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A Note from Gerry Cadava, One Book One Northwestern Faculty Chair

What Comes Next?

On the first two Wednesdays of this month, more than 2,000 Wildcats ventured into Chicago to see Hamilton. The trips wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Office of the President, the Wildcat Welcome crew, the Registrar’s Office, Norris University Center, and chaperones from the One Book One Northwestern steering committee. By all accounts—because of you—things went smoothly and swimmingly. Thank you!

Be sure to post any photos you took of your adventure to One Book’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, and distinguish them with the hashtag, #NugoesHam.

With all of the excitement generated by these trips to see Hamilton, it’d be easy to forget that the shows were just the beginning of our One Book programming, and that the author of Our Declaration, Danielle Allen, will visit our Chicago and Evanston campuses in a week’s time. So mark your calendars: Allen will visit Northwestern next Thursday, October 19th. She’ll speak in Chicago at 12:00 p.m., and then in Evanston at 4:30 p.m. Don’t miss her!

You also won’t want to miss everything else we have in store, including visits by leading voices on freedom and equality from around the world, the history of Northwestern’s long and sometimes difficult path toward equality for all members of the Northwestern community, One Book One Northwestern the podcast, art exhibits related to our One Book theme, and classes offered on Hamilton, Independence, and Revolution.

Follow everything we do by visiting our website often. Thanks again for your engagement!


Every year we come together to participate in a campus-wide reading program, called One Book One Northwestern. It may be the one thing that we have a chance to do in common, and in my ideal world it’ll be an important part of establishing a shared conversation about who we are as a community. We can all read and discuss Danielle Allen’s book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. We can participate in events, or teach and take courses, about themes it addresses.

Some of us have already done this. Students in Northwestern’s BRIDGE program have read Our Declaration, and starred in the first podcast in a yearlong series inspired by Allen’s book. I want to give them a shout out: they’re Taylor Bolding, Jihad Esmail, and Jamaica Ponder. These are just the voices you’ll hear when you listen. Many other BRIDGE students contributed as well. I hope you’ll join their ranks, and I hope you’ll all listen to One Book One Northwestern, the podcast. It’s about your stories, your ideas about the Declaration of Independence, and freedom and equality more broadly. You can find it on Sound Cloud, and subscribe on iTunes. Again, it’s called One Book One Northwestern, the podcast.

Also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—all at OneBookNU. You can also find our schedule on our website—just Google One Book One Northwestern—and by picking up a copy of our calendar. Some of you have read the book, some have been featured in our first podcast, and all of you are, I’m sure, looking forward to attending the musical Hamilton in October. You’ll receive an invitation next week.

So far, I’ve only plugged One Book One Northwestern. I think it’s a terrific program. But I also want to highlight a theme that links Our Declaration and Hamilton, one that is central to understanding both of them. That is, how the Declaration of Independence and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical are an example of what Danielle Allen calls the “art of democratic writing.”

What does it mean to write democratically? We generally regard the Declaration of Independence as the work of Thomas Jefferson’s individual genius as a writer and political thinker. We think these famous words flowed from his pen alone, “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal …” But in fact, Jefferson was just one member of a committee of five men that also included Roger Sherman, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Benjamin Franklin. Those immortal words, “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal,” weren’t even Jefferson’s words. Jefferson had written, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent.” Only after lengthy debate among Congressmen, which Allen characterizes as a multitude of frenzied and constant conversation, did the final language get hammered out. Even the language in Jefferson’s original draft wasn’t original to him. He borrowed from European philosophers including John Locke and Jean Jacques-Rousseau. Much closer to home, Jefferson borrowed language and ideas from Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, a state-level pronouncement about Virginia’s tattering relationship with Great Britain. None of this takes away from Jefferson’s talents; it only recognizes something that Allen considers to be a fundamental truth, that “human intelligence” is a “collective force.” Writing democratically, therefore, is an act of collaboration, of coming together in conversation, and of recognizing that the results of our individual efforts will be more successful if we learn from each other and apply our collective intelligence to any problem we face.

Like Jefferson, Lin-Manuel Miranda also knew what it meant to write democratically. But also like Jefferson, Lin-Manuel Miranda has been seen as a uniquely creative genius, as the very embodiment of individual talent. Hamilton was his brainchild. As its author, he has won a Pulitzer, several Tony Awards, and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award. He revolutionized the Broadway musical by fusing hip-hop and the more traditional musical styles of American theater. But Miranda is the first to acknowledge his debts to a diverse group of writers, from Gilbert and Sullivan and Sondheim, to Nas and Mobb Deep and the Notorious B.I.G. Hamilton brims with references to the work of these others, just as the Declaration of Independence brims with the ideas of European philosophers and the earlier pronouncements of states like Virginia, New Hampshire, and New York. When Miranda played Hamilton, he felt like he was just playing his father, right down to the ponytail that Hamilton and Luis Miranda each sported. Both were born in the Caribbean and migrated to the mainland to better their lot. The writing and performance of Hamilton were Miranda’s nod to the influences that shaped his life and work. And Hamilton was written not only with these influences in mind, but also through frenzied and constant conversations with Director Tommy Kail, Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and dozens of others. Hamilton, too, is the product of democratic writing.

I want to emphasize that in neither Thomas Jefferson’s nor Lin-Manuel Miranda’s case did writing democratically come at the expense of their individual success. Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States, and you already know about the accolades Miranda has received.

You might be thinking to yourself, “this is all very interesting, but why do I need to think about democratic writing? What does it have to do with me?” I’ll offer two answers, though I’m sure there are others. First, some scholars have asserted that, over the past several decades, universities have increasingly advanced private over public interests, and that their students are motivated primarily by the salaries they’ll earn after college rather than more socially-oriented goals. These things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. During your time here, keep in mind that, as students and then alumni, you’ll play a role in determining what kind of community Northwestern becomes. What will be the relationship between your individual success and the success of your peers and our community as a whole? Second, these are turbulent times for our country and for the world. Since the 2016 election, many have remarked that we’ve grown apart as a society, and that we lack empathy for one another. We no longer understand each other, and we no longer know who “we” are. I’m sure you’ve heard a version of this story. I want to acknowledge that some Americans have questioned whether there even is a “we the People,” or if there ever was. Even if there is a “we the People,” they say, peoplehood is often conceived as a commitment to inequality, not equality. And what is the point of more conversation when not everyone is viewed as an equal participant in that conversation? But I would argue that working through even these challenging ideas requires more coming together, not less. So, above all, here’s what I hope Our Declaration forces you to think and talk about this year, especially with one another: what kind of “democratic writing” will we do together over the next four years? What vision of community and scholarship will we work towards, and how will the work that we do together help us achieve the goals we set for ourselves, not only as a collective, but also as individuals.

Thanks very much for your attention today, and thanks in advance for your engagement throughout the year with One Book One Northwestern.


Greetings to all in the Northwestern family! Welcome to another year of One Book One Northwestern. We’re excited to come together to discuss Danielle Allen’s book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. It’s about the founding of our nation, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about teaching. It’s about public engagement. It’s about core principles and the rights of all Americans. It’s about the art of “democratic writing,” a concept and practice that you’ll become familiar with only after you read Allen’s stunning work. 
       It’s going to be a fun year. Yes, all first years will have the opportunity to see the musical Hamilton. But even more importantly, we’ll hear Danielle Allen talk about Our Declaration when she visits the Chicago and Evanston campuses in October, and we’ll have conversations about the meaning of equality sustained throughout the year through public lectures, film screenings, performances, podcasts, commemorations, and other events. I’m looking forward to having these conversations with you. 
       Originally I’m from Tucson, Arizona, but I've lived in California, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and, now, Illinois. I’ve lived in Chicago for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. I’ve worked at Northwestern for longer, by far, than anywhere else I’ve worked. Northwestern feels like home, largely because of how my friends and colleagues here are always working to better understand who we are as a community—of individuals, Northwestern affiliates, Americans, and citizens of the world. The common conversation we’ll have next year about Our Declaration is just the next phase of our work together. 
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