Teaching and Learning the Declaration of Independence: A Historical View from the Nineteenth-Century United States

Claire Arcenas, Associate Professor of History, University of Montana
Encina Hall West, Room 400

This paper draws from a broader project, Teaching and Learning the Declaration of Independence in the United States, 1776-2026, a critical study of how, across the past 250 years, Americans have engaged with the Declaration of Independence in both formal and informal educational settings. More specifically, this paper investigates the (perhaps surprising) centrality of the Declaration in late-nineteenth-century American political science and history curricula, using Francis Lieber and his Columbia College students as a case study. In so doing, it addresses a set of questions about the relationship between liberal and civic education and a flourishing democracy in the United States.


Claire Arcenas [Ar-SEN-as] is associate professor of history at the University of Montana. She holds a PhD (2016) from Stanford. Her first book, America’s Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2022. It won the István Hont Prize for the Best Book Published in Intellectual History that year. Her research and writing have been supported by major grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Academy of Education, the Spencer Foundation, the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University, and the Huntington Library. She is currently writing about the past teaching and learning of the Declaration of Independence, American democracy, and civic education.