Renowned professor of the early American republic joins efforts at the First Amendment Museum

The First Amendment Museum (FAM) announces the appointment of Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor Emeritus at University of Virginia and a specialist in the history of the early American republic to the Museum’s Board of Directors.

Onuf, who retired to Maine several years ago, brings extensive scholarship in American history to the Board of Directors and the new concept museum that inspires people to understand and exercise their First Amendment rights. The FAM is located in the historic capital district of Augusta, ME in the former home of media titan, Guy P. Gannett, and was founded by his granddaughters, Genie Gannett and Terry Gannett Hopkins.

“The First Amendment has never been more important to Americans than it is now,” Onuf said. “I am honored to serve on the board of the First Amendment Museum, a critically important civic resource for our troubled times.”

Onuf was educated at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his A.B. in 1967 and Ph.D. in 1973, and has taught at Columbia University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Southern Methodist University before he arrived in Virginia in 1990.  In 2008-2009 Onuf was Harmsworth Professor of American History at the University of Oxford; in 2014, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

 “We are absolutely delighted to have Peter’s vast knowledge and scholarship of America’s founding history on our Board as we build a museum of the future,” Christian Cotz, Chief Executive Officer said. “Peter’s expertise will help us expand our vision and fully share the importance of the First Amendment with our visitors.”

Onuf conducted extensive research on Thomas Jefferson’s political thought, culminating in Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (University Press of Virginia, 2000). The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2007, also Virginia), grows out of earlier studies on the history of American federalism, foreign policy, and political economy.  He and co-author Annette Gordon-Reed published Most Blessed of Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (Liveright, 2016); his Jefferson and the Virginians: Democracy, Constitutions, and Empire was published in 2018 by Louisiana State University Press. With Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh, Onuf was also a founding co-host of the public radio program “Backstory with the American History Guys”. His early scholarship focused on federalism, territorial expansion, and 18th-century international relations. 

“We are at a crossroads in our country’s history and having a deeper understanding of our First Amendment freedoms is more important than ever,” Genie Gannett, President and Co-Founder said. “The First Amendment gives us the freedom to speak, publish our ideas, to practice religion, or not, and gives everyone a pathway to make the changes in our society that we want to see”.

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