ASU commemorates Constitution Day with a discussion on the politicization of the American founding

Harvard University's Jane Kamensky to deliver a lecture on Sept. 19 at ASU’s Memorial Union

Portrait of Harvard Professor Jane Kamensky.

Harvard University Professor Jane Kamensky.


As groups across the political spectrum present competing narratives about the American founding and America’s political ideals from 1776, how can Americans sift through the opposing claims and understand that era’s historical complexity while remaining true to the evidence?

This is the question Harvard University Professor Jane Kamensky will pose during her Sept. 19 lecture "1776 and Us: Finding the Founding in a Foundering Democracy" at Arizona State University’s Memorial Union.

The lecture marking the 2022 Annual Constitution Day is co-sponsored by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the Center for Constitutional Design at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU and the Jack Miller Center.

Registration is now open for in-person attendance.

“From the very beginning, the history and study of the American Revolution have been bound up with the national identity of the United States, and in recent years, the competing imperatives of activists and journalists at both edges of our ideological spectrum have produced warring narratives of the American founding,” said Kamensky, who is the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University and the Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

“Their accounts of the founding era offer competing ​​interpretations of the founding era: slavery versus liberty, original sin versus germinal gift, villains versus heroes. While this work highlights the predicaments of the era, both approaches owe more to politics than to history,” she added.

In this lecture, Kamensky will discuss how we can equip ourselves and our students with an understanding of the revolutionary era that is rigorous, complex and, above all, true to the evidence.

“Our school is leading ASU’s celebrations of the quarter-millenium mark of our country’s independence, which will culminate in 2025–26 with a full consideration of the Founding Era, from the Declaration of Independence through the Bill of Rights, and their enduring effect on American history and contemporary identity,” said Paul Carrese, founding director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at ASU.

“Professor Kamensky’s address will be a warning about the risks we face as competing factions distort historical evidence to support their political motives. Our school remains dedicated to the rigorous study of our democratic republic, its extraordinary successes and continuing challenges to living up to its high ideals — and to civil discussion and debate about these crucial topics," he said.

“We are honored to co-sponsor Professor Kamensky’s lecture on a day on which we celebrate our constitutional heritage,” said Stefanie Lindquist, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Design at ASU. “As the world’s oldest and most longstanding written constitution, the U.S. Constitution is a remarkable instrument that has sustained self-governance for over two centuries. It is fitting that we celebrate it by hearing from such a distinguished scholar and historian."

A historian of British America and the United States, Kamensky is the author of numerous books, including "A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley" (2016), which won four major prizes and was a finalist for several others. Kamensky is a former commissioner of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, serves as a trustee of the Museum of the American Revolution, and is one of the principal investigators on the NEH/ Department of Education-funded initiative, Educating for American Democracy. Carrese first met Kamensky when they collaborated on that national project from 2019 to 2021.

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