Theme: American Founding
What has traditionally been called “The American Founding” is now more than ever a subject of intense debate, not only with regard to its meaning and significance but also in the light of the choices we have made to select evidence and sources of authority in order to frame scholarly and broadly public discussions of the topic. It is a subject that emphatically requires us to cross disciplinary lines, not only because it involves a range of subject matters and methodologies but also because it is a prominent site for interactions between scholarly discourse and the general public’s discussion of a host of topics connected to the origins of the American republic. In this context, the very meaning of “origin” is a subject for debate.
We propose to create a series of workshops that experiment with the idea that the writings and readings of the Founders (including Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, and others – like Mercy Warren Otis – not traditionally included in their company) give us a powerful yet neglected opportunity to reassess these questions by analyzing primary texts, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, and lesser-known documents, including the writings of dissenters. Within the limits of the workshop schedule, we might also include the textual background for Lincoln’s interpretation of the Founding, as well as his own reformulations in key speeches. Our primary disciplinary specialties would be Political Science, Rhetoric, textual criticism, Law, and related areas of study in Philosophy and History. Our methodological interests would be diverse: approaches to the history of ideas and the problem of influence; inquiry into the genres of political discourse; various approaches to prose study and prose style; philosophical approaches to the problem of origins; and approaches to the problem of assessing the impact of texts on historical context. The goal of our meetings would be to reopen and discover grounds for productive scholarly and public discussion of the American Founding.