Democracy Initiative Graduate Seminar (Fall 2021 + Spring 2022)

Graduate Seminar in the Democracy Initiative

Democracy and Freedom

Fall 2021 + Spring 2022

DEM 7000/DEM 7001


What is the relationship between democracy and freedom? In this year-long course hosted in the John L. Nau III History & Principles Lab of the Democracy Initiative, we will explore this question through readings and research in a wide range of fields including Anthropology, Cultural and Literary Studies, Economic and Political Theory, History, and Philosophy. And we will collectively think through how to produce knowledge and share it in impactful ways both within the academic world and beyond it.

The course is organized around a set of conceptual questions: Is democracy best understood as a set of legal and political institutions and procedures for decision making, or as a broader set of values and practices? Is there a distinct kind of freedom associated with democracy? Who has been thought to be free or capable of being free in different societies and historical periods, and why? What kinds of social, economic, and cultural foundations enable the practice of democracy, and effectively sustain and protect freedom? 

In seeking to answer these questions, we will engage with thinkers and contexts from a wide range of epochs and places, exploring multiple intellectual genealogies and scholarly approaches and drawing on the work of theorists from throughout the world. We will focus on a few particularly generative historical moments, including Ancient Greece, the sixteenth and seventeenth century emergence of an Atlantic World, the Age of Revolution, the anti-slavery movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and twentieth-century movements for decolonization and the expansion of civil and human rights. We will also consider how the tensions between democracy and freedom shape our contemporary moment.

The Fall semester will be focused on establishing the historical and theoretical foundations for understanding these questions through a range of readings and short interpretive writing assignments. By the end of this semester, students will have developed a research prospectus for the project they wish to pursue. During the Spring semester, students will carry out these research projects and workshop them as we more broadly explore the question of how best to communicate scholarly work. We will learn about the mechanics and best practices for successfully presenting at conferences and publishing peer-reviewed articles and books, as well as exploring forms of public scholarship including writing for newspapers and magazines, digital projects, podcasts, community engagement and collaborative research, and dialogue with policy-makers. The final version of student projects can take any of these forms, or combine different forms of communication. We will also collectively develop a culminating event to be held in April 2022 to showcase the work produced in the course.

The Seminar will be led by Professor Laurent Dubois, Co-Director for Academic Affairs of the Democracy Initiative, with contributions and participation from Melody Barnes, the Co-Director for Policy and Public Affairs, and Dr. Jessica Kimpell Johnson, Manager of the John L. Nau III History and Principles of Democracy Lab.

We seek to create a conversation among a wide range of disciplines in the class, and graduate students from all programs, and at all stages of their graduate work, are invited to apply. To do so, please send a brief proposal (of no more than one page single-spaced) to Laurent Dubois ([email protected]) outlining your areas of study and research and your interest in the seminar’s themes by April 15. Please feel free as well to reach out with questions about the course. Students selected to participate in the seminar will enroll in DEM 7000 (3 credits) in the fall semester and DEM 7001 in the spring semester (3 credits) and be designated Graduate Fellows in the John L. Nau III History and Principles of Democracy Lab for the year. Each student will receive a stipend of $1000 to support research related to their seminar work.