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Political cartoon, A peep into the Antifederal Club. Publisher [unidentified], New York: 1793. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Hear from University of Notre Dame professor Katlyn Carter, author of Democracy in Darkness: Secrecy and Transparency in the Age of Revolutions. 

Dr. Carter examines how debates over secrecy and transparency in politics during the eighteenth century shaped modern democracy. This new book reshapes our understanding of how government by and for the people emerged during the Age of Revolutions.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and have their books signed.


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About the Book

Does democracy die in darkness, as the saying suggests? This book reveals that modern democracy was born in secrecy, despite the widespread conviction that transparency was its very essence.
In the years preceding the American and French revolutions, state secrecy came to be seen as despotic—an instrument of monarchy. But as revolutionaries sought to fashion representative government, they faced a dilemma. In a context where gaining public trust seemed to demand transparency, was secrecy ever legitimate? Whether in Philadelphia or Paris, establishing popular sovereignty required navigating between an ideological imperative to eradicate secrets from the state and a practical need to limit transparency in government. The fight over this—dividing revolutionaries and vexing founders—would determine the nature of the world’s first representative democracies.
Unveiling modern democracy’s surprisingly shadowy origins, Carter reshapes our understanding of how government by and for the people emerged during the Age of Revolutions.


About the Author

Katlyn Carter is a political and intellectual historian of the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, specializing in the American and French Revolutions. Her research focuses on the origins of modern representative democracy through the study of political practices and institutions.

She has published in the Journal of the Early Republic and French History. Additionally, she has written numerous op-eds for The Washington Post, TIME, and the Age of Revolutions blog, for which she serves as an editor.

Her next book, tentatively titled The Politics of Truth in the Early American Republic, will provide a political history of truth in early America through an examination of the various methods people adopted to try to promote it—from the development of stenography, to the regulation of the press, and even the circulation of rumors. By tracing how people thought and talked about truth, her research will build a bottom-up intellectual history aimed at providing context to pressing questions in contemporary democracies, including: how do we arrive at truth in a democracy and how do we determine who to trust in seeking it?

Professor Carter’s research has been supported by fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, among other organizations. Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She earned her Ph.D. in History from Princeton University in 2017 and received a B.A. with high honors in history from the University of California, Berkeley in 2009.

Sponsored By Ford Philanthropy

Mount Vernon has enjoyed a very special relationship with the Ford Motor Company dating back more than 90 years. We are grateful for their generous support and we applaud their abiding respect for American heritage.

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