Re-Framing the Constitution: Futures of the Fourteenth Amendment

All talks and receptions are open to the public.

See the symposium agenda here.

Rice University (Houston, TX)

Friday and Saturday, October 5-6, 2018

The year 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Arguably the most important and bitterly contested amendment in history, it changed the landscape of American membership politics with “birthright citizenship” and “equal protection under the law.”

The Fourteenth Amendment’s sesquicentennial comes at a particularly distressing moment of national turbulence, when exposure to anxieties rooted in fear, hate, and ignorance is becoming increasingly lethal, especially to those for whom questions and issues of “citizenship” are not abstract but tightly woven into the fabric of lived experience.

Keeping the material impacts of social discourse in its line of sight, this conference aims to bring together a selective interdisciplinary body of scholars to ponder historical interpretations of the amendment (such as “separate but equal”) in new ways; to assess through the lens of the amendment the exegetic landscape of our cultural pasts, political present, and speculative futures; and to discuss what has now become a predictable pattern of direct and indirect efforts to delegitimize, dismiss, and “reform” the amendment’s Citizenship Clause.

Crafted during the post-war era of Reconstruction, the amendment holds federal and state governments accountable for the protection of rights for all American citizens. Its most important achievements—birthright citizenship and equality before the law—subsequently shaped the next 150 years of American membership politics, and are in our current moment (as they have been since their adoption) under impassioned assault.

In this spirit, “Re-Framing the Constitution” will adopt as its guiding questions: Where does the Fourteenth Amendment take us from here? And where should we, as cultural, legal, and social historians, be taking it? This symposium will reflect on, re-examine, and re-imagine the Fourteenth Amendment as a definitive turning point in U.S. social and legal reform.

In seeking to renew the agenda for research into ways the amendment has shaped not only the United States Constitution, but the legal and social frameworks of global citizenship, “Re-Framing the Constitution” aims to interrogate the multiple complexities, legacies, and vulnerabilities of this 400-word text.


Friday, October 5, 2018: 5:00 pm, Herring Hall 100 Auditorium

Edlie L. Wong (Professor of English @ Maryland, College Park)

Edlie Wong is Director of the Center for Literary and Comparative Studies. Her teaching and research interests include nineteenth-century American, African American, and Asian American literatures, law and literature, the black Atlantic, critical race studies, and gender studies. She is the author of Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship (NYU Press, 2015) and Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel (NYU Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in Social TextAmerican Literary HistoryAmerican LiteratureAfrican American ReviewVictorian Literature and Culture, and Prose Studies, in anthologies, including The Haitian Revolution and the Early United StatesRoutledge Research Companion to Law and Humanities in Nineteenth Century AmericaOxford History of the Novel in EnglishAmerican Literary Geographies, and The Image and the Witness, and online at openDemocracy.

Concluding Roundtable

Saturday, October 6, 2018: 4:00 pm, Herring Hall 129

Ikuko Asaka (Asst. Prof. of History @ Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Asaka is a historian of the United States with an emphasis on the nineteenth century, empire, US in the world, African American history, and women, gender, and sexuality. Trained in US and Japanese institutions, she takes comparative and transnational approaches to history. She explores how race and its related processes—class, gender, and sexuality—organized and were organized by global structures and circumstances as well as by systems of exclusion and inclusion at national, colonial, and imperial levels.

Carrie Hyde (Assoc. Prof. of English @ UCLA)

Carrie Hyde is Associate Professor of English at UCLA. Her interdisciplinary work on early U.S. literature, law, and politics has been supported by yearlong fellowships from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Mellon/ACLS, and the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney (where she was a postdoctoral fellow in 2011-2012). Hyde is author of Civic Longing: The Speculative Origins of U.S. Citizenship, which was published by Harvard University Press in January of 2018. Civic Longing is a prehistory of citizenship in the period before the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868—when the law was not yet the definitive cultural tradition for asking and answering questions about citizenship. Hyde’s work also has appeared in ELHAmerican Literature, J19, and American Literary History. She is currently at work on a new book on evidence, Novelistic Facts: Conspiracy, Legal Interpretation, and the Emplotment of Evidence, which uses its account of the emergence of the legal category of criminal conspiracy in seventeenth-century Anglophone law to historicize and reassess the long fungible line between fact and fiction in modern jurisprudence and politics.

Derrick R. Spires (Assoc. Prof. of English & Jewish Culture and Society @ U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Derrick R. Spires is Associate Professor of English and Criticism and Interpretative Theory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His book, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), analyzes the development of U.S. citizenship through the early African American print archive. His second project, Serial Blackness: Periodical Literature and Early African American Literary Histories in the Long Nineteenth Century takes up seriality as both the core of early African American literary history and a heuristic for understanding blackness in the long C19. Spires’s work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon and Ford Foundations, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Mónica A. Jiménez (Assist. Prof. of History @ Texas, Austin)

Jiménez is an historian and an assistant professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at UT-Austin. Her teaching and research explores the intersections of law, race and nationalism in US empire building in Latin America and the Caribbean. She is particularly concerned with the role that law has played in the creation of the relationship between the United States and its island colony of Puerto Rico. Her book manuscript, American State of Exception, offers a legal history of race and exception in United States empire building and centers on the place of Puerto Rico within that larger historical trajectory.

“Re-Framing the Constitution” is generously funded by the Humanities Research Center, the Rice School of Humanities, and Rice University Departments of History and English.