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UMPI celebrates Constitution Day with Living History lecture

Friday, 03 September 2010

The University of Maine at Presque Isle will celebrate the 223rd birthday of the signing of the U.S. Constitution with a unique "Living History" lecture delivered by UMPI political science lecturer Dr. Brent Andersen.

On Friday, September 17, from 10-11 a.m., students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to observe Constitution Day by gathering in the University's Campus Center for the special lecture, which is titled Alexander Hamilton Looks Back on the Drafting and Adoption of the Constitution.

Dr. Andersen will portray Alexander Hamilton, one of the principal architects of the U.S. Constitution. Dressed as Hamilton, Dr. Andersen will explain what happened at the 1787 convention in Philadelphia – where the Constitution was drafted – and at subsequent ratifying conferences in the 13 states that had declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776. While telling this story, Dr. Andersen will also seek to provide listeners with insights into Hamilton's own views on government, and how those views were shaped by his service during the Revolutionary War as an aide to General George Washington. After the prepared lecture, the audience will be invited to ask questions, which Dr. Andersen will answer as Hamilton.

Dr. Andersen had the idea for this special lecture after participating in a panel discussion on the Constitution during last year's Constitution Day celebration at UMPI.

"We focused on contemporary issues surrounding the First Amendment and it was very informative. I thought it would be useful this year to step back and take a broader look at the original document," Andersen said. "What we're really celebrating are the principles embodied in the Constitution – the idea that authority for government rests with its citizens and that those citizens have rights that cannot be infringed upon."

According to Andersen, the framers of the Constitution were grappling with the problem of how to set up a national government that would embody these principles, but at the same time wanting to give that government enough power to enforce laws and protect itself against designing foreign governments.

"I thought a lecture outlining the debates that shaped the document would help people understand the political logic behind the structure of our government, with its separate branches and written Bill of Rights. At the same time, I didn't want the lecture to be an 'eat your vegetables' occasion," he said. "I remember many years ago attending an event where an actor portrayed Benjamin Franklin reminiscing about his life and took questions from the audience. It was very informative and great fun at the same time. It struck me that taking a similar approach would make good sense for UMPI's Constitution Day celebration."

Dr. Andersen concedes that he has never attempted a living history lecture before, but he is excited to try it out.

"There's a certain amount of pressure there – dressing up as a founding father and answering questions about what George Washington was really like, so reading up on America's founding period is my summer homework assignment," he said.

Miniature versions of the U.S. Constitution will be distributed during the event.

Congress designated September 17 as Constitution Day – a national celebration of our country's founding document – to commemorate the Sept. 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution. In 2004, Congress passed a spending bill that included a provision requiring every school and college that receives federal money to teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17, with a grace period should that day fall on a weekend or conflict with established schedules.

To provide education to the entire campus community – including those who cannot attend the presentation – the University will install a display on the first floor of the Library featuring information about the Constitution. As well, anyone logging onto the university's homepage can click on the Constitution Day box, which will lead them to www.constitutioncenter.org/constitution. The site features an interactive version of the Constitution.

The Constitution Day lecture is a free event and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call 768-9452.