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Brown 2026 initiative to offer programming about early years of US democracy

Initiative will include events, course offerings, sponsored research

<p>Brown 2026 will highlight values such as “democracy, American ideals and realities, justice, rights and consent,” said Professor of English Philip Gould ’83, a member of the initiative’s steering committee. </p>

Brown 2026 will highlight values such as “democracy, American ideals and realities, justice, rights and consent,” said Professor of English Philip Gould ’83, a member of the initiative’s steering committee.

In a Jan. 18 Today@Brown announcement, President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 introduced Brown 2026 — a faculty-led initiative celebrating the 250th anniversary of the United States’ independence. The milestone presents an “opportunity for critical inquiry and reflection on the values and events that inspired the founding of our country,” Paxson wrote in the announcement. 

Brown 2026 will present programming for learning, research and discussions about the years surrounding the American Revolution, providing an opportunity for the University community to “consider the future of our democracy and our nation,” Paxson added. 

Brown 2026 is co-chaired by Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library Karin Wulf and Director of the John Nicolas Brown Center for Advanced Study Kevin McLaughlin. Despite the initiative being called Brown 2026, its programming will likely begin in fall 2024, according to Wulf. She added that the initiative will incorporate curricular offerings, research sponsorships and public events.

Brown 2026 will highlight values such as “democracy, American ideals and realities, justice, rights and consent,” said Professor of English Philip Gould ’83, a member of the initiative’s steering committee. Gould added that he expects one aspect of the programming to focus on political violence, which “was central to the Revolution and resonates today.”

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The initial list of steering committee members came from conversations with the Office of the President, Wulf told The Herald.

The steering committee currently includes 11 faculty members from departments across the University, including history, sociology, political science and English. Wulf said she expects the committee to expand and include faculty from the life sciences departments.

Components of the Brown 2026 initiative fall under two overarching “pillars,” Wulf added. The first of which is a commitment to learning the full history of the American Revolution years.

“As an early Americanist, I always feel like the fullest, richest, deepest, most honest understanding of the early American past is the firmest foundation for our nation to stand on,” she said.

The second pillar of the initiative concerns research. “We play an important role in democracy as a research university (and in) using that research to … (learn) about the American Revolution era,” Wulf said.

Gould highlighted that the initiative does not have a particular agenda. Rather, it is fueled by “genuine intellectual inquiry and self-reflection” and will present a “wide set of concerns and perspectives.” 

The programming will be directed toward students, faculty and Providence residents, including Indigenous communities, according to McLaughlin, who added that the steering committee hopes to advance “public discussion of important issues.”

Wulf believes the initiative fits into Brown’s record of taking its history “very seriously.” She referenced the 2006 Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice — which details the University’s involvement in the slave trade — and described it as “foundational” to universities across the country examining their historical relationships with slavery and the slave trade.

“Brown’s approach to the historical context of 2026 will be really informed by that kind of commitment of full, deep, honest history,” she said.

Wulf added that she hopes students, after experiencing Brown 2026, will “feel like they’ve been at a university which has such a commitment to full history and honest reckoning.”

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