On April 26-27, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) co-sponsored with Colgate University’s Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, the Annual Undergraduate Conference in the American Polity. The conference features outstanding undergraduate research from a variety of disciplines including history, economics, philosophy, anthropology, religion, political science, and sociology.  Patrick Deneen, David A. Potenziani Memorial College Chair, University of Notre Dame, provided the keynote address: “Why Liberalism Failed.”  David Dudrick, George Carleton Jr. Professor of Philosophy, Colgate University, led a spirited discussion at the end of the conference on “Is Nietzsche Right about the Christian Foundations of Our Values?”

Photos From the AHI Annual Undergraduate Conference on the American Polity 2019

The conference consisted of three panels with four presenters on each.  Each presenter is asked to explain to the audience why they chose the topic, the important questions they sought to investigate, the methods used in the research, the difficulties encountered along the way, and the significant findings and insights attained at the end of the project.  Professorial commentators receive the papers in advance and comment on them.  The presenters respond to the commentators and then the floor is opened up to questions.  Douglas Ambrose, Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis ’38 Distinguished Teaching Professor of History, Hamilton College; David Frisk, Resident Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute; Joseph Fornieri, Professor of Political Science and Director, Center for Statesmanship, Law, and Liberty; and Rob L’Arrivee, Visiting Assistant Professor, Political Science, Skidmore College, served as commentators.  Elizabeth L’Arrivee, Lecturer, University Studies, Colgate University, organized the conference.

The first two panels included students from the University of Kentucky, Baylor University, Liberty University, Hamilton College, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Saint Vincent College, and Princeton University.  The third panel allowed students from the host university to present. Topics ranged a variety of disciplines and periods, from antiquity to modernity.

“I was extremely impressed with the high caliber of papers from this year’s undergraduates,” said Dr. Elizabeth L’Arrivee.  “Students shared archival research and original research, as well as fresh interpretations of classic texts. Conversations that began during panel presentations continued through stimulating conversation at shared meals. The intellectual and collegial tone of the weekend left several students expressing an interest in returning for next year’s conference. According to one student, “the conference was an absolutely amazing experience,” at which he “would love to present another paper next year.”   “I had a wonderful time engaging with the other students, faculty, scholars, and guests,” enthused one presenter. “I felt like I learned a lot and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to present my paper in that context.”  Said another presenter: “The conference at Colgate was a fantastic way to cap off my undergraduate experience. This past weekend widened my perspective, allowed me to make some great friends whose paths I hope I will cross again, and stimulated a great deal of reflection on the many topics presented. More than anything it left me excited for the years to come following my graduation.”

Patrick Deneen’s keynote address “Why Liberalism Failed” provoked thoughtful and challenging questions from the undergraduates in attendance. Deneen noted in his introductory remarks that he had originated the conference years ago when he was a faculty member at Georgetown University, and how fitting it was for him to be winding up his book tour by speaking at it. He also brought home for attendees the conference’s original intent. Rather than limit an undergraduate’s experience of paper writing to just being written for a single professor, he wanted to give them the opportunity to take part in the scholarly endeavor of sharing ideas. Students recognized the value of engaging their ideas in this way. In the words of one student, this conference is “the real deal.”

Each undergraduate participant received gifts from AHI, including a copy of Deneen’s much discussed recent book from which the title of the keynote was taken. A carload of AHI undergraduate fellows traveled to Colgate to participate in the event.  “AHI fellows represented themselves very well,” commented AHI President Robert Paquette.  “Andrew Juchno presented a paper whose original research will likely merit publication in a historical journal.  Other AHI fellows asked intelligent questions throughout the event and participated impressively in the group discussion on Nietzsche, rights, and Christian ethics.  All in all, the performance of these young men and women proved enheartening.  We are grateful to Robert Kraynak and Colgate for helping us put on this truly stimulating event.”