Inventing America: in Shaping American Identity

Call for Papers

As part of its year-long commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation invites scholars to submit papers for a conference to be held at the University of Virginia from 3-4 November 2006. This conference is being co-sponsored by the UVa Department of Science, Technology, and Society and the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.

Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have enthusiastically embraced new technology, and have been willing to experiment with new political ideas and practices. While we acknowledge that invention in both technology and politics has shaped American identity, we seldom look at how they interact. This program will examine how Franklin and his contemporaries saw technology as integral to the creation of a new form of government, a democratic republic, as well as how Americans since Franklin’s time have wrestled with the interplay of technology and democracy. Among the themes that the conference will address are:

How did the Founding Fathers such as Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington see technology as integral to the creation of a new political culture in America? How has their vision of technology and democracy continued to shape American identity?

How have individuals and groups used technological innovation to foster democracy at different times in American history? Where have technology and democracy been in tension?

How do communications technologies-such as voting machines, text messaging, or weblogs-affect the practices of democracy?

What is the role of technology in the spread of democratic values and institutions around the world?

Proposals should be no more than 500 words and accompanied by a short CV. The deadline for submissions is 9 June 2006. Proposals will be reviewed by a committee comprised of representatives from the sponsoring organizations. To encourage participation from a variety of disciplines, the Lemelson Center will help to defray the costs of travel. To submit a proposal or for more information, contact Maggie Dennis, Lemelson Center historian, 202-633-3441, [email protected].

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center documents, interprets, and disseminates information about invention and innovation to encourage inventive creativity in young people, and to foster an appreciation for the central role that invention and innovation play in the history of the United States. Please visit us on the web at

The UVa Department of Science, Technology, and Society seek to advance understanding of the social and ethical dimensions of science and technology. Working with other groups at UVa, the STS Department is developing a major teaching and research initiative into the interaction of technology and democracy. For more information, see

The Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies promotes the ongoing study of Thomas Jefferson internationally by building a network of scholars, teachers, and resources; by helping to define new areas of investigation; and by applying new technologies to Jefferson scholarship. The Center can be contacted at