America's Birth Certificate: The Declaration of Independence with Dr. Richard Bell

America's Birth Certificate: The Declaration of Independence with Dr. Richard Bell


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It's the document we all know—but the history that maybe we don't. Discover the fascinating origins, misunderstood purpose, and extraordinary global legacy of the Declaration of Independence in the company of an expert historian.

The Declaration of Independence is a peculiar thing. It’s a literary masterpiece that was written jointly by a committee of fifty people. It’s short and punchy—just 1310 words long—but still somehow daunting and difficult to get to grips with (there’s a reason most of us have never read it in full and can only quote the first third of its second sentence).

And what is it exactly? Is it a birth certificate announcing happy news, or a petition for divorce full of grievance and score-settling, or something else? Is it aimed at the American people, or King George, or someone else? Was it the first-ever declaration of independence, or a cheap imitation of a genre already well established? What did people at the time make of it? What did it change? Why does it matter?

John Dr. Richard Bell as he answers these questions and more. For instance, he’ll set this uniquely American civic text in a global perspective. Did you know that when it was first published on July 5, 1776 (yes, you read that right), the Declaration of Independence was printed by an immigrant Irishman on Dutch paper that had been brought over from England? Did you know that the Declaration caused barely a ripple when it arrived in London, but that in the days and months that followed it became an example and inspiration to revolutionaries across the continent, the ocean, and the globe? Did you know that more than 100 other declarations of independence have been issued in other parts of the world since 1776? It’s all true and taken together these truths (self-evident or otherwise) offer a stark reminder that our American Revolution—a modest change in political sovereignty in a few out-of-the-way agricultural colonies on the western rim of the Atlantic Ocean—occupies pride of place in the larger history of global decolonization and post-colonialism.

Dr. Richard Bell is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and is the recipient of the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. He has won more than a dozen teaching awards and has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress. He has published a number of books; his latest is "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home".

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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