Pell Center launches Nationhood Lab, led by bestselling historian Colin Woodard
Nationhood Lab, a new initiative focused on counteracting the authoritarian threat to American democracy and the centrifugal forces threatening the country’s stability, launched its website and data journalism portal today on Tuesday, Feb. 14. The project—on the web at nationhoodlab.org—is an interdisciplinary research, writing, testing and dissemination initiative at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.
Leading Nationhood Lab is Colin Woodard, a New York Times bestselling historian, Polk Award-winning journalist and author of books like “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” and “Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood.”
Woodard’s research on the 2022 midterm elections—which shows that the influence of centuries-old colonization patterns often overwhelms state boundaries and urban-rural splits—was released on the Nationhood Lab website. The analysis appears alongside previously published analysis of the regional geography of Covid-19 vaccination rates, a critical analysis of the alleged rural-urban divide in presidential elections and other topics.
“Our country’s democratic experiment and the union itself are endangered to a degree not seen since the Civil War,” Woodard said. “Understanding our underlying structural weaknesses is essential to mounting an effective defense of both.”
The articles are part of Nationhood Lab’s data journalism work, which uses Woodard’s American Nations model of North America’s regional cultures as an analytical framework for enhancing understanding of key electoral, legislative, social, cultural, and economic phenomena, past and present.
The model, based on the distinct characteristics and spread of the rival colonial projects across the continent, comes from his Wall Street Journal bestseller “American Nations.”
Nationhood Lab’s core task is to develop and test a revised U.S. national narrative for the 21st century that reflects who Americans are as a people, recognizes and incorporates past failures, and furthers the liberal democratic and civic nationalist ideas at the core of the American experiment.
Every country needs a story that explains its purpose, who belongs and where it is going. The U.S. has had such a story — a shared commitment to the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence – but it has been contested throughout the federation’s history by a counter-movement seeking to define the American people in narrower ethnic, racial and religious terms.
Nationhood Lab will develop and test strategic messaging around an accurate, compelling and reinvigorated version of America’s civic national story in support of civic education programs and public awareness campaigns in advance of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.
“The choice we all face as Americans is one between a future that is singular and violent or plural and peaceful,” said Jim Ludes, executive director of the Pell Center. “Colin’s work aligns with the Pell Center’s legacy and the mission of Salve Regina University,” he continued. “It affirms the ideals of America’s founding and the essential value of republican government, and we’re thrilled to host this vital work at the Pell Center.”
Woodard, who was a visiting senior fellow at the Pell Center in 2022, is the author of six books. He reported from more than fifty foreign countries and seven continents, including four years in Eastern Europe and the Balkans during that region’s difficult transition from totalitarian rule, as a longtime foreign correspondent.
As state and national affairs writer at the Portland Press Herald, he received a George Polk Award and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. A graduate of Tufts University and the University of Chicago, he is a past Pew fellow in international journalism at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Study.