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The Center for Critical Democracy Studies

Stephen Sawyer Becomes First Ballantine-Leavitt Professor of History


Professor Stephen Sawyer at the Paris Centennial Conference in 2019.

Professor Stephen Sawyer, Chair of the Department of History and Politics and Director of AUP’s Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS), has been awarded the first-ever title of Ballantine-Leavitt Professor of History in order to pursue his research and writing on the history of democracy and the demos. The professorship was made possible by a generous donation from AUP trustee Elizabeth Ballantine and her husband, Paul Leavitt. Sawyer will hold the title for the coming five years.

The title recognizes Professor Sawyer’s commitment to his research and to the AUP curriculum as well as the immense success of CCDS and its twin publications, the Tocqueville Review, a long-running academic journal, and Tocqueville21, its companion website. “It’s a huge honor,” says Sawyer. “Particularly as Elizabeth and her husband made much of CCDS’s work possible.” Ballantine and Leavitt were among the original donors who financed the founding of CCDS. The title follows several major achievements for the Center, not least of which is the Paris Centennial Conference, AUP’s largest ever academic gathering, which was co-organized along with the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School to mark 100 years since the signing of the treaty of Versailles.

In addition to supporting his work with CCDS, the professorship and its associated grant will allow Sawyer to continue pursuing his own academic research. “One of the most important contributions it will make to my work is facilitating my three-volume book project,” says Sawyer. The first volume, Demos Assembled: Democracy and the International Origins of the Modern State, 1840–1880, was published by The University of Chicago Press in 2018. The two subsequent volumes will cover the periods 1800–1840 and 1700–1800 respectively. The works aim to reexamine the currently accepted history of democracy and establish in its place a history of the demos, defined as a group of individuals who democratically govern themselves.

“It’s a tremendous encouragement to receive an endowed professorship in order to pursue a project that takes time,” says Sawyer. “When you’re working alone, lost in the libraries, trying to make sense of the world on your own, receiving encouragement like this helps to give a boost in terms of both morale and recognition."