James M. Denham
Keith L. Huneycutt

Book: In the Midst of All That Makes Life Worth Living:Polk County, Florida, to 1940

In the Midst of All That Makes Life Worth Living:
Polk County, Florida, to 1940

Canter Brown, Jr.
Commissioned by the Polk County Historical Association

Book: "A Rogue's Paradise"Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida,1821-1861

"A Rogue's Paradise"
Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida,
1821-1861

James M. Denham

Book: Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives, The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams

Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives, The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams
Edited by:
James M. Denham
Canter Brown, Jr.

Book: Florida Sheriffs: A History 1821-1945

Florida Sheriffs: A History 1821-1945
William Warren Rogers
James M. Denham

Book: Fifty Years of Justice

Fifty Years of Justice
James M. Denham

Book: Florida Founder - William P. Duval - Frontier Bon Vivant

Florida Founder - William P. Duval - Frontier Bon Vivant
James M. Denham

Book: The Letters of George Long Brown - A Yankee Merchant on Florida's Antebellum Frontier

The Letters of George Long Brown
Edited by:
James M. Denham
Keith L. Huneycutt

Support the Center for Florida History

Individuals, corporations, and foundations provide the funds for an endowment and to pay for the operations and programs. If you are interested in supporting the Center for Florida History and its various initiatives, you can contact the Center or the FSC Advancement Office for a pledge card, or you may easily make a gift online.

Give Today

Questions? Contact

James M. Denham, Ph.D.

Executive Director - Center for Florida History
863.680.4312

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Find us in the McKay Archives Building (AR)