Suffrage in America

July 23-25, 2014

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The history of the right to vote in the United States is a long and complex tale, stretching from the absence of an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution to current debates about election procedures and voter suppression—with many important episodes in between.  This seminar will explore some of the key moments in this story, much of which unfolded in state governments, from the late 18th century through the 1960s and beyond.  Among the moments to be looked at are the dropping of property requirements in the early 19th century, the passage of the 15th and 19th amendments, and the multiple legal changes of the long 1960s. Significant attention will be paid to understanding why suffrage rights expanded in some eras and contracted in others.

Seminar Scholar

Alexander Keyssar is the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard University. An historian by training, he has specialized in the explanation of issues that have contemporary policy implications. His book, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (2000), was named the best book in U.S. history by both the American Historical Association and the Historical Society; it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. A significantly revised and updated edition of The Right to Vote was published in 2009. His 1986 book, Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts, was awarded three scholarly prizes. Keyssar is coauthor of The Way of the Ship: America's Maritime History Reenvisioned, 1600-2000 (2008), and of Inventing America, a text integrating the history of technology and science into the mainstream of American history. In addition, he is coeditor of a series on Comparative and International Working-Class History. In 2004/5, Keyssar chaired the Social Science Research Council's National Research Commission on Voting and Elections, and writes frequently for the popular press about American politics and history. Keyssar's current research interests include election reform, the history of democracies, and the history of poverty.