History Department

AUP Celebrates the Release of Demos Assembled by Professor Stephen Sawyer

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On Tuesday, April 17th the AUP History Department hosted an event to celebrate the publication and release of department head Stephen Sawyer’s new book, Demos Assembled: Democracy and the International Origins of the Modern State. The room was packed with AUP faculty and staff, current and former students, professors from other universities as well as President Schenk and Interim Provost Hank Kreuzman. Some came to discuss the new approach to understanding the formation of modern democracy that Professor Sawyer proposes in his work while others came to learn about Sawyer’s work and to congratulate their favorite professor on his publication.

The evening began with an introduction by Professor Albert Wu who congratulated his colleague on his accomplishment. He also expressed his gratitude for being able to consider Sawyer a mentor and a friend. Following this warm introduction, Sawyer gave a presentation where he explained the inspiration for his research and the central thesis his book explores.

Sawyer cited a disenchantment with modern democracies as his inspiration for Demos Assembled. As he explained, “Never has democracy been so prevalent, yet never has our level of dissatisfaction been so high.” He wanted to understand why there is a disconnect between the idealized version of democracy we study and the reality of modern day democratic states we observe today in the US, the UK and France. Sawyer posits that to understand the current state of modern democracies, you must look at the attitudes towards democracy that existed at the time these democracies were established.

The existing literature examines in detail how the modern state emerged from the early Renaissance through the seventeenth century, but relatively little has been written about the next great act: the birth and transformation of the modern democratic state. In Demos Assembled, Sawyer explores the period between 1840 and 1880 to provide a fresh, transatlantic understanding of the genesis of modern democratic states. Sawyer’s findings go beyond explaining one moment in history, speaking broadly to conceptions of state formation. He explains how the manner in which authority is claimed, whether grounded in violence or through appeals to reason and common cause, affects state formation and the evolution of states over time.

After his presentation, Sawyer participated in a lively question and answer session where fellow professors and students asked thoughtful and poignant questions. Questions ranged from debates over the time frame explored in the book, to the choice of philosophers used to support the theoretical approach proposed in this book. It was a delightfully academic conversation that allowed students to witness a high level academic debate first-hand and helped them gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Demos Assembled: Democracy and the International Origins of the Modern State (University of Chicago Press) is available for purchase online.