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Common Read: 2021-2022 Our Declaration: Home

First Year Experience

Viterbo First-Year Experience - Take Flight

Each year, our common read selection introduces new V-Hawks to intellectual life at Viterbo University.  As part of your first-year seminar, you will engage with one common book in which an author shares their personal story of struggle, turmoil, and success as they grapple with broader social issues of their time.  You also attend one common read event, which allows you to participate in a whole-campus conversation.

2021 Common Read Book

Our Declaration Cover ImageOverview

Our Declaration has already come to be regarded as a seminal work that reinterprets the promise of American democracy through our founding text. Combining a personal account of teaching the Declaration with a vivid evocation of the colonial world between 1774 and 1777, Danielle Allen, a political philosopher renowned for her work on justice and citizenship, reveals our nation's founding text as not a catechism to be memorized but an animating force that can and did change the world. Challenging conventional wisdom, Allen finds "new meaning in Jefferson's understanding of equality" (Joseph J. Ellis), boldly making the case that the Declaration is as much a document and about political equality as it is about individual liberty. Beautifully illustrated throughout, Our Declaration is an "uncommonly elegant, incisive, and often poetic primer on America's cardinal text" (David M. Kennedy).

  • Winner of the Zócalo Book Prize
  • Winner of the Society of American Historians' Francis Parkman Prize
  • Winner of the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize (Nonfiction)
  • Finalist for the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for Nonfiction
  • Shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Society's Ralph Waldo Emerson Award
  • New York Times Book Review Editors Choice Selection

Viterbo Reading Guide

This fall, you will find yourself in a classroom exploring questions about identity, values, and the purpose of a college education. One of the primary texts all first-year students will use to consider these questions is Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen. This reading guide reflects the types of questions you will be asked to ponder, discuss, and write on in your first weeks as a Viterbo student. During this summer of transition, we hope this book and guide will help you understand the way the stories of our past can help us heal the wounds of our present. Pax et Bonum!

Download the Our Declaration Reading Guide Below

Creating Common Ground: Common Reading and the First Year of College

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Association of American Colleges & Universities



The practice of assigning incoming students “common reading”—asking them to read the same book before they arrive on campus—has gained popularity in recent years as colleges and universities have sought new ways to improve the first-year experience. Like similar public reading initiatives sponsored by cities, libraries, and television and radio shows, campus common reading programs rest on a simple idea: that reading the same book brings people closer together as a community by creating common ground for discussion.