“But not citizens” - The Racial Boundaries of Citizenship Under the Constitution

Friday Seminar
Derek Litvak, McNeil Center for Early American Studies
Nov 17, 2023 at - | Location: McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 3355 Woodland Walk/Zoom

Derek Litvak

Derek Litvak is a Barra Postdoctoral Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, where he works at the intersections of African-American, constitutional, and intellectual histories. His current project, entitled "The Specter of Black Citizens: Race, Slavery, and Citizenship in the Early United States", explores the centrality of anti-Blackness in early United States history by examining how debates surrounding who made up the citizenry were deeply connected to the institution of slavery and conceptions of race. Making use of a variety of sources, from political to cultural, his work illustrates how citizenship became a contested status at its inception, as competing groups sought to either create a white ethno-state or a racially egalitarian nation. The Specter of Black Citizens aims to add to existing studies on race and citizenship by focusing on early years of the nation, as both the United States and citizenship itself came into being. Doing so provides critical context for the Antebellum period, where Americans fiercely debated the borders of citizenship, and shows how the formative years were not only fraught with similar disputes, but provided Black and white Americans the opportunity to try out and hone the very arguments that were commonplace decades later.


Litvak received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Maryland-College Park in 2023. 


The McNeil Center sponsors a seminar that meets on Friday afternoons approximately twice a month between September and May, with the paper for each session circulated in advance. Over two hundred people attend at least once a year, with an average attendance of 40 to 50 at meetings held at various sites in the Delaware Valley. While most of the regular attendees are graduate students and faculty from institutions in the Philadelphia area, participants come from as far afield as Long Island, New York City, Princeton, Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington. 

The McNeil Center will utilize a hybrid format for seminars in which participants may gather together at the McNeil Center building (or occasionally at an MCEAS Consortium institution host in the Philadelphia area) or attend via Zoom. For regular updates about our seminars, please join our mailing list. Please email us at mceas@sas.upenn.edu with any questions.