Reading constitutions just got easier
For eight years now, Constitute has been supplying indexed versions of the world’s constitutions. Built for constitutional drafters, the site is visited by over 7,000 drafters, scholars, and ordinary citizens each day. As of today, Constitute has a new look and new features—our fifth major redesign in eight years. “Phase V” of the site connects the constitutional texts with constitutional data, a peanut-butter-and-jelly moment. Read on to hear about these changes or, if you’re new to Constitute, what you’ve been missing.
The Core Features
The typical use of Constitute is to retrieve constitutional provisions by topic, and that use is still very much our focus. So, if you are a constitutional drafter charged with writing your constitution’s section on, say, the environment, you can extract each excerpt from the world’s constitutions pertaining to the protection of the environment. Just one of the 332 topics that we index.
Veteran users will see some significant structural changes. For one thing, the search and filter features that used to run alongside the texts are now tucked into their own window. In that window, one can explore the topic tree (useful for discovering what’s in constitutions anyway) and filter constitutions by when or where they were drafted. Constitutions, after all, are very much a product of their generation.
In that filter/search window, one can even (de)select a set of “draft” constitutions. These are initial versions of constitutions that countries expect citizens to read and ratify. For example, we now have two drafts for the Gambia, one from 2018 and one from 2019. In the case of Chile—which is set to undergo an historic change in 2021—we include the draft constitution drawn up by the outgoing Bachelet government in 2018. The Bachelet draft is just one Chilean reference point—other drafts will undoubtedly appear including the official draft that comes out of the upcoming constituent assembly in that country. We are gradually introducing historical constitutions, mostly the world’s “greatest hits,” but also special editions such as the series of Chilean constitutions from the last 200 years.
By the way, we recognize that language can be a barrier, and there’s no reason to expect English to be lingua franca. We have translated many of our constitutions in to Arabic and Spanish. Should Portuguese be next? French?
One can still view (and search) texts side by side in “compare view,” which is a great way to evaluate drafts or two constitutions from the same country series. You might want to compare the current Chilean constitution against the draft version put out by the outgoing Bachelet government in 2018. We also maintain the popular pinning feature, which allows users to manage any excerpts or set of excerpts. A common use is to pin a search of a particular topic and collect all excerpts related to that topic, which one can export directly to Google Docs or as a .pdf. A drafter who takes that list to their next committee meeting would be very popular.
And of course, if you want to just read a constitution, they are there for your reading pleasure, with indexed topics listed in the margins. Now might be a good time to read the current Chilean constitution on its own.
The biggest change to Constitute is the collision of texts with data. Constitute began as an outgrowth of a data project (the Comparative Constitutions Project) that uncovers each of the world’s constitutions—and their amendments—since 1789. The research team records the content of these constitutions across some 600 characteristics and uses these data to answer questions about the origins and consequences of constitutional choices.
The new Constitute integrates these data, as visually and interactively as possible. For example, timeline graphics such as this one for a region, or the one at the top of a country page (see Chile, for example), depict the chronology of constitutional events for each country. Constitutional life and death differs dramatically across countries.
Those timelines are part of a new section of the site that features attributes of countries. In this section we’ve introduced a starter set of seven indices (such as executive power), which are drawn from CCP data. On the countries’ landing page, one can map these indices over time; at country page (such as the Chile example), one can chart the indices over time.
In addition to indices, one can dig more deeply into the 332 topics that serve as the index to Constitute’s texts. On the topics landing page we’ve added a visualization that allows users to explore the presence 70 of our topics over time and space. Want to know when and where constitutions have something to say about, say, political parties? Select it from the drop down.
A New Place for Constitutional Commentary
Beneath all of these countries and topics lie some interesting concepts and stories. We’ve started to collect them in a new section called Data Stories. One of our mentors at Berkeley was Nelson Polsby, who would often say that the “plural of anecdote is data.” That spirit guides our writing in that section. We try to bring to life—as beautifully and visually as possible—any ideas that we can distill from 200+ years of constitution making. Want to know how powerful the U.S. President is compared to other executives around the world, have a look here (hint: not very powerful).