Seminar: Foundational Documents of American Democracy

Dozenten-innen: Austenfeld Thomas
Kursus: Master
Art der Unterrichtseinheit: Seminar
Sprache-n: Englisch
Semester: SP-2018

Any observer of the American scene realizes the importance of the Constitution, but few know what it actually says. Elections are decided on the question of whether a new Supreme Court Justice is a literalist or a constructivist with respect to the Constitution, and the nation is divided over its interpretation of the Second Amendment.  But what exactly do these texts say, and what is the historical and intellectual context of their genesis? Among the things we generally take for granted in our literary study is our supposedly shared knowledge of the texts that define American self-understanding, community, and polity. These texts—of foundational importance to a nation that rallies not around a language, an ethnicity, a religion, or natural borders, but around texts—sometimes appear in American high school curricula, in civics classes, or in popular culture, but outside of history and law departments, they are not studied in detail. In the spring semester, we will take these texts, along with some fiction, as our basis for an in-depth discussion about American self-understanding, values, mutability and persistence at a historical moment that seems to unmoor all political certainties. We will read a generous sampling of texts ranging from Jefferson's Declaration of Independence to Lin-Manuel Miranda's libretto for the 2015 musical Hamilton.  


All texts will be provided online or through handouts by the instructor.