London: Democracy

Equality, Liberty, and the Dilemmas of Self-Government (Social Sciences Core)

Seven students stand together outside, with Big Ben in the background.

Program Term:


Language Requirement:



 Dana Currier

Application Deadline:


London has an enormous trove of resources and activities for the study of democracy, from the holdings of the British Museum and British Library to the Prime Minister’s Questions to ancient Roman sites such as the Basilica and Forum. By taking the Democracy-themed Social Sciences Core Sequence in London, students will have the opportunity to experience democratic themes in a way that provides a through line from ancient times through the age of revolutions to today’s democratic challenges and promises.

    The Social Sciences Core Sequence focused on democracy—entitled Democracy: Equality, Liberty, and the Dilemmas of Self-Government—was first established at UChicago in the 2021–22 academic year. In Winter 2025, for the first time, this Core Sequence will be offered abroad – in London. The sequence will consist of four courses. The first three will focus on, respectively: 1) Fundamental questions about the nature of democracy, drawing on analyses of ancient societies, such as those in Athens, Rome, and/or Florence, 2) The age of revolutions and constitution-building, drawing on works of philosophy and theory as well as political manifestos, constitutions, essays, and other documents, and 3) Challenges that modern societies experience in establishing democratic governance, defending against its erosion, and, ideally, strengthening it. The final course will be an independent study using archival resources, supervised by a London-based scholar, on a topic of interest to each student. Each of these courses will incorporate field trips around the city, and potentially to other cities as well, to experience historical and present-day artifacts and activities.

    Democracy’s Life and Death (Michèle Lowrie)

    What is a democracy? How are democracies established and maintained? What are their advantages and disadvantages for stability, security, liberty, equality, and justice? How are democratic cultures maintained? Are democracies compatible with empire? Why do democracies decline and die? We address these questions by examining the historical examples of ancient democratic Athens and the Roman Republic. We read and discuss primary texts from ancient Greece and Rome, some later theoretical assessments (Machiavelli), with occasional secondary readings. Visits include the Parthenon Frieze (British Museum) and a Roman wall (Museum of London) and amphitheater (Guildhall).

    Democratic Revolutions (James Chandler)

    Democracy as we know it largely took shape in the series of revolutions that transformed the political landscape of Europe and America from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries: especially The English Revolution, The Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. Associated with these revolutions, furthermore, are consequential colonial rebellions in Ireland, India, and Haiti. London is a pivotal site of action and debate for most of these momentous events, and it remains central to the age of democratic reform in the decades following Waterloo, which concluded Britain’s war with revolutionary France. This course will take up these large developments in turn and address the influential political controversies from which they emerged and to which they gave rise. In addition to reading modern historical accounts of these revolutions, their causes and consequences, we will engage closely with the contemporary source texts associated with them, ranging from pamphlets and debate records to extended treatises in political theory and even some representative literary works. Because London is such an important location for this epoch of democratic revolutions, our classroom discussions will be supplemented with relevant local excursions.

    Challenges of Modern Democracies (Julian Go)

    This course grapples with the questions of democratic government in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The readings sustain the concern for close textual analysis and historical inquiry established earlier in the sequence, but introduce systematic attention to the uses of comparison, both over time and across nations. Thematically, we will consider how questions of social difference (ethnoracial, class, gender, etc.), colonialism, the rise of fascism and populism challenge democratic governance while also offering opportunities for revitalization and transformation. Periodic visits to museums and diverse neighborhoods of London will supplement the classroom experience.

    Independent Study – Archival Research in London (Katherine Connelly, Lecturer, New York University London)

    The meaning of democracy has been contested in London over hundreds of years. Home to the Palace of Westminster, where parliament has assembled since the thirteenth century, it has also been a site of protest, petitions and revolutionary action for democratic change. The center of political power in the British Empire, London was a focal point of struggles for national self-determination. It was also a site of exile for revolutionaries, radicals and democrats who found sanctuary and spaces to organize underground networks of resistance to the regimes they fled. This dynamic history has left a rich archival treasure trove, from the official transcripts of Parliament’s famous orators, to the seventeenth century pamphleteers of the English Revolution who imagined a ‘world turned upside down’, the secret diaries and letters written by hunger-striking suffragette prisoners, and much else besides. Exploring these archives will inspire and inform students as they choose a historical topic related to democracy that they would like to explore. The instructor will guide the students on techniques of archival research, which they will use first-hand in their independent study.

    London program participants usually reside in shared, furnished studio apartments in central London. The apartments include fully equipped kitchens, private bathrooms, laundry facilities, and wireless internet access.

    It is important to recognize the cultural context of student housing in the UK and understand that the amenities of the student apartments may vary. Although some of these differences may take some getting used to, remember that cultural differences extend to all aspects of your experience abroad. Having realistic expectations for your term in London will help you approach the study abroad experience with a positive attitude.

    Participants in the London program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They take and receive credit for four courses: the three courses in the Social Sciences sequence and the fourth independent study course. The social sciences sequence meets the College’s general education requirement in the social sciences. Students who have already met this requirement may use these courses as electives. Their use, partial or total, in other majors must be approved by the undergraduate chair of that department. Course titles, units of credit, and grades are placed on the College transcript.

    Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the London program during the 2024–2025 year are listed below:

    Winter tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

    Study abroad administrative fee: $675

    London program fee: $5,960

    Program fee includes:

    Out-of-pocket expenses include:

    • round-trip airfare to and from the program site
    • passport/visa fees
    • transportation on site
    • meals
    • course materials
    • personal entertainment and travel
    • communications (most students bring or buy a cell phone)
    • health insurance and upfront payments for care
    • other miscellaneous expenses  

    Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $250 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in London is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

    Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section.

    The London: Democracy program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

    The program is designed for University of Chicago undergraduates in good academic and disciplinary standing. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity.

    Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record and personal statement. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

    To discuss the London: Democracy program and the possibility of participating, please contact Dana Currier.