Northwestern Events Calendar


Constitutional Sankofa

When: Monday, October 23, 2023
2:30 PM - 4:00 PM CT

Where: Scott Hall, Burdick Room (107), 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Graduate Students

Contact: Ariel Sowers   (847) 491-7454

Group: Department of Political Science

Category: Academic


Please join the Global Theory Workshop as they host Paul Gowder, a professor at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law.

This paper, prepared for a symposium on "Afrofuturism and the Law," defends the relevance to the law of a reconstructive approach to the past which has been a persistent feature of Black American intellectual history. In scholarship on Afrofuturist art, that approach to history is often denoted by the Akan word "Sankofa," referring to the conscious appropriation of the past in order to promote the interests of the present and future.

In Black American constitutional thought, this approach to the past is reflected prominently in Frederick Douglass's attitude toward the constitution and the intent of its framers. However, it also bears important similarities to an approach to constitutional history prominent in the broader Anglo-American legal tradition, particularly in Edward Coke's 17th century reconstruction of Magna Carta. In African-American intellectual history, the reconstructive approach to the past has been identified as a political strategy, but not---notwithstanding Douglass's deployment of it in constitutional debate---as a mode of legal reasoning; in legal history Coke's approach to Magna Carta has been routinely rejected as illegitimately ahistorical.

This paper defends Coke's reconstruction of Magna Carta as appropriate for legal---not historical---reasoning. Doing so opens the intellectual space to understand Black American Sankofa as legal rather than merely political argument, and hence to integrate a broader and more idealized view of the past into activist legal argument."

Paul Gowder is a tenured Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Research and Intellectual Life at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. From 2012-2020 he was at the University of Iowa College of Law (with courtesy appointments in philosophy and political science). His research is focused on the nexus of normative political theory, constitutional law, and social science, as well as law and technology. As a law professor, he has taught beginning and advanced Constitutional Law courses, Torts, Introduction to Quantitative and Computational Legal Reasoning (a coding and statistics course for lawyers), Critical Race Theory, Policy Lab, and Professional Responsibility (legal ethics). Back in grad school, he taught or TAed a number of topical courses in contemporary political theory. In spring 2023 he will finally achieve a longtime goal of getting to teach Classical Athenian Law.

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