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dr. J. Olthof

Assistant Professor
dr. J. Olthof

Jelte Olthof (1983) studied History at the University of Groningen. In 2007 he graduated cum laude and received his M.A. in the Research Master Modern and Contemporary History program in Groningen. His thesis (supervised by Dr. Rik Peters and Prof. Frank Ankersmit) focussed on the debates in the French revolutionary assemblies on the émigrés (or political refugees) and the constitutional challenge they formed to the newly proclaimed ideal of liberty (in particular the freedom of movement) and with that the entire revolutionary project.

After graduating, Jelte Olthof started work on his Ph.D.-thesis in the NWO-funded Contested Constitutions Project at the Universty of Groningen. His Ph.D. focusses on the constitutional debates in the United States Congress and its predecessors in the period 1765-1865 and particularly looks at the struggle to constitute and define the identity of "we the people" credited as the author of the United States Constitution in its opening line. In June 2014, he received his PhD degree for his thesis: Patchwork Republic: The rhetoric of "we the people" in the U.S. constitutional debates, 1765-1865.

Starting in 2012, Jelte Olthof works as lecturer in the American Studies and History Department at the University of Groningen, as well as in the Honours Program.

In 2013, he received a faculty scholarship by the U.S. State Deparment to study American Political Development at the University of Massachsetts, Amherst.

Professional Experience

  • 2012-present: Lecturer Departments of American Studies and Honours College, University of Groningen
  • 2016-present: postdoctoral researcher at the Frisian Akademy (research center of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences KNAW) on project Unity in Diversity? Revolutionary rhetoric and federalist revolt in Fryslân, France, and the United States 1775-1800
  • 2008-2011: Ph.D.-researcher “Constitutionalization in the United States 1765-1865” in NWO-research group Contested Constitutions, University of Groningen


  • 2013: Post-doctorate in American Political Development and and Political Thought, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • 2008-2011: Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG), Graduate School for Ph.D.s in the humanities.
  • 2005-2007: Research master Modern History and International Relations, University of Groningen, with distinction (cum laude). Title Master thesis: In strijd met de eeuwigheid: de émigrés-kwestie en de teloorgang van het natuurrecht in de Franse Assemblée, 1789-1791 (Supervisors: Prof. Frank Ankersmit and Dr. Rik Peters)

Presentations (selection)

  • 2017: “Unity through Diversity: Comparing the rhetoric of pluralism of John Dickinson and Simon Stijl, 1787-1797,” paper for conference Consortium of the Revolutionary Era, February 23-26, Charleston, South Carolina (USA) 
  • 2016: “Paranoid of the People. Reining in ‘We the People’ in Post-Revolutionary America,” paper for conference Reconsidering Democracy and the Nation State in Global Perspective, January 14-16, Leiden
  • 2015: "We the People of the Netherlands: On the future and appeal of America’s 18th century constitution in 21st century Europe," paper for international conference  International Perspectives: The US and the World in the 21st Century, May 4-5, Sofia Bulgaria
  • 2014: “Firebell of Friction: The Missouri Compromise Debate and the Challenge to Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty,” paper for international conference America: Justice Conflict, Warof the European Association for American Studies, April 3-6, The Hague
  • 2013: “An Act of the People: Constitutive Rhetoric in the Ratification Debates of the U.S. Constitution, 1788-1789,” paper for  international conference Weapons of Mass Seduction: Rhetoric and Public Discourse in the United States, 6-9 November, Middelburg and Ghent
  • 2012: Ons Philadelphia? Amerika als model voor een Verenigd Europa. Presentation at Expert Meeting “An Ever Closer Union? Over Constituties, Geschiedenis, en Retorica” in het kader van het NWO-project Contested Constitutions, November 2, 2012, at Hanze Sociëteit, in Groningen
  • 2012: Trial by rhetoric: the role of debates in United States presidential elections, presentation at the U.S. Election Night Event, November 6, 2012, at Forum Images in Groningen
  • 2012: “Let history be our guide: The past as an invisible source of constitutionality in revolutionary France and the United States,” paper for international conference Invisible Constitutions: Religion, Culture, Memory, March 2, 2012, at St. Louis University, Missouri
  • 2011: “The price of independence: Memory and identity in the Congressional debate on the revolutionary debt of 1790,” paper for American Studies Day (NASA) April 1st, 2011 in Leiden
  • 2010: “’We the people?’ De Amerikaanse grondwet als uitdrukking van de identiteit van de politieke gemeenschap”, paper for Voorjaarscongres van het Koninklijk Historisch Genootschap, June 11, 2010 in The Hague
  • 2009: “Closing the gates of time: history and identity in the debate on the Déclaration des Droits of 1789”, paper for international conference The future of the European Constitution: a view from the past, March 27, 2009 in Rome
  • 2008: “Stranger than fiction: towards a rhetorical approach of the constituting role of ‘the people”, paper for PhD-conference We the people: participerende burgers en politieke cultuur, May 29, 2008 in Groningen


  • 2017:Fellowship for Innovation in Teaching (FiT) Award of the University of Groningen Honours College
  • 2013: Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) scholarship program on American Politics and Political Thought at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MA).
Last modified:15 November 2018 10.17 a.m.

Contact information

Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26
9712 EK Groningen
The Netherlands

Harmony Building

Job title:
Assistant Professor