Inaugural Semester-long seminar on Constitutional History offered at N-Y Historical Society this fall

Historians in the News

In its capacity as the New York City home of the Institute for Constitutional History (ICH)—an organization that is co-housed in Washington, DC, at the George Washington University Law School—the New-York Historical Society is pleased to announce that its first semester-long graduate course will take place in autumn 2009 as the Robert H. Smith Seminar. In keeping with the Lincoln Bicentennial theme of the Historical Society’s programs in 2009, including its major exhibition Lincoln and New York, the seminar will focus on the constitutional issues arising from the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and will be taught under the title of Lincoln’s Constitution.

Designed for graduate students and junior faculty in history, political science, law and related disciplines, the seminar will be taught by the distinguished scholars Akhil Reed Amar (Yale College and Yale Law School) and James Oakes (CUNY Graduate Center).

“We are proud to be taking this major new step in advancing the mission of ICH,” stated Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the Historical Society. “The history and use of the Constitution are central to American history and culture, but do not constitute a central field of historical study at any university in the New York metropolitan area. The
New-York Historical Society offers an optimal site for such a program, given its collections, location, reputation for high standards, and ability to provide a neutral ground that can convene scholars from a wide variety of institutions.”

The collections of the Historical Society’s Museum and Library are extraordinarily rich in materials related to the Constitution and its history. Among these are papers, letters, maps, caricatures and other documents having to do with the John Peter Zenger case, the Stamp Act, the events of the early Federal period (including the crises of the 1790s) and the political battles of the early 19th century; Rufus King's notes on the Constitutional Convention; William Livingston's draft of the Constitution, marked up during the Convention; John McKesson’s notes on New York State’s ratifying convention; John Jay’s draft of Federalist #64; and Jay’s marked copy from the ratifying convention.

Commented Maeva Marcus: “As director of the Institute for Constitutional History, I am very pleased that N-YHS will be the home for ICH programs in the New York metropolitan area. Lincoln's Constitution, taught by two eminent scholars, will be a splendid beginning for the Robert H. Smith seminars in constitutional history.”

The Lincoln’s Constitution seminar at the Historical Society will move beyond the period when the Constitution was framed and first interpreted to consider some of the critical yet unresolved questions that Lincoln addressed during his years in public life. Among these were:
· What rights and protections did slaveholders have under the Constitution?
· Was secession lawful, or was the Union perpetual under the Constitution?
· What were the constitutional war powers of the presidency?
· Under what conditions could the president suspend habeas corpus?
· Did emancipation violate the constitutional right of property?
· What was the citizenship status of former slaves, and of free blacks generally?
· And who got to decide these issues: Congress, the Supreme Court, or Lincoln?

Akhil Reed Amar is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law at both Yale College and Yale Law School. Co-editor of a leading constitutional law casebook, Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking, Amar has also written several books, including The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction, and most recently America’s Constitution: A Biography.

James Oakes is Distinguished Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is a winner of the 2008 Lincoln Prize for his book The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. His previous books include The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders and Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South.

Applications for admission to the seminar may be made by email only, in care of Mmarcus@nyhistory.org, and will be accepted until August 30. Applicants should include a copy of their curriculum vita and a short statement on how this seminar will be useful in their research, teaching, or professional development. Successful applicants will be notified by email. For further information, please contact Maeva Marcus at (202) 994-
6562 or e-mail icsgw@law.gwu.edu.

Lincoln’s Constitution will be taught at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, on Thursday afternoons from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The seminar will be held on September 17 and 24 and on October 1, 15, 22, and 29, 2009.
About the Institute for Constitutional History

The Institute for Constitutional History (ICH) was established in 1999 by the Supreme Court Historical Society and is located at the New-York Historical Society and the George Washington University Law School. The Institute is co-sponsored by the American Historical Association, the Association of American Law Schools, the American Political Science Association, and the Organization of American Historians. ICH prepares younger scholars and educators to convey to their readers and students the important role the Constitution has played in shaping American society.

The Institute coordinates a doctoral concentration in constitutional studies offered by seven Ph.D.-granting institutions in the Washington metropolitan area; runs an annual summer research seminar where advanced doctoral students and junior faculty members from around the world pursue individual research under the direction of leading constitutional scholars; offers short-term graduate seminars in New York and the nation's capital and teacher workshops across the country; and hosts colloquia and symposia for scholars working in the field. ICH recently joined with Cambridge University Press to produce a series of books entitled Cambridge Studies on the American Constitution and with the American Historical Association to produce a series of pamphlets on the Constitution.

The Institute is supported, in part, by a “We the People” challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. A special endowment has been created to secure the Institute’s future with NEH funds and gifts from N-YHS trustees.

About the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society holds one of the world's greatest collections of historical artifacts, American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York, and is home to both one of the nation's most distinguished independent research libraries and New York City's oldest museum. The strength and depth of these collections provides a vital foundation for the Society's research and educational initiatives.

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