Political History

The Surprisingly Short History of American Secrecy

 By Sam Lebovic

Amid the recent hubbub about leaks and whistleblowers and Hillary Clinton’s rogue server, it has been easy to forget what a state secret actually is. Legal commentators and political pundits tend to think about state secrecy in the abstract terms of political philosophy. Perhaps secrecy is always undemocratic, appropriate only for absolutist or totalitarian states. Perhaps it is an unavoidable necessity in a hostile world—democratic governments find themselves forced to keep secrets to protect the security of the public.

Drug Traffickers and the Freedom of Information Act

I admit it: I stalk dead drug traffickers in libraries, archives, newspapers, databases, films, photos, literature, and documents. One of my favorite tools, however, is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is turning 50 years old on July 4, 2016. While the FOIA is useful for historians, over the years I have found that it takes substantive prior research for a request to be successful or for it to prove an asset for a historical project.

Historians in the News: Linda Colley on Brexit

By Linda Colley

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

This is the question on which citizens of the United Kingdom will vote on June 23. Historians have actively participated in the debate during the lead up to the national plebiscite. A group of 42 calling themselves Historians for Britain have advocated leaving the European Union, while a much larger group of historians have signed a letter saying that leaving the EU will “condemn Britain to irrelevance.” Given the long interwoven fates of the countries that now make up the European Union, contributions by historians are vital to understanding the geopolitics of remaining or leaving.

Seminar from the Institute for Constitutional History: Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Constitutionalism

UPDATE: The new deadline for this seminar is 9/15

The Institute for Constitutional History is pleased to announce another seminar for advanced graduate students and junior faculty: Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Constitutionalism. This seminar will survey Thomas Jefferson’s career as a lawyer, statesman, and political and constitutional theorist. We will explore Jefferson’s thought about provincial and state as well as imperial and federal constitutions, with a particular focus on his evolving conceptions of natural rights and justice, citizenship, property rights, and slavery. Assigned readings in primary documents will illuminate his collaboration and quarrels with fellow founders, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall; selected secondary sources will introduce participants to the legal and constitutional history of the early American Republic.