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National Endowment for the Humanities
Summer Institute for College and University Professors

Slavery and the Constitution

July 8 – 21, 2018 (2 weeks)
Washington, D.C. 

Nov. 1, 2017

Dear Colleague:

It is exciting to be able to tell you about a new NEH Summer Institute titled Slavery and the Constitution. This is an opportunity for you to join with two-year and four-year college faculty members as well as university faculty members from around the country for a two-week in-depth study of slavery and the U.S. Constitution. It is hard to imagine a subject in American history that has had a bigger impact on the social, economic, religious and political existence of this country. At this summer institute, scholars will engage in interdisciplinary study of the rich crosscurrents of literary, philosophical, religious and social thinking that drove the institution of slavery and how it was a major factor in the writing of the Constitution. The rise and fall of slavery certainly marks one of the pivotal eras in American history. Participants will enjoy all the advantages of the institute’s setting of Washington, D.C. Presentations and discussions with major scholars on slavery and related constitutional issues, research workshops and visits to historic sites will constitute the core of the two-week-long study. It will also provide participants the opportunity to pursue a research project at the Library of Congress.

Institute Themes 

Photo of American slavery and its relation to the U.S. ConstitutionThe summer institute will explore significant themes and events related to American slavery and its relation to the U.S. Constitution. NEH Summer Scholars will have time for research using the vast collections at the Library of Congress hosted by the John W. Kluge Center for Scholarly Research. Many slavery topics will be addressed in this institute such as the Fugitive Slave Law, Dred Scott decision, the rise of the abolition movement, the colonization of freed slaves in Africa, the Free People of Color movement, and the influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to name but a few. The latest scholarship dealing with slavery and its impact on the Constitution will be explored through the economics, politics and social issues created by this “peculiar institution.” Nothing tested American aspirations for freedom more than slavery. It forcibly demonstrated the boundaries of America’s cultural, moral and ethical ideals. 

Institute Leadership

The institute will be led by Paul Benson, a professor of humanities at Mountain View College of the Dallas County Community College District, and Paul Finkelman, currently the John E. Murray visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Learn more about the co-directors.

Institute Faculty Scholars

This institute offers a series of eminent scholars who are intimately familiar with slavery and its relation to the Constitution:

  • Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton professor emeritus of history, Columbia University
  • Lacy K. Ford, Jr., professor of history, University of South Carolina 
  • Jenny Bourne, professor of incentive economics, Carleton College
  • Spencer Crew, Robinson professor of history, George Mason University
  • Seymour Drescher, distinguished professor emeritus of history, University of Pittsburgh 
  • Kate Masur, associate professor of history, Northwestern University

Institute Sponsorship and Focus

This summer institute is sponsored by Brookhaven College of the Dallas County Community College District in Farmers Branch, Texas, and is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Twenty-five participants will be competitively selected. All participants will be expected to do research on slavery and the Constitution to improve classroom presentations and/or for eventual publication.

Eligibility and Selection 

Applications are welcome from all teachers currently employed at community colleges, four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Faculty from the disciplines of literature, history, philosophy, religion, foreign languages, humanities, anthropology, sociology, political science, urban studies, art and architecture, speech and theater, and other humanities-related fields are encouraged to apply. Individuals with an established interest in the topic and those wishing to develop or expand existing interests in new or interdisciplinary directions are welcome to apply. Please refer to the application eligibility guidelines for more details.

Please note: Under NEH guidelines participants may apply for two but only participate in one institute if chosen during the summer of 2018.

Participants will be selected on the basis of their statement of purpose and explanation of an individual project, and their potential contributions to the institute. Programs funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex disability or age. 

Stipend, Housing and Travel

Please review the following information: 
  • stipend
  • housing and travel 

Application Procedure 

The institute is intended to function as a stimulus to course development and revitalized teaching, as well as individual research and publication. In your application essay, please identify an area or topic of personal interest in slavery studies related to your teaching or scholarship that you would like to pursue. During the two weeks, professional staff members of the Library of Congress will help facilitate the use of their archives. 

Please follow the guidelines in the “Application Information and Instructions” document and remember that your application must be both submitted online and postmarked on or before 
March 1, 2018.

Mail three hard copies of your application to:

Paul Benson
Co-Director, NEH Summer Institute 
Mountain View College
ARCO Division
4849 W. Illinois Ave.
Dallas, Texas 75211

We look forward to receiving your application. If you have any questions, please contact institute project co-director Paul Benson at or 972-467-1803. 


Paul Benson

Paul Finkelman

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this NEH Institute do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.