Campus & Community

Initiative is designed to underscore importance of republicanism

2 min read

Daniel Carpenter’s new educational initiative will reaffirm the significance of the history of republicanism and its influence on the American political system. Carpenter is supported by an $875,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to launch a program at Harvard regarding American political history and political thought.

“This concerns republicanism with a small ‘r’ which is different from the Republican Party as we know it today,” says Carpenter, professor of government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A republic is a nation in which power resides in the populace, who, through elections, choose representatives to exercise that power.

“While America’s founders disagreed on many points regarding the nature of the fledgling country,” Carpenter continues, “they generally believed that the country should be a republic. However, today, the importance of republicanism in American history is not widely known among the general public, or among college undergraduates.”

While academics are aware of the history of republicanism, this piece of American political history has been poorly integrated into educational curricula, says Carpenter. Starting in the late 1800s, republican political language began to disappear from political discourse, though it has experienced a resurgence in recent years.

The program will be developed over the next four to five years, and will include the creation of new courses, invitations to visiting faculty conversant with the subject of American political thought, and programs that will engage the larger community, including a summer program for Boston high school teachers. The courses created will be both undergraduate and graduate courses. In addition to the challenge grant, Harvard will need to raise another $3 million to supplement the grant and fund the initiative. The program is funded as a part of the NEH’s “We the People” initiative to enhance the teaching and understanding of American history.

“The NEH is delighted to award Harvard University a ‘We the People’ Challenge Grant to help establish the University’s American Republic Initiative,” says Bruce Cole, chairman of the NEH. “Harvard has a distinguished history of teaching and scholarship on the fundamental issues of American political theory and practice. By shedding new light on the concept of the American republic, the initiative will advance the goals of the NEH’s ‘We the People’ program, which seeks to enhance citizens’ understanding of the institutions and principles that sustain our republican form of government.”