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College of Arts and Sciences

  • People with sign that reads count every vote.

Mellon Grant

Mellon Foundation Grant at USC for “Civic Engagement, Voting Rights, and the Founding Documents at the University of South Carolina”

Beginning in fall 2023, the Humanities Collaborative will enhance its research and teaching of America’s founding documents through a new $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder of the arts, culture, and humanities.

Photo of Holly Crocker

Holly Crocker, director of the Humanities Collaborative, sought the grant, titled “Civic Engagement, Voting Rights, and the Founding Documents at the University of South Carolina,” to enrich the research and teaching related to the founding documents courses. Crocker and the associate director of the Collaborative Maureen Ryan will administer the grant. 

With this initiative, we'll examine how anti-majoritarian institutions work in tandem with anti-democratic practices in American politics, both past and present. Many anti-majoritarian institutions trace their origins to the founding era in U.S. history. Anti-majoritarianism is also manifest through political projects that make democracy more difficult for others—including voting abuses during Jim Crow. Thus, the American project of achieving a just and equitable society—"a more perfect Union," as the Constitution aspires—must content with these anti-majoritarian impulses and institutions.

Photo of Woody Holten

Photo of Thomas Crocker

Professors Woody Holton (History) and Thomas Crocker (Law) will coordinate several research efforts that will allow scholars, students, and the public to investigate the struggle for ballot access from the founding era through our present moment.

Impact on the University Community

Joel Samuels, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says, “The grant itself is incredibly important as we think about our current state and national landscape. When we think about restoring trust in higher education through impact of our work, this project is directly in line with that guiding principle. This shows how our work can connect big ideas and complex concepts to practical impacts affecting citizens daily.”

This is the first Mellon grant the University of South Carolina has received, and it is also the first grant for the newly launched Humanities Collaborative. Of this achievement, Samuels says, “I cannot emphasize enough what a watershed moment this is, not only for our College but for the University. I am excited to see the impact of this grant across our state and beyond.”

Photo of Gregg Hecimovich delivering a speech

Civic Engagement, Voting Rights, and Founding Documents Programming

Beginning in fall 2023 and extending through Spring 2026, grant-related programming will confront this tradition of anti-majoritarianism via a series of events:

  • A scholarly conference
  • A monthly fellows’ seminar
  • A public speakers’ series featuring nationally known authors and scholars
  • Faculty and student workshops

All will tie to the University’s Founding Documents required curriculum and offer students, faculty, and the public a richer understanding of voter access and participation issues.Photo of student-organized debate

Academic Talks and Speakers

Frances Lee

Portrait of Frances Lee

Date and Time: February 2 at 4:00-5:30 pm

Location: Harper College 320

Frances Lee is a Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Lee has broad interests in American politics, with a special focus on congressional politics, national policymaking, party politics, and representation. She is the author of Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign (2016) and Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U.S. Senate (2009). 

Lee will discuss how despite a long-standing aversion to Congress within US national discourse, Congress is crucial for governance. Although flawed, Congress deserves appreciation. The contemporary Congress is not mired in constant gridlock but characterized by give-and-take and and mutual accommodation that unites the country. Amidst extreme political polarization and a country divided roughly 50-50 down the middle, Congress functions so as to lower the stakes and the temperature. The difficulty of enacting legislation on simple party-line votes means that legislation requires cross-party consensus building. 

Aziz Rana

Portrait of Aziz Rana

Date and Time: March 14 at 4:00-5:30 pm

Location: Rice School of Law (Karen J. Williams Courtroom)

Aziz Rana is a professor of law at Boston College Law School and  author of the forthcoming The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document that Fails Them (University of Chicago Press, 2024). Rana is a prolific author and scholar specializing in American constitutional law and political development, especially in terms of how shifting notions of race, citizenship, and empire have shaped legal and political identity since the founding.

Rana will discuss his forthcoming book The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document that Fails Them (University of Chicago Press, 2024),  an eye-opening account of how Americans came to revere the Constitution and what this reverence has meant domestically and around the world. Rana explores how a flawed document came to be so glorified and how this has impacted American life. The veneration of the Constitution reflects greater political challenges in the US from justifying interventionist national state policies on a global scale to the struggles of movement activists—in Black, Indigenous, feminist, labor, and immigrant politics—to imagine different constitutional horizons. 

Bruce Ackerman

Portrait of Bruce Ackerman

Date and Time: March 21 at 4:00-5:30 pm

Location: Rice School of Law (Karen J. Williams Courtroom)

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, and the author of nineteen books in political philosophy, constitutional law, and public policy. Ackerman is author of the forthcoming Postmodern Predicaments (Yale Press, 2024).

Ackerman will discuss the forthcoming The Postmodern Predicament: Existential Challenges of the Twenty-First Century (Yale Press, 2024). Human beings have taken one thing for granted since our earliest days: we are bodily creatures dealing with one another on a face-to-face basis. The internet has shattered this fundamental feature of human existence. We are suddenly living our lives in two worlds at once—shifting endlessly from virtual to physical reality as we reach out to others. Existentialist thinkers of the twentieth century like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre considered the fragmentation of modern life as a central source of contemporary anxieties. Like them, Ackerman views the challenges of the internet age as a political, no less than personal, problem—and proposes concrete reforms that that could mobilize broad-based support for democracy against demagogic assaults on its very foundations.


Monthly Mellon Lunch Seminars

AGB Book Talk and Signing with Gregg Hecimovich

Date and Time: January 25 at 6:30-7:30 pm

Location: All Good Books

AGB Book Talk and Signing with Frances Lee

Date and Time: February 2 at 12:00 pm

Location: All Good Books

AGB Book Talk and Signing with Aziz Rana

Date and Time: March 15 at 12:00 pm

Location: All Good Books

AGB Book Talk and Signing with Bruce Ackerman

Date and Time: March 22 at 12:00 pm

Location: All Good Books


Co-sponsored Events

"Can our Democracy Survive this Supreme Court?"

(Co-sponsored by the History Center, South Caroliniana Library, and Joseph F. Rice School of Law)

Date and Time: March 13, 4:00-5:30 pm

Location: Kendall Room, South Caroliniana Library

Barbara Phillips, formerly an attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, in conversation with civil rights attorney Armand Derfner, who has helped shape the Voting Rights Act in numerous Supreme Court arguments. He is coauthor of Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court.

Peter Wood

(Co-sponsored by the History Center, Institute for Southern Studies, and South Caroliniana Library)

Black Majority: Race, Rice, and Rebellion in South Carolina, 1670-1740

Date and Time: April 9 at 5:00-7:00 pm

Location: Kendall Room, South Caroliniana Library

 Peter Wood will visit USC for a series of events marking the publication of the fiftieth anniversary edition of Black Majority: Race, Rice, and Rebellion in South Carolina, 1670-1740, his groundbreaking history of Blacks in colonial South Carolina. Event includes book talk, signing, and reception.

AGB Book Talk and Signing with Peter Wood

Date and Time: April 10 at 10:00-11:30 am

Location: All Good Books

Peter Wood will lead a book group discussion. Twenty copies of Black Majority are available on a first come basis for those who would like to read the book in advance of Peter’s visit and participate in the discussion. If you are interested in joining the group, please contact Maclane Hull  to reserve a book.

Academic Talks and Speakers

Created Equal: How the Declaration of Independence Became a Founding Document

Date and Time: November 16, 4:00-5:30 pm

Presenter: Eric Slauter

Location: School of Law 103 (Karen J. Williams Courtroom)

Headshot of Erik Slauter and cover of Slauter's book

The self-evident truths 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” may have constituted minor premises in the Declaration of Independence to all but a small number of contemporaries in 1776. But arguably no words from the period of the American Revolution have been more consequential to later generations. How, when, and why did these claims become central to an understanding of the Declaration? While most observers in 1776 paid more attention to the charges against King George and the powers claimed on behalf of free and independent states, one set of people saw the claims of equality and rights as its most important statement: opponents of slavery. Years later, it would be their reading that helped transform an instrument of international law into a founding document of domestic politics. In watching how those early Americans read the Declaration, and what they paid attention to, we get a powerful lesson in how a seemingly clear founding document can shift meaning over the years and even hold multiple meanings in its own time. We also see how a state paper designed to dissolve the political bands between Britain and the Colonies slowly and surprisingly came to be recognized as a founding document of American equality.

Eric Slauter is the Deputy Dean of the Humanities and the College at the University of Chicago, where he is an associate professor in the Department of English, an associate faculty member in the Divinity School, and serves as the founding director of the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture. Slauter brings his specialization in early American cultural, intellectual, legal, and political history to the discussion of the Declaration of Independence.


Monthly Mellon Lunch Seminars

All Good Books Lunch with Frances Lee

(Mellon Seminar)

Date and Time: November 10, 10:30 am-12:00 pm

Presenter: Frances Lee

Location: All Good Books

Lunch with Frances Lee, Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Lee will lead a discussion of two interrelated projects. First, drawing on a recent paper (coauthored with Jim Curry) on the Senate filibuster, Lee argues although many others focus on how the filibuster poses a nearly insuperable obstacle to a Senate majority party’s agenda, limiting Congress’s output to non-controversial measures,  an even more common cause of failure is the majority party’s inability to agree among themselves. Despite increased voting cohesion generally, parties in the polarized era still routinely struggle to bridge their own internal divides. And second, she will analyze in a work in progress how polarization effects a President's relationship with Congress. She will discuss how two trends consistently weaken presidents in the polarized era: stronger partisanship in the mass public and geographic polarization. The public’s strong partisanship puts a firm, low ceiling on presidents’ job approval. Geographic polarization tends to confine presidents’ base of support to either red or blue states. Their narrow political base affords recent presidents little leverage in dealing with the opposition party in Congress, which has less incentive to work with presidents today than in the 20th century, when presidents were better able to both win support across the whole country and find votes from across the aisle in Congress.

Please RSVP to Maclane Hull ( and Holly Crocker ( by November 3rd.

All Good Books Lunch with Eric Slauter

(Mellon Seminar)

Date and Time: November 17, 12:00-1:30 pm

Presenter: Eric Slauter

Location: All Good Books

Eric Slauter will lead a follow-up discussion of “pocket constitutionalism.” Pocket constitutionalism is not a recent phenomenon. The earliest small-scale printed constitutions in the United States originated in the era of the American Revolution. In 1791, Thomas Paine told readers of The Rights of Man across the Atlantic that the Constitution of Pennsylvania had become “the political bible” of that state, that scarcely a family was without a copy, and that it was common for legislators “to take the printed constitution out of their pocket” during debates. Advertising a duodecimo printing of the Massachusetts Constitution in the Summer of 1787, in the aftermath of Shay’s Rebellion, printer Isaiah Thomas made the case that for the public good (and for a modest price) a copy of the state’s “Political Bible” should be in all hands. Sitting at the intersection of legal and political history and the history of the book, this essay explores this early history and surveys the longer life of small-scale printed constitutions. Closer attention to these revolutionary-era printed artifacts helps reveal dramatic shifts in late eighteenth-century understandings of what a constitution is and does; of how constitutions were read, disseminated, and deployed; of the relation between format and content in the writing of constitutions; of the origins of civic education; and of the nature of rights and what it meant—in a literal sense—to be a rights-bearing person. 

The first 10 people to RSVP for this meeting to Maclane Hull ( and Holly Crocker ( will win a copy of Slauter’s book, The State as a Work of Art. Please RSVP by November 10th.


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.