First Public Doctoral Presentation by a Hillsdale College Ph.D. Candidate
Written by Veronica Brooks
March 14, 2018 marked a historic “first” for Hillsdale College when Ph.D. candidate Nathan Gill delivered a public presentation of his doctoral research after completing his dissertation defense earlier that week. At this May’s Commencement ceremony, Nathan will be the first person to be awarded a doctoral degree from the College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship.
Nathan’s dissertation is entitled “The Decline and Rejection of Social Contract Theory in Antebellum New England,” and he argues that the concept of government by consent was undermined in American political thought prior to the civil war. The common view is that the German-influenced progressive movement of the late 19th century initiated the rejection of social contract thinking, but Nathan argues that this rejection began when interpretations of consent diverged increasingly in the decades following the American Founding. Nathan examines speeches, sermons, and tracts from radical abolitionists, nationalists, and transcendentalists to show how these different political groups interpreted the theory in different ways. Despite their differing political views, each group repudiated the social contract theory as the cause of various political crises and began to call for a more organic and nationalistic basis for government.
The presentation was well attended and was followed by an enthusiastic question-and- answer session, in which members of the community and various departments at the College engaged with Nathan’s research.
Nathan first learned of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship from a booth at CPAC and he says he was drawn to the antique books pictured on the banner. In describing his appreciation for Hillsdale, Nathan said, “I’m grateful for a place where ideas are taken seriously, and where students have the freedom to study subjects that truly interest them, and truly matter.” His favorite classes in the program include Dr. West’s class on John Locke, Dr. Portteus’ class on Nationalism and Sectionalism, and Dr. Rahe’s class on Thucydides.
After graduation, Nathan and his wife Madeline plan to relocate to New York state, where Nathan has accepted an administrative position at Chapel Field Christian School. He will be teaching history and American government in addition to assisting with curricular development as the school aims to adopt a more classical approach.