New center examines U.S. history

By Kate Shepherd

Administrators at the Center for Study of the Principles of the American Founding are rounding out what they see as a first year marked by the successful integration of new programs into the University’s academic life.

The Center is part of an initiative by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) Jack Miller Center for Teaching the Principles of the American Founding. The Institute has developed a series of nationwide centers to address what it considers a mounting problem in higher education—students did not understand and were not being taught basic history about the founding of the United States. To support their claims and efforts, they cite studies such as their own 2006 report claiming that students with a greater knowledge of American history are more engaged in citizenship activities.

According to Miller Center director Michael Andrews, the center began planning its U of C chapter in fall of 2005. They chose the University because of its commitment to great books and its history of scholarship, he said.

“A motivated and engaged citizen is the key to strengthening our democracy. Moreover, the study of the founding is essential, not only because it familiarizes and deepens students’ understanding of the ideas that continue to shape our political life, but also because it is a particularly fertile and very unique moment in the history of both America and the West,” he said.

The University’s center aims to provoke thought about the American founding with programs directed at both undergraduate and graduate students.

“Unfortunately…study [of the principles of the American founding] has of late been too often neglected. Our center attempts to offer a corrective to this general trend,” said Nathan Tarcov, the director and founder of the Center at the U of C, in a press release.

“Since the Center was funded only this summer, we are very pleased to have succeeded in getting off to a quick start with half a dozen intellectually stimulating events this year,” Tarcov said.

In its first year, the academic center offered a lecture series focusing on the time period of the American founding and aimed to illustrate implications reaching beyond that era. The series drew distinguished professors from other universities and crowds ranging from about 50 to 100 people, Tarcov said. The largest crowd was drawn by a roundtable discussion on the late academic Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind, which deals with issues of democracy and education.

The Center also hosted visiting professor Stuart Warner from Roosevelt University and plans to host Notre Dame’s Michael Zuckert for the winter and spring quarters of 2008. Zuckert will teach two courses on the political thought of the American founding, according to Tarcov.