Yale Launches Center for the Study of Representative Institutions A New Initiative in Constitutional History

A new interdisciplinary program at Yale dedicated to advancing the study of American and English democratic institutions at their roots will launch today.

Called The Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions (YCRI), the initiative is a cooperative venture of the Departments of History and Political Science and other affiliated faculty and graduate students. It has been in development for more than a year. The program promotes research and enhances the academic curriculum while advancing the careers of young scholars and extending public discussion of issues related to Anglo-American representative government.

Co-directed by Professors Steven Smith (political science) and Keith Wrightson (history), the YCRI supports innovative research in the development, theory, and practice of representative government in Britain and North America between the 17th and the 19th centuries. The mission statement for the new center by Smith and Wrightson, reads in part: “Our goal is not simply to restore an older historical tradition, but rather to challenge and extend that tradition with new questions. These questions will focus on the origins, development and diffusion of a political culture that emerged in England during the Civil Wars and ‘Glorious Revolution’; was transmitted to America during the 17th and 18th centuries, then transformed and extended by the American Revolution, and finally tested in the American Civil War.”

The center will provide opportunities for students to explore “the deep roots of their own political culture, and indeed the most powerful intellectual and institutional influences on the development of representative and democratic governments worldwide,” Smith and Wrightson note.
The Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions is supported by the Jack Miller Center (JMC), a Philadelphia-based non-profit foundation working with scholars to enrich the teaching of “Americas Founding Principles and History.”

Rear Admiral Perry Michael Ratliff (ret.), president of JMC, congratulated the co-directors of the new initiative: “The Center for the Study of Representative Institutions will provide a home at Yale for the study and teaching of the ideas and debates that have shaped America’s free institutions. Professors Wrightson and Smith have provided invaluable support for JMC programs in the past, and we are honored to be part of their new program.”

Two postdoctoral fellows have been appointed, both of whom will teach undergraduate courses related to the center’s themes. A symposium on Lincoln is scheduled to take place in the fall of 2011, to be followed in 2012 by a conference reappraising the developments of the whole period from the 17th to the 19th centuries. A public lecture series, the specifics to be announced, will feature distinguished scholars from history, political science and related disciplines with the aim to encourage broad participation. The center will also provide small grants to undergraduate and graduate students to encourage research on topics relevant to the center’s core themes.

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345