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

Upcoming One Book Events

It’s early May and we’re still not done with this year’s One Book programming! On May 10, Benjamin Irvin visited Northwestern to give a talk entitled, “Declarations of Dependence: Impaired Veterans and Disability Pensions after the Revolutionary War.” Irvin is an Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, and also serves as the Executive Editor of the Journal of American History, the flagship scholarly journal in the field of U.S. History.

His talk presented some of the research from his current book project, about veterans of the American Revolution. It related to one of Danielle Allen’s main themes—equality and inequality—in some interesting ways. Irvin showed us how the pensions for veterans of the American Revolution varied greatly depending on the class status of the pensioner. In short, wealthier veterans received more, while poorer veterans received less. Their pensions also varied depending on which state they came from.

These considerations of class background and location could be more important than the nature and extent of their injury. It made me think that the inequities of our healthcare system today were baked into our country’s DNA from the very beginning.


In addition to Irvin’s talk, we also had visits by Nadia Marzouki and Nathan Brown, two scholars of the Middle East. We have a couple more events coming up, including an all-female production of 1776. But the year is drawing to a close. I can’t believe how much we’ve done!

Stateville Correctional Facility

In mid-April, 15 members of the Northwestern community went to the Stateville Correctional Facility to discuss Danielle Allen’s “Our Declaration” with a group of 50 prisoners. The prisoners were student participants in Northwestern’s prison education initiative. It was the first time that so many Northwestern community members and Stateville students participated in the same event at the same time. It was also the first time that One Book One Northwestern participated in the prison education initiative.

Needless to say, having the opportunity to discuss topics such as freedom and inequality with prisoners was unique and transformative. For the first hour, a panel of Northwestern professors discussed freedom and equality as they relate to their particular areas of expertise—Latinx history, race and immigration, and the sociology of mass incarceration. Then, for the second hour, we broke up into small groups of two Northwestern community members and about six or seven prisoners, to focus on particular issues raised in Our Declaration.

Some prisoners had written their own declarations of independence based on their experiences of imprisonment. All of them drew on current events and their own life histories when speaking about Allen’s book, as well as the readings they’d encountered in some of their courses. They were some of the most engaged and intelligent students we’ve encountered as teachers.

NU undergrad Maddie Burakoff reported on the day at Stateville for The Daily Northwestern. Read her article here.

Roxane Gay Event

Two weeks ago, on the first day of spring quarter, the acclaimed author Roxane Gay was on campus. Her visit was co-sponsored by One Book One Northwestern. 

Gay is the author of the best-sellers Bad Feminist and, most recently, Hunger. She has more than 450,000 followers on Twitter. That’s a lot of human beings, she said. Gay had a lot to say about the recent explosion of African American artistic production, from Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

The thing she said that struck me the most relates directly to the themes of Our Declaration: equality and freedom. Namely, there’s an unreasonably high bar for black artistic expression and cultural production. Issa Rae has to be perfect. Ryan Coogler has to be perfect. Anything less would invite scorn and condescension.

Gay said she hoped to see more mediocre art from African Americans. White artists produce mediocre work all the time and without remark, she said. So, more mediocrity, less perfection.

Her words drew our attention to this basic inequality and unfreedom. Expectations of African American and white artists aren’t the same. African American artists aren’t free to make mediocre art. It has to be the best.

Some Exciting Upcoming Events

Early in the spring quarter, One Book is sponsoring two things that we wanted you to know about, both because we’re awaiting them with great anticipation, and because they’re not on our calendar of events.

On the first day of the quarter—April 3—the acclaimed author Roxane Gay will be on campus. She’s the author of the best-sellersBad Feminist and, most recently, Hunger. You have to get tickets, so hop on it. You won’t want to miss her.

Then, on Wednesday, April 11, a group of 15 Northwestern community members—One Book Fellows, faculty, staff—will spend the day at the Stateville Correctional Center, to discuss Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration with 75 prisoners. It’s the first time One Book has planned such a trip, but given the origins and topic of Our Declaration, taught as a class for non-traditional students, on the Declaration of Independence, freedom, and equality, this is absolutely the moment.

This visit to Stateville is also part of Northwestern’s broader prison education initiative, which aims to grant Northwestern course credit to imprisoned students. We expect that our day there will be very meaningful for all involved.

Next Year's One Book

Did you hear about next year’s One Book One Northwestern selection? It’ll be Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”! Scroll up on this page, and click on the news story. We’re very excited.

Especially exciting, I think, next year’s book will enable a continuation of the themes we’ve been talking about this year; namely, equality and freedom—or inequality and unfreedom, as the case may be in Atwood’s book. The main difference will be that next year’s conversations will focus even more closely on gender and sexuality, two themes of the utmost importance in this post-Access Hollywood, post-election, post-Weinstein, #MeToo, Story Daniels moment we’re living in today.

Relationships between men and women, between men, between women. Reproductive issues. Gender and Sexual violence. All of these will be front and center, and with brilliant guidance from English Professor Helen Thompson.

But before we turn the page on this year, at least one event will be a bridge between this year’s and next year’s One Book programming. Roxane Gay will visit Northwestern on April 3, the first day of spring quarter. She’s the author of Bad Feminist, Hunger, and many other books, and is a leading voice of feminism and all matters pertaining to race, sex, and gender. Come hear her talk!

Favorite One Book Event

One of my favorite One Book events of the year was a conversation between the historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Erica Armstrong Dunbar, moderated by Northwestern history professor Leslie Harris, who’s a relatively new member of our community. She joined us from Emory just a couple of years ago. Gordon-Reed is a professor of law and history at Harvard University, and her book about Sally Hemings and her extended family, The Hemingses of Monticello, won a Pulitzer Prize. Dunbar is a professor of history at Rutgers University, and her book about Martha and George Washington’s runaway slave, called Never Caught, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

They both talked so powerfully about the writing of history, especially as it relates to concepts such as freedom and equality, and to the lives of founders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. These are, of course, themes that are central concerns in Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration. Gordon-Reed and Dunbar are two of the leading historians to put African Americans at the center of Jefferson’s and Washington’s lives. Sally Hemings and Ona Judge, they argue, did much of the labor that afforded Jefferson and Washington the time and mental space to advance their careers, or to simply carry out their day-to-day affairs as well as the business of the new nation. They chose their clothes, cooked their food, managed their lands. Yet their labors, and how they in many ways made possible the success of the founders, went unrecognized by their contemporaries, and has gone unrecognized by Americans and historians in our own time. Truly, it was an exciting discussion.

And there are still more on the way, including upcoming talks by the historian Kate Masur, Middle East Studies scholars Nathan Brown and Nadia Marzouki, and so many more.

Our Podcast

Have you listened yet to Episode 5 of One Book, One Northwestern: The Podcast? It features the stories of Northwestern students affected by Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.

What’s our Podcast all about, you ask? Well, Northwestern is a big campus that spreads out in many different directions. From Evanston to Chicago. From north campus to south campus. From the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law to the Northwestern Kellogg School of Business to Northwestern’s campus in Qatar, and many places in between. Moreover, we have alumni around the world, and current students who come from around the world.

The greatest ambition of One Book One Northwestern is to connect Wildcats wherever they are, to truly make us One Northwestern. This is where the podcasts come in.

The beauty of podcasts is that you can subscribe and listen from anywhere in the world, keeping abreast of the experiences of current students, the ideas of Northwestern faculty, and the conversations inspired by this year’s One Book, Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration (and next year’s, and so forth). They’re a great way to connect listeners with what’s happening on campus.

So, please do have a listen, come back and listen some more, and tell other Wildcats, too!

Check Out Some One Book Exhibits!

There are two One Book productions that you need to check out, if you haven’t already!

First, on January 17th, we had the opening reception for our exhibition, “Revolutionary Women.” Drawing inspiration from Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration, One Book Fellows and Ambassadors created a stunning visual display about women who have transformed the world we live in, from the 10th century to the present. It’ll be up in the Main Library’s Information Commons until March 24th.

Second, the fourth episode of One Book One Northwestern, the podcast, also debuted last week. This one focuses on free speech issues on our campus, which have also been an important part of political discourse on campuses throughout the United States. As always, you can subscribe on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Finally, we’ll be announcing a couple more, previously unannounced, One Book events very shortly. So keep in touch with us.

Interpreting the Declaration

While looking for a different article in the Journal of American History, I came across a roundtable they put together in 1999 on “Interpreting the Declaration of Independence By Translation.” It featured a series of short essays answering the questions why, how, and when the Declaration was translated into other languages. Into Spanish in Spain and Mexico. Into French in France, Italian in Italy, German in Germany, Hebrew in Israel, Chinese in China, Russian in Russia, Japanese in Japan, and etc. Of course, the very existence of the roundtable means that the Declaration of Independence was, in fact, translated into all of these languages, reaffirming what we already know about its global reach and significance.

Still, I learned a lot of surprising information. So far, I’ve only read the essays on Spain and Mexico, but I plan to read more. Did you know that Spaniards had issues with translating Jefferson’s words about the “pursuit of happiness” on earth as a fundamental right, because they chafed against Catholic teachings about ultimate salvation and happiness in death, rather than in life. Spaniards, who didn’t embrace republican government until the late nineteenth century, also didn’t know how to translate “self-government” since there was no such thing in monarchical Spain.

In Mexico, the Declaration of Independence was first translated in 1812, shortly after Miguel Hidalgo’s “grito de dolores” in 1810, which marked the beginning of Mexico's decade-long struggle for independence from Spain. But the intellectual underpinnings of the Declaration of Independence—borrowed from the European enlightenment—weren’t widely debated until 1823, after Mexico won independence and decided to become a Republic instead of an Empire in its own right, with which Mexicans briefly flirted. And even when they did begin to talk about the philosophies inherent in the Declaration of Independence, they simultaneously forged a sense of Mexican national identity that didn’t rely so explicitly on the American colonies, but rather harkened back to the Aztecs. They looked for indigenous roots.

I’m pointing out these international ramifications of the Declaration of Independence just in case you want to learn more, and because much of our One Book One Northwestern programming in the winter and spring quarters has an international bent. We have visits from international human rights activists, such as Paul Rusesabagina, who saved lives in Rwanda during the genocide there in the 1990s. We have events planned about state-making in the Middle East and the meanings of Latin American independence movements in the nineteenth century. We did a little of this in the fall, but there’s much more to come in the months ahead. Indeed, the rest of the year promises to be just as intellectually expansive, if not more so, as the first few months of our program were. So stay tuned!

End of Quarter Update

This has been a very busy quarter in One Book world. In this season of appreciation and giving thanks, we want to thank everyone who has engaged with Danielle Allen’s book, Our Declaration, and with all of the programming we’ve been doing around it. Thanks also to all of our co-sponsors, One Book Fellows, and Faculty Steering Committee members.

Thousands of you have seen Hamilton, hundreds of you went to Danielle Allen’s keynote events in Chicago and Evanston. Hundreds more have listened to episodes of One Book One Northwestern, the Podcast. Speaking of which, the third episode—Hungry on Campus—is now available on SoundCloud. Listen here.

More highlights. We went to the Art Institute, where docents gave us a special tour of art from the era of the American Revolution. We went to the Newberry Library, where archivists showed us a very early copy of the Declaration of Independence—dated July 13, 1776—and documents about the federal government’s relations with native peoples during the Revolution. We heard talks by lawyers, scholars, actors, and many others; all of whom had unique perspectives on freedom, equality, democracy, and independence.

And to think, just one quarter in, this is STILL just the beginning! Look out for our winter and spring quarter calendar, which we’ll publish in early January, and which will include descriptions of what we’ll be up to in 2018.

Current Events in Catalonia

A friend of mine recently wrote on his Facebook page, “Spain is running King George III’s playbook.” He was referring to how quickly and forcefully Spain moved to quell the rebellion in Catalonia.

Because I’ve been thinking so much about America’s Declaration of Independence, I’d also been thinking about the relationship between American independence some 250 years ago and Catalan’s declaration of independence last month. But I hadn’t seen it put so plainly before.

In early October, the Parliament of Catalonia declared independence from Spain, saying, “Catalonia restores today its full sovereignty.” Catalan’s claims of difference, and desires for autonomy, are longstanding. Catalonians speak a different language. The rivalry between soccer clubs in Barcelona and Madrid is intense. Regional cuisine is different. On average, Catalan is wealthier than most of the rest of Spain, and therefore feels that it contributes more than its fair share to the national economy. These are just some of the reasons behind Catalan’s drive for independence.

The Spanish government has worked hard to repress the rebellion. Spanish police stormed the polling places where Catalonians voted for independence. The government has invoked the never-before-used Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would revoke Catalonia’s autonomy. Spanish Courts have declared the rebellion illegal. Independence leader Carles Puigdemont faces charges of rebellion and sedition.

In response, protesters in support of independence have blocked roadways, causing traffic jams several miles long and slowing commerce between Cataluña and the rest of Spain. They’ve gathered in the streets of Barcelona, chanting “the streets will always be ours,” and calling for democracy and freedom of assembly, speech, and press.

My purpose here isn’t to offer a full comparison of American independence and Catalan’s independence movement today. That’d require much more space than I have, though I think it’d be a great topic for a paper! Instead, I just want to raise the question: are Americans required to think in a particular way about Catalan’s independence movement, given our own country’s beginnings in revolt against Great Britain? So far, Catalan’s independence movement has had very little international support. The international community has said that, regardless of what happens in Catalonia, it will only recognize Spain as an interlocutor. But is it hypocritical of us to not acknowledge Catalan’s calls for independence given our country’s history? Why, or why not? I don’t know, but it’s certainly worth thinking about as we watch events unfold across the Atlantic.

Danielle Allen Visits Northwestern

Last week, One Book author Danielle Allen visited Northwestern. She was very busy, meeting with a group of 15 Brady Scholars in the morning, joining law professor Juliet Sorensen and psychiatrist John Franklin in conversation at the Northwestern Pritzker Law School, joining me in conversation in Evanston at the Ryan Family Auditorium, and concluding her day with dinner at President Schapiro’s house.

You can read more about her visit in this article from The Daily Northwestern.

First, we’d like to thank Danielle Allen for carving time from her busy schedule to spend the day with us; the One Book fellows, ambassadors, and graduate assistant, Katie Welch, for making the day run so smoothly; everyone in Chicago and Evanston who came to meet Allen and hear her speak; and Mimi and Morty Schapiro, for hosting us at their home.

There are so many memorable moments from Allen’s visit, and I’m sure her remarks moved each of us in our own way. From my perspective, I will remember what she said about teaching and curriculum design, and how we should always plan our courses around the themes that speak to the interests of our students, and the issues they need to know about, right now, in the present. There’s an urgency to our moment that we, as teachers, need to respond to. I’ll remember undergraduate and graduate students engaging Danielle about the resonance of the Declaration of Independence in our own times, how it still speaks to debates over healthcare, libertarianism, morality, racial justice, political culture, and so many other issues. I’ll remember her and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Northwestern faculty member, Garry Wills, who has written more than one book that deals with the Declaration, huddled up at the President’s house sharing decades of expertise, and their admiration for one another.

At One Book, we’ve begun the year with a bang, with the Hamilton trips and Allen’s visit. To think, it’s STILL only October. What a month. Yet we have so much more on the horizon, including an event with Wills himself, another Pulitzer Prize winner, the legal historian Annette Gordon Reed, National Book Award finalist Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the eminent Notre Dame historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, and the past President of the Middle East Studies Association, Nathan Brown, who will talk about Constitution and state making in the Middle East, and many community events in addition.

Please stay engaged with One Book throughout the year, and, oh yeah, listen to the second episode of One Book One Northwestern, the podcast!

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.