Tobin Initiates Working Group on the History of American Democracy

May 2018 HAD Meeting

On May 7th, the Tobin Project convened sixteen historians, economists, and legal scholars for the inaugural meeting of a working group on the history of American democracy. The goal of this project, organized by Tobin’s Institutions of Democracy research initiative, is to develop a better understanding of the factors that contribute to the strength and vibrancy of American democracy and how they have functioned and evolved over time. By convening scholars from different disciplines on this topic, we hope to generate broader knowledge on how democracy actually works, providing scholars, policymakers, and the public with the necessary tools to diagnose and address contemporary problems.

This first meeting focused on three major areas of research:

- How Americans have historically influenced the political process through national and sub-national governing bodies
- The roles of pluralism and federalism in shaping democratic institutions and practices
- How subordinated groups, particularly groups that lacked electoral representation, influenced the creation and operation of democratic institutions

The meeting opened with presentations of recent work on these topics by working group leaders Laura Edwards (Peabody Family Professor of History in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University), Naomi Lamoreaux (Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and Professor of History, Yale University), and Maggie McKinley (Assistant Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law). Participants then shared and workshopped short write-ups of related research questions and discussed strategies for disseminating their ideas to scholars, educators, and practitioners. Tobin is immensely excited by the scholars’ enthusiasm for this research agenda, and we hope to convene additional discussions around this topic, with the goal of deepening understanding of how American democracy has evolved over time and encouraging additional research on this important subject.

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Institutions of Democracy
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2018