Dr. Kevin Butterfield, executive director of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, will moderate a discussion about constitutions and slavery in a transatlantic setting. Featuring Dr. David Waldstreicher, Distinguished Professor of History, City University of New York; Dr. Robert J. Cottrol, Harold Paul Green Research Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School; and Dr. Padraic X. Scanlan, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto, the panel will explore the relationship between constitutions – written and unwritten, national and provincial – and slavery in the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Atlantic world.


Dr. Kevin Butterfield (Moderator)

Dr. Kevin Butterfield is Executive Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. He is the author of The Making of Tocqueville’s America: Law and Association in the Early United States (Chicago, 2015) and a historian of the post-Revolutionary United States. Butterfield came to Mount Vernon from a tenured appointment as Associate Professor of Classics and Letters at the University of Oklahoma, where he taught early American history for eight years and directed a program for the study of the U.S. Constitution. He received his B.A. in History from the University of Missouri, his M.A. in History from the College of William and Mary, and his Ph.D. in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. David Waldstreicher

David Waldstreicher is a historian of early and nineteenth-century America with particular interests in political history, cultural history, slavery and antislavery, and print culture.


He is author of Slavery's Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification, Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery and the American Revolution, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 (1997). As editor, his books include Revolutions and Reconstructions: Black Politics in the Long Nineteenth Century, The Diaries of John Quincy Adams, Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic, The Struggle Against Slavery: A History in Documents (2001). His scholarly articles and books have won prizes from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, the, Southeastern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the American Jewish Historical Society. He has also written for the Boston Review, Atlantic.com and the New York Times Book Review.


Waldstreicher is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library; the American Philosophical Society; and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, among others.


Before coming to the Graduate Center, he taught at Temple University, University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Bennington College. Waldstreicher is currently writing a biography, The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley, under contract to Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Dr. Robert J. Cottrol

Robert J. Cottrol is the Harold Paul Green Research Professor of Law at The George Washington University School of Law. He joined the law school faculty at in 1995 as a visiting professor of law of legal history. Previously, he taught at Rutgers University and Boston College, and had visited at the University of Virginia. As well as specializing in American legal history, Professor Cottrol has also taught torts and criminal law. His writings on law and history have appeared in the Yale Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal, American Journal of Legal History, Law and Society Review, Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies and American Quarterly, among others.


He is the author of The Afro-Yankees: Providence’s Black Community in the Antebellum Era (selected by Choice as an outstanding academic book for 1983), editor of Gun Control and the Constitution: Sources and Explorations on the Second Amendment ("Book-of-the Month" selection by the History Book Club), and From African to Yankee: Narratives of Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum New England. Professor Cottrol’s book, Brown v. Board of Education: Caste, Culture and the Constitution (2003), won the Langum Project Prize for Historical Literature in 2003 and was a Book-of-the-Month selection of the History Book Club. Most recently, he has authored The Long, Lingering Shadow: Slavery, Race, and Law in the American Hemisphere (2013).


He is currently doing research contrasting the role of law in the development of systems of slavery and racial hierarchy in the United States and Latin America. He has lectured on American law at the Federal Universities of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil and the University of Buenos Aires and La Universidad del Museo Social in Argentina.

Professor Padraic Scanlan

Padraic X. Scanlan is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto and Research Associate at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at Harvard University and the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Slave Empire: How Slavery Made Modern Britain (Robinson, 2021) and Freedom's Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution (Yale, 2017), which won the 2018 Wallace K. Ferguson Prize from the Canadian Historical Association and the 2018 James A. Rawley Prize from the American Historical Association. He received his Ph.D. in History from Princeton University in 2013.