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Institute for Constitutional History

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The New-York Historical Society Education Division provides dynamic programming and curriculum resources for students and teachers in New York and beyond. Historical study sparks curiosity and creativity, promotes cultural understanding, and fosters an empowered citizenry to strengthen our democracy. Our staff of passionate professionals draws on our world-renowned collections to engage learners of all ages in the study of our collective past.


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Education programs are made possible through endowments established by
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Upcoming Events

New-York Historical Society
The Bonnie and Richard Reiss Graduate Institute for Constitutional History Seminar

Presented in person at the New-York Historical Society

The Bonnie and Richard Reiss Graduate Institute for Constitutional History is pleased to announce its fall 2021 seminar for advanced graduate students and junior faculty:

Constitutions in Conflict: Proslavery versus Antislavery

Meeting Dates & Time: Fridays, October 29, November 5 and 19, December 10, 2021 | 2–5 pm ET

The Constitution of 1787 was, famously, a compromise between proslavery and antislavery delegates. For that very reason the supporters and opponents of slavery would go on to invoke the Constitution in support of their very different causes. This seminar will examine four critical points at which very different interpretations of slavery and the Constitution were debated. Did the Constitution empower Congress to ban slavery from the territories, as opponents of slavery always argued? Or did the Constitution protect slavery in the territories, as many Southerners eventually claimed? Did the Fugitive Slave Clause recognize slave ownership as a right of property, or did the Fifth Amendment guarantee accused fugitives the rights of due process? How should we think about the majority and dissenting opinions in the Dred Scott case? What were the constitutional issues at stake in the election of 1860 and the secession crisis provoked by Lincoln’s victory? Over the course of four sessions the course will critically examine these questions through the close reading of primary sources.


James Oakes
, one of the foremost Civil War historians and a two-time winner of the Lincoln Prize for his works on the politics of abolition, teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His most recent book is The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution. Sean Wilentz is George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University. A prizewinning author, his many books include The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln and No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding.

The seminar will be presented in person at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, on the following dates:

  • Friday, October 29, 2021 | 2–5 pm ET
  • Friday, November 5, 2021 | 2–5 pm ET
  • Friday, November 19, 2021 | 2–5 pm ET
  • Friday, December 10, 2021 | 2–5 pm ET

Accepted students will receive further instructions and the classroom location within the New-York Historical Society.

The seminar is designed for graduate students, junior faculty, and teachers/instructors in history, political science, law, and related disciplines. All participants will be expected to complete the assigned readings and participate in seminar discussions. Although the Institute cannot offer academic credit directly for the seminar, students may be able to earn graduate credit through their home departments by completing an independent research project in conjunction with the seminar. Please consult with your advisor and/or director of graduate studies about these possibilities.

Space is limited. To apply, please submit the following material to by September 22, 2021:

  • Your C.V.
  • A short statement on how this seminar will be useful to you in your research, teaching, or professional development.

Successful applicants will be notified soon thereafter. For further information, please email Alexander Kassl at

There is no tuition or other charge for this seminar, though participants will be expected to acquire the assigned books on their own.

Lead Image: Mcconnell Map Co, and James McConnell. McConnell's Historical maps of the United States. [Chicago, Ill.: McConnell Map Co, 1919] Map: Sean Wilentz photo: Sameer A. Khan.



The Bonnie and Richard Reiss Graduate Institute for Constitutional History (ICH) is the nation’s premier institute dedicated to ensuring that future generations of Americans understand the substance and historical development of the U.S. Constitution. Located at the New York Historical Society, the Institute is co-sponsored by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Political Science Association. The Association of American Law Schools is a cooperating entity. ICH prepares junior scholars and college instructors to convey to their readers and students the important role the Constitution has played in shaping American society. ICH also provides a national forum for the preparation and dissemination of humanistic, interdisciplinary scholarship on American constitutional history.

The Bonnie and Richard Reiss Graduate Institute for Constitutional History is supported, in part, by the Saunders Endowment for Constitutional History and a “We the People” challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities



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