Public Program- Discussion on Declaration of Independence

Lectures and Performances
Thursday, May 31, 2018 - 7:00pm to Friday, June 1, 2018 - 6:45pm

"Holding These Truths: A Panel Discussion about the Declaration of Independence"
with David W. Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Peter S. Onuf

Presented in collaboration with Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area

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America’s foundational text famously declares: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But what did these concepts mean to the people living at the time they were first written? How have they been understood over the centuries since? And today, do we still see these as “self-evident truths?” If so, have we realized the full potential of their promise? This panel discussion between these three esteemed historians and the audience will address these and other questions about the document and ideas that gave birth to our nation.

This panel presentation is part of "Declaring Independence: Then and Now," a region-wide commemoration and exploration of the Declaration of Independence presented by Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area and AAS. This program features a forty-minute public performance piece in which a narrator and five costumed re-enactors bring to life the Declaration of Independence followed by an audience discussion. Performances will take place throughout Massachusetts from April through the July 4th holiday. For more information on this program, please see

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. He is the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians, including the Merle Curti prizes for both intellectual and social history. Blight’s newest books include annotated editions of Frederick Douglass’s second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (2013), and Robert Penn Warren’s Who Speaks for the Negro (2014), and the monograph American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (2011), which received the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best book in non-fiction on racism and human diversity. Other published works include a book of essays, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War (2002), and Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (1989). Blight is also a frequent book reviewer for the Washington Post Book World, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe,, and other newspapers, and has written many articles on abolitionism, American historical memory, and African American intellectual and cultural history. He has been a consultant to many documentary films, including the 1998 PBS series Africans in America and The Reconstruction Era (2004).

Annette Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School, a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and formerly the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. In 2009, she won the Pulitzer Prize in History for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2009). A leading scholar of Jefferson, she has also written Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997) and, with Peter Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (2016). She is also the author of Andrew Johnson (2010). Gordon-Reed’s honors include a fellowship from the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, a Guggenheim Fellowship in the humanities, a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, the National Book Award, and the Woman of Power & Influence Award from the National Organization for Women in New York City.

Peter S. Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He retired in 2012 after teaching at the University of Virginia for more than twenty years. Onuf is also senior fellow at Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. A leading scholar of Thomas Jefferson and the early American republic, Onuf is the author, co-author, and editor of numerous books, including (as author) Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (2001), The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2007), and (as editor) Jeffersonian Legacies (1993). He was also a co-host with Brian Balogh and Edward Ayers of the weekly public radio program and podcast Backstory with the American History Guys. This year he is the AAS-Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

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