The Declaration of Independence | Newberry

The Declaration of Independence

Monday, February 1, 2021


The Newberry

Eric Slauter, University of Chicago
Newberry Teachers' Consortium

What does the Declaration of Independence declare? This seminar investigates the origins, meanings, and contested legacies of one of the most consequential political documents in world history. What did the Declaration’s language of equality, liberty, and rights mean to its authors and earliest readers? How and why have understandings of the document changed over time? And what place do the words and ideals of the Declaration hold now, nearly 250 years later? We’ll start by examining the drafting, circulation, and reception of the text in the age of the American Revolution, looking especially at the way in which a growing group of black and white activists in the late eighteenth century seized on the claim that “all men are created equal” to argue against slavery. We’ll then survey some of the turning points in the life of the document, including the deployment of the Declaration in arguments about the rights of women and enslaved peoples in antebellum America; the changing meaning of the Declaration in the era of Southern secession, the Civil War, and Emancipation; the place and promise of the Declaration in contests over human rights and civil rights in the twentieth century; and the significance of the document in our own time.

This seminar is scheduled alongside the Newberry’s exhibition, A Show of Hands: 500 Years of the Art and Technology of Handwriting (December 18, 2020-March 3, 2021).

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Teachers’ Consortium participants may register for this seminar through their designated school administration contact, as space permits. Individual educators without a subscription package at their home institution may register for this seminar by purchasing an individual seminar slot at the time of registration. Registration for all NTC seminars opens Friday, September 11, 2020. For more information about NTC subscription packages, please contact Cate Harriman, Teacher & Student Programs Coordinator, at

A link to the assigned pre-readings for the seminars, as well as instructions for logging onto the Zoom session, will be distributed to participants via email.

If you believe you are registered for this seminar but have not received an email confirmation or reminder, please contact Teacher Programs staff at