About the Institute:

Was the Constitution a pro-slavery compact or a glorious liberty document? How do we judge? How do we teach it as history, as civics, and as the foundation of our modern society? 

There are no easy answers to these questions. The debate over the Constitution’s relationship with slavery began before the ink was dry on the first draft. Slavery was a divisive issue as early as the First Congress and it did not relinquish its hold until the Union split in two and armies met to decide the issue in an epic trial by combat. 

Slavery is not just a matter of historical curiosity when it comes to the Constitution. Slavery required its own constitutional law. Congressional power over the slave trade, fugitive slave rendition, and slavery in the territories were sites of perennial disagreement. Slavery reached further still, touching on congressional power to pass infrastructure bills, tax imports, protect Americans from human trafficking, admit new states, make war, and acquire new territory. Slavery touched everything, and it left a lasting legacy that impacts constitutional law today.

But equality was a constitutional value too. Abolitionists saw beyond the Constitution’s compromises with slavery to its aspirational promises of liberty and equality. They fought to convince a public that constitutional means could be used to stall slavery’s progress and ultimately stifle it altogether. They went further. They demanded equal political rights for Black people. They demanded equal civil rights. They lobbied state governments and petitioned the Congress. Their victories shaped a constitutional tradition that informs us still today. 

Teaching the Constitution requires a reckoning with this history. We cannot ignore the centrality of slavery. We must not ignore it. But we also need not be cynical about constitutional values that inspired one of the very first human rights movements. We must be honest about this history. And that means learning it in all its complexity.

This two-week NEH institute will teach that history. We will hear from leading experts in constitutional history, abolitionism, and slavery and law. We will read key documents in context. We will visit historical sites where abstract law met hard reality. And we will learn as a community. 

We’ll see you in Atlanta.


Program Purpose:

NEH-funded institutes are professional development programs that convene K-12 educators or higher education faculty from across the nation in order to deepen and enrich their understanding of a variety of topics in the humanities and enrich their capacity for effective scholarship and teaching.

This institute will gather 25 teacher participants who will work on the subject of slavery and equality under the Constitution. You will hear talks, participate in discussions, and visit historic sites. During the institute, you will develop a lesson plan to bring these important subjects to your own students.


Participant Stipends:

Participants receive a stipend of $2200, set by the NEH and determined by this project’s format and duration, in return for full participation in your project. This stipend is intended to help cover travel, housing, meals and basic academic expenses, and are taxable income. Half will be paid at the beginning of the Institute, and half at the end.

The opening and closing banquet for the institute are provided at no expense to teacher participants, thanks to the generosity of the Georgia State University College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies, and History Department.

Two meals during field trips will be prepaid and deducted from the stipend. 

Participant Expectations:

Teacher participants are expected to consult the required readings and participate in sessions during the institute. Participants will create a lesson plan during the institute which they will be required to turn into the project directors, for use in their classrooms and to share with fellow participants. Participants are required to submit a project evaluation.

Project applicants who accept an offer to participate are expected to remain during the entire period of the program and to participate in its work on a full-time basis. If a participant is obliged through special circumstances to depart before the end of the program, it shall be the recipient institution’s responsibility to see that only a pro rata share of the stipend is received or that the appropriate pro rata share of the stipend is returned if the participant has already received the full stipend. In addition, participants are required to complete an evaluation of the program upon its conclusion. 

Once an applicant has accepted an offer to attend any NEH Summer Program (Seminar, Institute, or Landmark), they may not accept an additional offer or withdraw in order to accept a different offer.

Principles of Civility for NEH Professional Development Programs:

NEH Seminars, Institutes, and Landmarks programs are intended to extend and deepen knowledge and understanding of the humanities by focusing on significant topics, texts, and issues; contribute to the intellectual vitality and professional development of participants; and foster a community of inquiry that provides models of excellence in scholarship and teaching. 

NEH expects that project directors will take responsibility for encouraging an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse. 

Seminar, Institute, and Landmarks presentations and discussions should be: 

  1. firmly grounded in rigorous scholarship, and thoughtful analysis; 
  2. conducted without partisan advocacy; 
  3. respectful of divergent views; 
  4. free of ad hominem commentary; and 
  5. devoid of ethnic, religious, gender, disability, or racial bias. 

NEH welcomes comments, concerns, or suggestions on these principles at questions@neh.gov