History Series explores Magna Carta, individual liberties


history series poster

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - A panel of faculty will explore the question of the individual right to privacy versus the public need for security from historical and contemporary perspectives as part of the Slippery Rock University history department's yearlong "History Series on Rights and Liberties," honoring the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta.

The series begins at 12:30 p.m., Sept. 29, in 105 Vincent Science Center with "Privacy, Surveillance and the Public Good." Presentations and panel discussion will explore the sometimes-conflicting issue of government surveillance of citizens, especially in light of computers and drone technology.

William Bergmann, assistant professor of history, will provide historical perspective on the liberties issue as a member of the panel.

william bergmann


"Privacy versus public safety is a critical debate and the contentiousness of it can be seen in politics today, not only between Republicans and Democrats but also within each party," he said. "The recent Republican debates demonstrate the ways in which different conservative traditions lead to different views on the issues.

"Although I have not pulled my thoughts together entirely for the event, I imagine that because modern commentators like to reference historical moments, particularly the American Revolution and Bill of Rights when they present their arguments, I'll have some words to say about the issue of privacy, security and governance during the Revolution and the early national period under the Constitution," he said.

The series will provide teachable moments.

"Really what we hope to do is get a good conversation going with the students about this very tricky issue," said Paula Rieder, SRU associate professor of history who specializes in the middle ages. "It's a question of rights and responsibilities that has to be negotiated over and over again."

The series has two other events scheduled. "Roman Citizenship: Rights, Privileges, Obligation" will be offered at 8:30 p.m., Oct. 22, in 105 Vincent Science Center by Richard Talbert, professor of history at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The third offering, "Wives' Disparagement, Widows Dower and Heiress Relief: Investigating Magna Carta's Impact on Medieval English women," will be at 12:30 p.m., Nov. 19, in 116 Vincent Science Center. The guest speaker is Linda Mitchell, professor of history at The University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Other topics for the yearlong series will include racial justice, the rights of those with mental disability and the rights of Native Americans. SRU professors from history, criminology and philosophy, as well as outside presenters, will contribute to the dialogue.

paula reider


Underpinning the discussion is the British Magna Carta. Signed in 1215, the document secured individual liberties for British citizens and influenced the principal of laws protecting citizens for centuries, including the creation of America's Bill of Rights.

Rieder said the series would focus on the significance of the document and its implications for modern life.

"The purpose of the History Series is to make history, and our history as a country, relevant to today," Rieder said. "What happened in the past has an impact on us today, shapes who we are, what we believe and shapes what our conflicts are about."

This year's focus is about bringing the ideas rooted in the Magna Carta and our American legal tradition, which borrowed heavily from the Magna Carta, to bear on current topics and concerns, particularly the idea that everyone is subject to the law and everyone is protected by the law.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu