For Ourselves and Our Posterity: The U.S. Constitution, Then and Now is a series of public discussions with leading scholars from the National Humanities Center and Brooke Andrade, director of the Center’s library.

During the 2020 series, we will explore the United States Constitution through the lens of the humanities. National Humanities Center Fellows from the fields of African American studies, economics, history, law, literature, and philosophy will discuss how their work informs our understanding of our nation’s founding document and our attempts to form a more perfect union.

Meeting Room B

  • History of the Black Freedom Struggle
    January 25, 2020
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - William Chafe Alice Mary Baldwin Professor Emeritus of History, Duke University

    From Reconstruction to the Present

    In the immediate aftermath of the U. S. Civil War, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were enacted—abolishing slavery, establishing birthright citizenship, and granting voting rights to people of color. William Chafe will discuss the legacy of these amendments and the continuing struggle to ensure freedom for all Americans from the era of Reconstruction to the present.
    William Chafe is Alice Mary Baldwin Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University and held a fellowship at the National Humanities Center from 1981–82. Along with Lawrence Goodwyn, Chafe cofounded the Duke Oral History Program in 1972 and the Duke Center for the Study of Civil Rights and Race Relations. He also helped create the Duke-UNC Center for Research on Women in 1981. In 1989, he was one of the founders of the Center for Documentary Studies, and served as it board chair for fifteen years.

    Much of William Chafe's professional scholarship reflects his long-term interest in issues of race and gender equality. He is currently working on a revisionist overview of the Jm Crow era to be entitled Behind the Veil: African American Life During the Age of Segregation. The author of thirteen books overall, Chafe has written two books on the history of post-World War II America, a major new overview of the twentieth century, a history of personality and politics in modern America, and a biography of the liberal crusader Allard Lowenstein. His book on the origins of the sit-in movement in North Carolina helped to re-orient scholarship on civil rights toward social history and community studies. Most recently, he has expanded his interest in the relationship between personality and politics by writing Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal.

  • American Liberalism
    February 1, 2020
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - John McGowan John W. and Anna H. Hanes Distinguished Professor of English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    From Reconstruction to the Present

    Guarantees of liberty. Consent of the governed. Equality before the law. When asked to define liberalism, most Americans would probably not use any of those terms. Yet these were the political ideals underlying the creation of a “liberal democracy” by James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” and his peers. John McGowan will discuss the principles of liberalism that shaped the creation of our republic and how our conception of liberalism has shifted.
    John McGowan is John W. and Anna H. Hanes Distinguished Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and held a fellowship at the National Humanities Center from 2017 to 2018. He is a founding and active member of UNC’s Program in Cultural Studies, was the first Director of the Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, and served for eight years as the Director of UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

    McGowan’s work sits at the intersection of philosophy, political theory, and literary studies. He is interested in how writers respond to the social conditions in which they live—and how they imagine alternative social arrangements. In particular, he focuses on images and norms of democracy and justice since the Romantic era. He is the author of six books of literary and political theory, including Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy, American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time, and Democracy's Children: Intellectuals and the Rise of Cultural Politics. McGowan’s current project is an exploration of the virtues—love, forgiveness, humility, negotiation—necessary to social peace and an examination of the sources and meaning of violence.

  • Imperfect Union
    February 8, 2020
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - Kathleen Duval Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    What it Meant to be "American" in the Post-Revolutionary Era

    Many kinds of people were involved in the struggle for independence, yet, in the aftermath of the American Revolution, not everyone was granted equal citizenship. Kathleen Duval will discuss what it meant to be a citizen in the early years of the republic and why some people were significantly more “American” than others.
    Kathleen DuVal is Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and held a fellowship at the National Humanities Center from 2008 to 2009. Prior to joining the faculty at UNC in 2003, Duval held the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

    She is the author of the books Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution and The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent. DuVal is the coeditor of Interpreting a Continent: Voices from Colonial America with her father, the literary translator John DuVal. She has published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, William and Mary Quarterly, Ethnohistory, Journal of the Early Republic, Early American Studies, and the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. She has won prizes for the best book on the American Revolution from the Journal of the American Revolution, the best article in the William and Mary Quarterly, and the best article in southern women’s history from the Southern Association for Women Historians. Duval has appeared on The Diane Rehm Show, The State of Things, and documentaries on the History Channel and the American Heroes Channel. She is currently writing a book on Native dominance of North America from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries with the help of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

  • Constitutional Origins of the Wealth Gap
    February 15, 2020
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - William A. Darity, Jr. Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy and Director, Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University

    The richest 10% of the United States currently holds 70% of total household wealth, and this disparity is far from a recent phenomenon. William Darity will discuss the history of economic inequality and the structural challenges disadvantaged Americans have confronted for centuries.
    William A. Darity, Jr. is Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, Director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, and held a fellowship at the National Humanities Center from 1989 to 1990. Darity was the founding director of the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality at Duke and served as director of the Institute of African American Research, director of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, director of the Undergraduate Honors Program in economics, and director of Graduate Studies at the University of North Carolina.

    Darity’s research focuses on inequality by race, class and ethnicity, stratification economics, schooling and the racial achievement gap, North-South theories of trade and development, skin shade and labor market outcomes, the economics of reparations, the Atlantic slave trade and the Industrial Revolution, the history of economics, and the social psychological effects of exposure to unemployment. Darity has published or edited twelve books, including For-Profit Universities: The Shifting Landscape of Marketized Higher Education; Economics, Economists, and Expectations: Microfoundations to Macroapplications; and Boundaries of Clan and Color: Transnational Comparisons of Inter-Group Disparity. Darity has served as Editor in Chief of the latest edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences and as an associate editor of the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism.

  • Staking Our Claim
    February 22, 2020
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - Yolanda Wilson Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Howard University

    The preamble of the U.S. Constitution lists its fundamental purposes and guiding principles, including the desire “to promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty” for all Americans. Though the Constitution does not include provisions for education, health care, and other social goods, are they, perhaps, implied? Should they be included?
    Yolonda Wilson is assistant professor of philosophy at Howard University and a 2019–2020 Fellow at the National Humanities Center and a 2019–2020 Encore Public Voices fellow. She holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include bioethics, social and political philosophy, race theory, and feminist philosophy. She is broadly interested in the nature and limits of the state’s obligations to rectify historic and continuing injustice, particularly in the realm of health care, and is developing an account of justice that articulates specific requirements for racial justice in health care at the end of life.

    Her most recent article, “Intersectionality in Clinical Medicine: The Need for a Conceptual Framework,” is a consideration on applying intersectionality’s intellectual approach in the clinical environment. Professor Wilson is the lead editor of a forthcoming special issue of The Journal of Social Philosophy entitled Exploring Racial Injustice. Her article, “A Postmortem on Postraciality,” will appear in that issue. Wilson’s current book project, Black Death: Racial Justice, Priority-Setting, and Care at the End of Life, uses racial disparities in end of life care to argue that, given historic and continuing racial injustice leading to African Americans being unfairly burdened with ill health, African Americans have a special justice claim on health care.

    Professor Wilson’s public scholarship on issues of bioethics, race, and gender has appeared in The Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum and The Conversation and has been republished in outlets such as The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune,, and The Philly Voice. Her article for The Conversation, “Why Black Women’s Experiences of #MeToo Are Different,” was re-published internationally and forms the basis for an edited volume on feminist philosophy and #MeToo.

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