Getting to Know the Constitution

Before we get into this required web assignment, I would strongly recommend that you read this excellent overview of the role that the Constitution has played in our political discourse from the 1790s through the present. It’s by Jill Lepore, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and a professor of history at Harvard, and was published last January, when the Tea Party still seemed to matter. It is a little long, but I actually found it a fun read, and I guarantee that it will change the way that you think about this document that we all take for granted but that very few of us have actually read. In any case, I think it will really help you think about this assignment.


Here are the directions for the assignment. Please read them carefully as they are a bit complicated. What we are going to do is create our own annotated version of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I have posted every article, section, and amendment, and will have each of you pick one. You then each will write a commentary of your chosen piece of about two paragraphs in length. (The longer articles are broken up into sections, but Articles V, VI, and VII are not since they are short, so if you pick one of those, you will write on the whole article). In your commentary, you will tell us what you think that section/article/amendment means, and what issue or problem the founders sought to address by it. The assignment will happen in two stages:

First Stage: Everyone will pick a first choice and a second choice. You can read the whole Constitution here, and the Bill of Rights here. E-mail me at bo’ once you have picked your two choices (in your e-mail, make sure to include your name and section number, which is 6752). I will post who got what assignment here. Since there are only thirty-three items, two people will be assigned to a few of the pieces. The assignments are first-come, first-serve, so don’t wait too long to make a choice.

Second Stage: Once you see that your assigned section/article/amendment has been confirmed, you can post your commentary by clicking on the link to it on the assignment page. Since this is a history class, the emphasis of our commentary should be on the Constitution and Bill of Rights as they were initially ratified (parts that were later amended or deleted appear as a hypertext link, which will direct you to the text of the relevant changes). You can see an example comment that I wrote by clicking on Article I, Section 1.

Published in: on October 25, 2011 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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