The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Non-GC Events

Institute for Constitutional History

The Institute for Constitutional History is pleased to announce another seminar for advanced graduate students and junior faculty:

Reform, Reaction, and Constitutionalism in Twentieth-Century America


Program Content:

This seminar will selectively study progressive reform efforts in America between 1920 and 1980 — both their successes and their failures.  The first session will focus on the 1920s, when both reformers and conservatives conceived of reform in terms of class conflict carried out mainly in the political process; in that decade, reformers enjoyed almost no success in altering the nation’s law.  The second session will turn to the New Deal and will focus particularly on the issue of how much redistributive change the New Deal actually achieved prior to 1938.  The third and fourth sessions will study the period from 1938 to 1968, when reformers turned to the courts and the constitution in a fight to achieve ethnic and religious equality, and the children of turn-of-the-century Catholic and Jewish immigrants entered the nation’s socio-economic mainstream.  The third session will focus on the impact of World War II on the nation’s socio-economic structure; the fourth will turn to the Cold War.  The two final sessions, still focusing on law and the constitution, will turn to the years since 1968, when equality was reconceptualized in terms of race and gender, with the fifth session examining race and the sixth, gender.  Our hypothesis will be that only marginal change has again occurred.  A key question throughout the seminar will be why ethnic and religious conceptions of equality succeeded in transforming law for ethnic white men, while other progressive conceptions in large part failed.




Hendrik Hartog is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University.  From 2006 to 2015, he was the Director of Princeton University’s Program in American Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Brandeis University and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law.  His publications include Public Property and Private Power: The Corporation of the City of New York in American Law, 1730–1870 (1983), Man and Wife in America: A History (2000), and Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (2012).  For a decade he co-edited Studies in Legal History, the book series of the American Society for Legal History.  At present he is working on both a general history of property law and a microhistory of Gibbons v. Ogden.  During the 2015-2016 academic year, he will hold a fellowship at the New-York Historical Society.


William E. Nelson, the Edward Weinfeld Professor of Law and Professor of History at New York University, received his LL.B. from NYU and his Ph.D. from Harvard.  After serving as law clerk to Justice Byron R. White of the Supreme Court in 1970, he began writing and teaching in the field of American legal history.  He is the author of ten monographs, including The Legalist Reformation: Law, Politics, and Ideology in New York, 1920-1980, and co-author or editor of three other books.  In 1981 he founded the Legal History Colloquium at NYU Law School, where nearly 100 younger scholars have held fellowships and received graduate and post-graduate training.  He has taught a broad range of courses at NYU, including constitutional law and federal jurisdiction.



Friday afternoons, 2:00–4:00 p.m., October 2, 9, 16, 23, November 6, 13.  The seminar will meet at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York City.


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, 2015.  Successful applicants will be notified soon thereafter.  For further information, please contact Maeva Marcus at (202) 994-6562 or send an email to


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 ICH:

The Institute for Constitutional History (ICH) 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 New York Historical Society and 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.  ICH prepares junior scholars and college instructors to convey to their readers and students the important role the Constitution has played in shaping American society.  ICH also provides a national forum for the preparation and dissemination of humanistic, interdisciplinary scholarship on American constitutional history.