Dec. 23, 2021

216. Digitally Deconstructing the Constitution with Dr. Nicholas Cole

216. Digitally Deconstructing the Constitution with Dr. Nicholas Cole

When delegates assembled in Philadelphia in the Summer of 1787 to write a new Constitution, they spent months in secret writing a document they hoped would form a more perfect Union. When we talk about the convention, we often talk of the Virginia Plan, the Connecticut Compromise, the 3/5ths clause, and other major decisions that shaped the final document. What’s harder to see are the long days the delegates spent haggling over numerous proposed amendments, precise words, phrases, and ideas that contorted the constitution into its final form. It’s a process that helped create many of the political institutions that we too often take for granted these days. On today’s show, Dr. Nicholas Cole joins Jim Ambuske to chat about using the Quill Project to demystify the past moments that shaped our political and legal futures. Cole is a Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford, where he is the director of the Quill Project, a digital initiative that investigates the historical origins of some of the world’s foundational legal texts. And as you’ll learn, little moments in the constitutional process can mean a lot. With this episode, we close the books on 2021. Thanks for joining us this past year, we appreciate the opportunity to be in your ears, and we look forward to seeing you in 2022. Have a safe and happy holiday season. 

Nicholas Cole Profile Photo

Nicholas Cole

Senior Research Fellow

Cole is a Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, and the director of the Quill Project (, which examines how groups of people negotiate some of the most important texts that govern our societies and daily lives: constitutions, treaties, and legislation. The project uses advanced, digital technologies to understand the process of drafting and revision, and to track the way that both substance and process has changed over time. Its flagship work concerns the constitutional history of America, but the project also examines British and European topics, and have (as of June 2020) started a project examining the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. See the project's web pages for a full list.

Cole studied Ancient and Modern History at University College, where I stayed to read for an MPhil in Greek and Roman history and then a doctorate (with Miriam Griffin) on the use of the Classics by Thomas Jefferson's generation of American Politicians. He continues to have strong research interests in the reception of classical history and texts in the modern world, and in the development of modern political thought.