Democracy Initiative Graduate Seminar (Fall 2022 + Spring 2023)

Graduate Seminar in the Democracy Initiative

Democracy and Justice

Fall 2022 + Spring 2023

DEM 7500/DEM 7501

What is the relationship between democracy and justice? In this course, we will explore this question through interdisciplinary readings in History, Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics, Gender Studies, Legal Studies, and more. Themes will include the following: extralegal versus legal justice; engaging the democratic process as justice-seeking or justice-preserving work; social movements against injustice; post-conflict democracies and transitional justice.

In working through the central themes of the course, we will engage a series of conceptual questions that explore the multivalent relationship between democracy and justice: how is the concept of moral rightness defined or recognized as a democratic principle, and how is it exercised or preserved? How do concepts of what constitutes “just practice” change over time, and what are the causes of these transformations? Who defines what is fair or equitable, and what are the pathways to recourse when justice is compromised or under threat? 

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 explore large scale movements, such as the abolitionism and anti-slavery movements of the 18th century to the present, Global South decolonization in the twentieth century, modern civil rights struggles, and contemporary efforts to combat the climate crisis. We will also examine discrete case studies, to include legal cases and specific moments of popular protest. 

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 policymakers. 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 2023 to showcase the work produced in the course.

The Seminar will be led by Emily Burrill, Associate Professor of History, with contributions and participation from Democracy Initiative lab members and special guests. 

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 Emily Burrill ( outlining your areas of study and research and your interest in the seminar’s themes by April 30. Please feel free as well to reach out with questions about the course. Students selected to participate in the seminar will enroll in DEM 7500 (3 credits) in the fall semester and DEM 7501 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.