Distinguished Lecturers
Jonathan Gienapp

Jonathan Gienapp

Jonathan Gienapp is Associate Professor of History at Stanford University. He specializes in the constitutional, political, and intellectual history of the American Revolutionary era. His first book, The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era (2018), explores how understandings of the U.S. Constitution transformed during the decade following its ratification. It won the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize from Harvard University Press and the Best Book in American Political Thought Award from the American Political Science Association and was a finalist for the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and a Spectator USA Book of the Year. He has published work in numerous venues, including the William and Mary Quarterly, the Journal of the Early RepublicLaw and History Review, Constitutional Commentary, and The Boston Globe. He has appeared on NPR and his work has been featured numerous times in The New York Times. He is currently writing two books. The first presents a historical critique of the theory of constitutional originalism—the influential theory of constitutional interpretation currently championed by a majority of the United States Supreme Court. The second explores the intertwined history of popular sovereignty and nationhood in the early United States as told through the forgotten history of the Constitution’s Preamble.

OAH Lectures by Jonathan Gienapp

History has always mattered to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution, but never more so than now thanks to the ascendance of the theory of constitutional originalism, which insists that the Constitution should be interpreted today in accordance with its original meaning. Where did originalism come from and how did it acquire such power? And given its emphasis on the historical past, how does this theory use and abuse history?

When the United States Constitution first appeared, its Preamble was of central importance. Over time, though, its significance diminished. While it remains a celebrated part of the Constitution, its power to legitimize broad national authority has disappeared. The story of the Preamble’s rise and fall illuminates a once robust vision of American constitutionalism and the lesser-known framers who helped embed it in the Constitution. This talk recovers this lost Constitution, delineates its core features, and documents its hitherto overlooked vitality while also charts how and why it disappeared so quickly and what that might tell us about the Constitution's deeper character.


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