‘Future of Freedom’ is topic of Arts & Sciences ‘Conversation’

“The Future of Freedom” will be the topic of “Conversation” when scholars gather Nov. 13 at the University for the second of a four-part series of discussions on key issues that will affect the future of the University, the community and the world.

Arts & Sciences is sponsoring the four “Conversations,” which are free and open to the public, as part of the University’s 150th anniversary celebration. “The Future of Freedom” Conversation will be held from 10-11:30 a.m. in Graham Chapel.

Richard W. Davis, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history in Arts & Sciences, will moderate the discussion. From 1989-2003, Davis directed the Center for the History of Freedom in Arts & Sciences, which over 12 years published a landmark 15-volume series chronicling the birth and development of basic human freedoms. He also served as general editor of the series, titled Making of Modern Freedom.

The scholars participating in the Conversation on freedom are: Douglass C. North, Ph.D., the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences and professor of economics in Arts & Sciences; Orlando Patterson, Ph.D., the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University; James Sheehan, Ph.D., the Dickason Professor in the Humanities and professor of modern European history at Stanford University;

Martha Vicinus, Ph.D., the Eliza M. Mosher Distinguished University Professor of English, Women’s Studies and History at the University of Michigan; and Gordon S. Wood, Ph.D., the Alva O. Way University Professor and professor of history at Brown University.

“Freedom is not a question that will ever stand still,” Davis said in explaining why the topic was selected for a Conversation. “If we have freedom now, we can never be sure we always shall. Partly this is because threats to freedom have a way of repeating themselves. A nation that during World War II watched with equanimity while its government stripped over 100,000 U.S. citizens of all their constitutional protections and interned them, cannot ignore possible implications of similar issues today.

“And, of course, this episode is also a reminder of how often in the course of their history prejudices of all sorts have blinded Americans to issues of freedom as plain as the noses on their faces,” Davis continued.

“If the preservation of freedom requires constant vigilance, it also requires careful consideration of the institutions that will best sustain it. The symbiotic relationship between freedom and a free market economy has long been considered axiomatic. But can the model be applied everywhere? And what of our institutions of government? The right to recall arbitrary and corrupt officials might seem a safeguard for liberty. It might also be a recipe for chaos. And what of international institutions?”

Davis said questions such as these will be discussed among the panel of scholars.

North received the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on the economic history of the United States and Europe, as well as for his contributions to the understanding of how economic and political institutions change over time. He has been a leading advocate of the importance of institutions in understanding changes in society.

Patterson is a highly regarded scholar on the institution of slavery and the roots of racism and poverty. He won the 1991 National Book Award for Freedom: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, the first of a two-volume historical sociology. He is completing the second volume, which will address the modern world.

As a professor of modern European history, Sheehan’s focus is on the social, political and cultural history of 18th- and 19th-century Germany. His major publications are The Career of Lujo Brentano: A Study of Liberalism and Social Reform in Imperial Germany, German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century and German History, 1770-1866.

A scholar of Victorian studies, Vicinus has contributed significantly to the understanding of women’s roles in Victorian society and culture. She has been described as “a tireless activist on behalf of women.” Among the books she has edited or authored is Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, an award-winning anthology of essays.

Wood is a renowned scholar of the early American republic.

Among his books are The Radicalism of the American Revolution, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993, and The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, which was nominated for a National Book Award and received the Bancroft and John H. Dunning prizes.

The last two Conversations, also from 10-11:30 a.m. in Graham Chapel, will address “Public Intellectuals” (Feb. 12) and “Modern Human Origins” (March 26).

For more information, call 935-7304.