A Nation Built on Words: The Constitution and Cultural Identity in the United States and Australia
9 March 2007
Associate Professor Helen Irving delivered the inaugural lecture for the returning holder of the Harvard Chair of Australian Studies at the University of Sydney, on Thursday 8 March 2007.
Entitled A Nation Built on Words: The Constitution and Cultural Identity in the United States and Australia, the lecture reflected upon national culture, the power of words, and the different paths taken by similar constitutions.
Exploring how, as the United States grew, belief in the authority of words and inventiveness with language became embedded in its culture, Professor Irving also focussed on how the Constitution attained an almost sacred character in the American mind.
In her lecture Professor Irving said: 'The Constitution of the United States of America, written at the end of the eighteenth century, was a breathtaking experiment in the power of the written word.'
She went on to argued that 'The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia so closely resembles the Constitution of the United States of America that it may not be improperly called an adaptation, and the authors of the American prototype may be fitly regraded as being the primary authors of the Constitution of Australia.
'These days we have forgotten how much we owe to the framers of the United States Constitution. We have forgotten how significant the American idea of constitutionalism was to our own framers,' she said.
The Harvard Chair was established in 1976 by a grant from the Australian government in recognition of the American Bicentenary and to further American understanding of Australia.