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States of Exception in American History


States of exception3


Latimer Room, Clare College

15-16 May 2015


The purpose of this major international conference is to explore the role of  ‘states of exception’ in American political development.  ‘Exceptions’ will be interpreted broadly to include both suspensions of the rule of law in the face of emergencies, and jurisdictional grey zones in which persons or territory have been denied the full range of rights and obligations provided for under the Constitution.  Historians, political theorists, and legal scholars are today showing a heightened appreciation of the range of forms that states of exception have taken in American history.  The conference aims to weave these different strands of research together.  Presentations will range across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the Civil War to the War on Terror, and from prisons and stateless people to colonies and economic emergencies.


Conference Convenors:  Gary Gerstle, Mellon Professor of American History, and Joel Isaac, Senior Lecturer in the History of Political Thought, University of Cambridge


N. B. Papers for the conference will be pre-circulated.  The programme includes a public lecture by Professor Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School entitled ‘Perilous Times: The View from Inside the NSA’.

 Speakers biographies



The Past and Present Society

The Mellon Fund for American History, University of Cambridge

The Trevelyan Fund, Faculty of History, University Of Cambridge

The Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge: Technology and Democracy, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge


This conference launches the Consortium on the History of State and Society (CHOSAS), a multi-year initiative involving the American University of Paris, University of Cambridge, University of Chicago, and University of Michigan.


Friday 15 May

08.00-08.30 – Tea/coffee

08.30-08:45 – Introduction – Joel Isaac, University of Cambridge

08.45-10.45 – Session I: The Political Theory of Emergency

David Dyzenhaus, University of Toronto
Carl Schmitt in America

Nomi Claire Lazar, University of Ottawa
A Pox on Our Institutions?  Police Power, Exception, and Epidemic Disease

Chair and Commentator: Duncan Bell, University of Cambridge

10.45-11.00 – Tea/coffee

11.00-13.00 – Session II: States of Exception in the History of Political Thought

John Fabian Witt, Yale University
“To Save the Country": A Lost Theory of Emergency Constitutionalism

Stephen Sawyer, American University of Paris
Politics Beyond Representation: Toward a New Genealogy of the Terror in Liberal Democratic Statecraft 

Joel Isaac, University of Cambridge
Constitutional Dictatorship in Twentieth Century American Political Thought

Chair and Commentator: Duncan Kelly, University of Cambridge

13.00-14.30 – Lunch

14.30-16.30 – Session III: Geographies of Exception

Paul A. Kramer, Vanderbilt University
Black Site Blues: Borders, Bases, War Zones, and Other Spaces of Exception in Modern US History

Elisabeth S. Clemens, University of Chicago
Neither Public Nor Private:  Delegated Governance as a State of Exception

Chair and Commentator: Andrew Preston, University of Cambridge

16.30-18.00 – Free (Pub) Time

18.00-19.30 – Public Lecture

Geoffrey R. Stone, University of Chicago
Perilous Times: The View From Inside the NSA

Introduction: Gary Gerstle, University of Cambridge


Saturday 16 May

08.00-08.30 – Tea/coffee

08.30-10.30 – Session IV: Experiences of Persons Without Rights

Linda K. Kerber, University of Iowa
Stateless in America: Episodes for a History

Heather Ann Thompson, Temple University
The American Carceral State: Rethinking "Exception" and "Rule" in U.S. History

Chair and Commentator: Nicholas Guyatt, University of Cambridge

10.30-11.00 – Tea/coffee

11.00-13.00 – Session V: Exceptions and Theories of State-Building

William J. Novak, University of Michigan; Steve Sawyer, American University of Paris; and James Sparrow, University of Chicago
Democratic States of Unexception:  Towards a New Genealogy of the American Political

Desmond King, University of Oxford, and Robert Lieberman, John Hopkins University
Crisis and Reform: How States of Exception Shape American Federal State Engagement with Civil Rights

Chair and Commentator: Gary Gerstle, University of Cambridge

13.00-14.30 – Lunch

14.30-16.30 – Session VI: Reflections and Future Directions

Ira Katznelson, Columbia University and Social Science Research Council
David Runciman, University of Cambridge

Chair: Gary Gerstle, University of Cambridge

Download print version of programme


Contributor Biographies – Available 1 April

Link to Conference Papers – Available for pre-circulation 1 May

Registration for States of Exception Conference

(£20 for faculty; £10 for students and independent researchers)