State of Democracy

The State of Democracy Lecture Series provides a forum for meaningful discussions of significant public issues - both current and more enduring - which cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries. These discussions enable explorations of real-world challenges and foster continued discussion and debate.

We are fortunate to have one lecture per year sponsored by the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman Fund. Norman M. Berkman is a graduate of Syracuse University (’57) in Political Science. His wife, Marsha Lee, graduated from Northwestern University. They firmly believe that the State of Democracy Lecture Series they sponsor serves as a valuable link in the political discourse between the University and the community, and fosters understanding of significant contemporary issues.

All events begin at 4:00 PM in the Maxwell Auditorium and are followed by an open reception unless otherwise noted and parking is available in the Irving Garage for a small fee. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be provided for these lectures. If you require additional accommodations, please call 315-443-9707 or email

"Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights"

Gretchen Sorin

April 16, 2021 | 4:00 PM EST | VIRTUAL

Gretchen SorinGretchen Sorin, Distinguished Professor at SUNY Oneonta and Director of The Cooperstown Graduate Program, will discuss her new book, "Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights."  The book was also the basis of a major PBS documentary, first airing October 13, 2020, uncovering the history of how the automobile profoundly changed African American life.

Driving While Black Book cover

It’s hardly a secret that mobility has always been limited, if not impossible, for African Americans. Before the Civil War, masters confined their slaves to their property, while free black people found themselves regularly stopped, questioned, and even kidnapped. Restrictions on movement before Emancipation carried over, in different forms, into Reconstruction and beyond; for most of the 20th century, many white Americans felt blithely comfortable denying their black countrymen the right to travel freely on trains and buses. Yet it became more difficult to shackle someone who was cruising along a highway at 45 miles per hour.  In the book, the acclaimed historian reveals how the car―the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility―has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing black families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road. Interwoven with Sorin’s own family history and enhanced by dozens of little known images, Driving While Black charts how the automobile fundamentally reshaped African American life, and opens up an entirely new view onto one of the most important issues of our time (

This lecture will be available for viewing via Zoom Webinar. Preregistration required for link.


"Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present"

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

April 30, 2021 | 4:00 PM EST | VIRTUAL

BenGhiat_HeadshotHomepageHistorian, Educator, and Commentator 

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. She writes frequently for CNN and other news and analysis sites on fascism, authoritarian leaders, propaganda, and threats to democracy around the world and how to counter them.

SOD. Strongmen Book Pic smaller She will discuss her new book, "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present," the first study to place President Donald Trump in the context of a century of authoritarian leaders that use a playbook of corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power.

This lecture will be available for viewing via Zoom Webinar. Preregistration required for link.