2016 Seed Grants

To support the study of American democracy, Democracy Studies periodically funds seed grants for individual research projects.  In 2016, Democracy Studies awarded grants to the following research projects:


Greg Caldeira and William Minozzi, Department of Political Science

Professors Caldeira and Minozzi are examining the impact of spatial arrangements on political behavior, primarily in Congress, from 1800 through the late 1960s, marking out the rise and evolution of the “Washington community,” especially as it relates to the U.S. Congress. Professors Caldeira and Minozzi are developing a series of papers on various periods in Washington political development, comparisons of the House and Senate, and a GIS web application that will permit outside sources to contribute to the project.

Amy Cohen, Moritz College of Law

Professor Cohen is collaborating with a researcher abroad to reimagine democracy studies and legal studies through the prism of a “new economy.” Professor Cohen will explore collaborative options for envisioning economic democracy, by considering links between systemic economic change and democratic empowerment, grassroots struggle and the pursuit of environmental and social justice.

Ben McKean, Department of Political Science

Professor McKean is organizing a workshop to examine his work concerning how individual self-governance and institutional self-governance can support each other, particularly when elements of contemporary international interdependence and injustice pose obstacles to self-determination. Professor McKean suggest that institutions and arrangements that promote solidarity among individuals involved in social movements are key to the continued vitality of democratic states in a global economy.

Michael Neblo, Department of Political Science

Professor Neblo is testing the hypothesis that new developments in deliberative opinion elicitation can enable legislators to go beyond mere “political intuition” in estimating latent opinion, by using non-standard public opinion methods. With the goal of helping members of Congress go beyond “intuitive” methods for estimating latent opinion about pending legislative issues, Professor Neblo aims to develop operational precision for the concept of latent opinion, and to provide a pilot test of the proposition that deliberative minipublics can serve as reliable and valid measures of latent opinion.

Margaret Newell, Department of History

Professor Newell is examining the history of William and Ellen Craft, who, in 1847 escaped from slavery in Georgia in dramatic fashion. Professor Newell’s study focuses on the story of their activities after the escape, and in the Crafts’ participation in many of the signal challenges and transformations of American democracy and the civil rights movement of the nineteenth century.

Graduate Students

Cristina Benedetti

Cristina Benedetti, a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Studies, is studying the interconnections between public institutions, public space and the public sphere. By taking a fresh look at the logistics of public gatherings on the National Mall, Benedetti is calling attention to the material requirements that sustain democratic participation, a crucial but overlooked element of the democratic process.

Jessica Blissit

Jessica Blissit, a Ph.D. candidate in History/African American History, is exploring African Americans’ views on interracial marriage and their attempts to overturn and prevent the passage of bans on such marriages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Blissit’s study will show how Democratic norms, procedures, and institutions fundamentally shaped African American’s struggle for citizenship rights through marriage rights

Zachery Fry

Zach Fry, a Ph.D. candidate in History, is investigating soldier reaction to state and national debates over voting rights for soldiers during the Civil War. Fry’s study will highlight the role that soldiers in the Union Army of the Potomac played in the national debates over emancipation, the draft, and “hard war” strategy aimed at punishing the south for secession, and how soldiers used media to both shape and reflect public deliberation over the key issues of the day.

Ethan Kim

Ethan Kim, a Ph.D. candidate in History, is taking a fresh look at the global nature of American democracy in the postwar world. Kim is examining the often hidden historical role of three concentric circles of post-war liberal intellectuals – American liberals, European intellectuals and East Asian liberals – in the transnational aspects of the development of postwar liberal democracy.

Timothy Leech

Timothy Leech, a Ph.D. candidate in History, is examining the founding of the Continental Army as a central dimension of state-formation in the American Revolution. Leech is giving a fresh perspective on the origin of our nation’s democratic system by considering the dynamics of political decisions and military developments of the time.

William Massengill

William Massengill, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, is determining how business interest groups allocate their resources at the state government level, to examine the relationship between interest groups and the conditions of the parties in government. By addressing the question of whether stronger parties crowd out interest group activity, Massengill’s research will provide an indirect test of contemporary lobbying theories, and help build empirical generalizations about the roles and relationship between political parties and interest groups in democratic politics.

Carolyn Morgan

Carolyn Morgan, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, is exploring the impact of anti-immigrant hostility (from rhetoric to hate crimes) on political behavior. Morgan’s innovative research examines effects of xenophobia on immigrant political engagement, e.g., participation, attitudes, behavior, and trust, to inform understanding of what makes democracy work – or not work – under new social circumstances or new global conditions (such as increased human mobility and migration.)