Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Constitutional Controversies: An ICS Seminar

[Back in April, our friends at the Institute for Constitutional Studies announced another in its series of seminars for advanced graduate students and junior faculty.  We are moving that post up, because the deadline is a month hence, and a few seats remain.  DRE.

[Update: Steven Steinbach, one of the instructors, on teaching American history as constitutional history.  (OUP Side Comment)]

Constitutional Controversies

Disputes and debates over “rights” drive modern-day politics. Americans often turned to the courts – and to the Constitution – to resolve their political, social, and ideological disagreements about issues like privacy, equality, abortion, gun control, property rights, religion, etc. Disputes about the interpretation and applicability of the Constitution have been central throughout our nation’s history. Since the Philadelphia Convention, constitutional controversies defined persons included (or not) among “We the People” and rights included (or not) among “the Blessings of Liberty.” This seminar will proceed chronologically through a series of “constitutional moments.” Among the historical controversies to be covered are the origins of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, judicial review, slavery, the Reconstruction amendments, voting and other rights for women, free speech, desegregation, affirmative action, and privacy.


Maeva Marcus, a past president of the American Society for Legal History, is Research Professor of Law and Director of the Institute for Constitutional Studies at the George Washington University Law School. She serves as the general editor of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United States. Author of Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power, she also edited the eight-volume series The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800 and Origins of the Federal Judiciary: Essays on the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Steven Steinbach teaches United States History and American Government courses and has served as History Department Chair at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. Previously he was a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Williams & Connolly LLP, where he specialized in criminal and civil litigation.

Logistics.  Monday evenings, 6-8 p.m., October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, and November 6, and 13, 2023. The seminar will meet at The George Washington University Law School, 2000 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20052.

Application Process
.  The seminar is designed for graduate students and junior faculty in history, political science, law, and related disciplines. All participants will be expected to complete the assigned readings and participate in seminar discussions. Although the Institute cannot offer academic credit directly for the seminar, students may be able to earn graduate credit through their home departments by completing an independent research project in conjunction with the seminar. Please consult with your advisor and/or director of graduate studies about these possibilities. Space is limited, so applicants should send a copy of their c.v. and a short statement on how this seminar will be useful to them in their research, teaching, or professional development. Materials will be accepted only by email at until September 15, 2023. Successful applicants will be notified soon thereafter. For further information, please contact Maeva Marcus at

Additional Information.  There is no tuition or other charge for this seminar, though participants will be expected to acquire the assigned books on their own.

About ICS.  The Institute for Constitutional Studies (ICS) is the nation’s premier institute dedicated to ensuring that future generations of Americans understand the substance and historical development of the U.S. Constitution. Located at the George Washington University Law School, the Institute is co-sponsored by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Political Science Association. The Association of American Law Schools is a cooperating entity. ICS prepares junior scholars and college instructors to convey to their readers and students the important role the Constitution has played in shaping American society. ICS also provides a national forum for the preparation and dissemination of humanistic, interdisciplinary scholarship on American constitutional history.