Can We Talk: History

As the country examines the tone of political dialogue, the National Constitution Center presents an interactive, interdisciplinary forum titled “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America.”  The forum explored the current state of public discourse and the issue of civility in the context of the roles that dissent and protest play in American politics.

Participants, drawn from such fields as history, political philosophy, political science, law, sociology, journalism, and communications discussed key themes such as the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the concept of civic virtue, the importance of dissent and deliberation in America’s constitutional democracy, and the ways in which political actors and the media can contribute to or detract from productive public discourse.

In this excerpt from the Can We Talk: History breakout session, participants discuss some historic examples of incivility and compromise, and what can we learn about civility from the study of history.

Participants include: Richard R. Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History – University of Pennsylvania; Alan Brinkley, Allan Nevins Professor of American History – Columbia University; Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker – Florentine Films; Sam Chaltain, educator and organizational change consultant; Joseph J. Kelly, Executive Director – Pennsylvania Humanities Council; Dayna Laur, educator – York Central High School; Jennifer Lee, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology – University of California-Irvine; Stefanie Malone, Community Outreach Manager – KCTS 9; Daniel Okrent, author & journalist; Nicole Roper, educator – West Philadelphia Catholic High School; and Ralph Young, Professor, Department of History – Temple University.

The symposium was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Bridging Cultures program, which awarded grants in August 2010 for a series of national conversations on civility. The Center’s conference was the culminating event of the series. PBS was the official media partner.

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