The Declaration of Independence
with Richard H. Brodhead
Offered in partnership with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Declaration of Independence includes the most famous words ever written in the United States. But, its apparently simple language leaves many questions open. Who are the “we” who hold truths to be self-evident? When the founders said that “all men are created equal,” who did they actually have in mind? In this seminar, we will study the language of this document and the history of its composition, then examine the way these words have been deployed during major crises of American history, including the antislavery crisis of the 1850s and the Civil Rights crisis of the 1960s. A key question will be how the same words that have been so soaringly inspiring can also have voiced such blistering criticism of the United States. Since the words that launched one nation have had profound appeal worldwide, we will also ask what happens when this core American creed is exported around the globe.

Richard H. Brodhead had a long career as a scholar and prize-winning teacher of American literature and culture at Yale, where he served as the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English and Dean of Yale College. During this time, he also spent eight summers teaching high school teachers at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf School of English. In 2004 he left to become the president of Duke, a position he held for thirteen years. For his role in higher education, he was given the Academic Leadership Award of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. His writings on education have been collected in two books, The Good of this Place (2004) and Speaking of Duke (2017). He co-chaired the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences and co-authored its report “The Heart of the Matter.”






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Photos by Pat Swain.


“I came back with some great new ways of thinking about close reading the Declaration of Independence; going over it with fresh eyes and different people offered me new perspectives.”
CherylAnne Amendola, Montclair Kimberley Academy


Assigned reading links:


Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination Anniversary: ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech Full Text and Video


Master Class Fellows