Final Public Oral Exam: Katlyn Marie Carter

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
July 18, 2017 - 1:00pm

Practicing Politics in the Revolutionary Atlantic World: Secrecy, Publicity, and the Making of Modern Democracy


David Bell, adviser
Linda Colley
Wendy Warren
Sean Wilentz
Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation argues that debates about secrecy in government both reflected and shaped underlying contests over the meaning of representative politics during the American and French Revolutions. Though we tend now to associate representative democracy with transparency, secrecy was essential to its establishment in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. When revolutions broke out in the Atlantic World, state secrecy was widely associated with despotic excess in both British America and France. The first half of the dissertation uncovers this mounting concern with state secrecy, the valorization of publicity, and related calls for the subjection of representatives to the dictates of their constituents. The dissertation then dissects debates that ensued in the 1790s in order to identify the essential role procedural decisions about secrecy and publicity played in determining the stability and character of representative politics. While the nature of representative government in these revolutions is a vast subject, the history of state secrecy, political publicity, and popular vigilance involves a much more circumscribed source base. The dissertation focuses on practices and discourses where a direct comparison between the United States and France is possible, to explain how theories of political representation were both cemented and contested in practice. As they drafted the American Constitution, for example, the framers worked behind closed doors under oath of secrecy; in France, the deputies of the Third Estate welcomed onlookers into their chamber as they began their deliberations. These types of decisions were crucial to determining what political representation looked like in practice and how it was legitimated.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review one week before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.