Tobin Project Holds Conference on the History of American Democracy

On June 1st and 2nd, the Tobin Project hosted a Conference on the History of American Democracy, convening eminent historians, political scientists, and law scholars to discuss the institutions, mechanisms, and social norms that have contributed to the foundation and evolution of American politics and democracy. By drawing from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and expertise, the Tobin Project seeks to broaden scholarly understanding of how democracy has worked over time and how it might flourish in the future.

The conference owes its success largely to the insight and committed participation of the scholars who prepared and presented work for our seven panel discussions. The panels, each composed of three or four leading academics, covered a range of organizations and practices that have played an integral role in shaping our democracy. Questions that arose from the panels included:


  • How has the American labor movement affected the functioning of the nation’s democracy over time?
  • When and why have privately-owned, for-profit press organizations functioned as a check on special interest influence on public policy?
  • How and why did states transition to free banking systems?
  • What role has petitioning played in American democracy?

In addition, the conference featured a panel on “Teaching American Democracy and its History,” which explored the strengths and limitations of treating democratic institutions—both formal and informal—as integral to the study of American history. The panel also asked whether a greater emphasis on teaching the history of democracy could spark a more general interest in historical research on American democracy and encourage scholars to take up research that will produce a more nuanced understanding of the problems facing the United States today. We are grateful to all participants for their meaningful contributions to the event and for their work in advancing this important research agenda.

News Category: 
Institutions of Democracy
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