SPR 19: Intellectual History Courses

HIST 12203  Italian Renaissance: Dante, Machiavelli, and the Wars of Popes and Kings  (A. Palmer)  This course will consider Florence, Rome, and the Italian city-states in the age of plagues and cathedrals, Dante and Machiavelli, Medici and Borgia (1250–1600), with a focus on literature, philosophy, primary sources, the revival of antiquity, and the papacy's entanglement with pan-European politics. We will examine humanism, patronage, politics, corruption, assassination, feuds, art, music, magic, censorship, education, science, heresy, and the roots of the Reformation. Writing assignments focus on higher-level writing skills, with a creative writing component linked to our in-class live-action-role-played (LARP) reenactment of a Renaissance papal election.

HIST 18101  Democracy in America?  (J. Sparrow)  This course will explore the unlikely career of democracy in US history. Throughout its past, the United States has been defined by endless and unpredictable struggles to establish and extend self-government of one kind or another—even as those struggles have encountered great resistance and relied on the exclusion or subordination of some portion of society to underwrite expanding freedom and equality for those enjoying the fullest benefits of citizenship. American democracy has also relied on a conceptual separation between state and society that has necessarily broken down in practice, as political institutions produced and sustained economic forms like slavery or the corporation, social arrangments like the family, and cultural values such as freedom—even as private interests worked their reciprocal influence over public institutions. Over the course of the quarter we will explore this contested history of democracy in America through a close reading of classic texts (including Tocqueville’s famous study), contextualized by the most current historical scholarship. Small, incremental writing assignments and individual presentations will culminate in a final essay that can emphasize philosophical/theoretical or historical/empirical questions according to students’ interests. Students will also have the option of conducting their own original research to satisfy some portion of the coursework, which may lead to subsequent internship opportunities with relevant faculty.

HIST 20902  Empires and Peoples: Ethnicity in Late Antiquity  (R. Payne)  Late antiquity witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of peoples in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Vandals, Arabs, Goths, Huns, Franks, and Iranians, among numerous others, took shape as political communities within the Roman and Iranian empires or along their peripheries. Recent scholarship has undone the traditional image of these groups as previously undocumented communities of "barbarians" entering history. Ethnic communities emerge from the literature as political constructions dependent on the very malleability of identities, on specific acts of textual and artistic production, on particular religious traditions, and, not least, on the imperial or postimperial regimes sustaining their claims to sovereignty. The colloquium will debate the origin, nature, and roles of ethno-political identities and communities comparatively across West Asia, from the Western Mediterranean to the Eurasian steppes, on the basis of recent contributions. As a historiographical colloquium, the course will address the contemporary cultural and political concerns—especially nationalism—that have often shaped historical accounts of ethnogenesis in the period as well as bio-historical approaches—such as genetic history—that sometimes sit uneasily with the recent advances of historians.

HIST 25117  Natural History of Humans/Human History of Nature  (J. Niermeier-Dohoney, Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences)  This course asks students to think very broadly about human history as a type of natural history and the recent history of nature as a part of the human narrative. Students will be introduced to the concept of "deep time," its discovery by geologists and biologists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the impact that these had on the subject of human history. Topics will include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century historiography and Biblical exegesis; the geological theories of Hutton, Cuvier, and Lyell; and the biological theories of Lamarck and Darwin. We will then examine ways in which certain modern sciences have affected the way historians have approached the study of humanity. Topics will include how the structure and function of the brain affected kinship development, language acquisition, and social bonding; interpretations of "human nature" from theological, philosophical, anthropological, and psychological perspectives; the problem of massive time scales and intergenerational governing, justice, and ethics; and the role of geography in shaping civilizational development. Finally, we will consider ways in which the rising human impact over natural earth systems may necessitate a radical change in the way the subject of human and civilizational history will be studied going forward. Topics include anthropogenic changes to the biosphere through hunting and agriculture in the ancient world and the globalization of communicable diseases and invasive plant and animal species after 1492; the impact of climate change on modern civilization; the potential that humans are responsible for a new geological epoch; and what "history" looks like without humans.

HIST 26516  The United States and Latin America, a History from 1840s to Trump  (M. Tenorio)  Over the second half of the twentieth century, it became a cliché that the United States was an empire and that the so-called Latin America was its backyard, the region where the empire paraded, with largesse, its mighty will. And yet, on one hand, over the last 150 years both the United States and "Latin America" have had variegated forms of interactions, which cannot be easily characterized as one single historical constant; on the other, in today's world the question seems unavoidable: is "Latin America" still an homogenous unique region with which the United States interacts collectively in the same ways whether in political, economic, or military terms? Making use of historical analysis in tandem with constant discussions of current events in the United States and "Latin America," the course seeks to invite students to add a disciplined historical imagination to the historian/political scientist/analyst toolbox. The course will consist of lectures, student presentations, and class discussions. Each student will be required to introduce readings in class at least once, depending on the number of students. In addition, there will be two take-home essays over the semester. The essay questions will be distributed a week in advance of the due dates.

HIST 29416  Modern European Intellectual History  (E. Tschinkel, Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences)  In this lecture course, we will examine the ways in which European thought in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries was a period of radical critique of some of the most basic tenets that had prevailed in previous centuries. We will trace some of these modern critiques through the decades, such as ontological critiques of Enlightenment rationalism, the use of genealogy as a form of critique, critiques of modern life, critiques of colonialism, and critiques of these critiques. This course will represent an overview of the high intellectual history of modern European thought. Context, both historical and intellectual, will be provided in the lectures, and weekly texts will be discussed in discussion sections. Authors will include, for example, Heidegger, Sartre, Foucault, Benjamin, Beauvoir, Arendt, and Derrida.

HIST 29419  Writing Women: Feminist History and Feminist Historiography  (P. O'Donnell)  This course is an introduction to both the lived experience of feminist history and  feminist historiography—the ways in which that lived experience has been written and remembered. Although this course specifically focuses on US feminism in the late twentieth century, it aims to place this history in a broader, transnational context, while paying close attention to the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality. We will think critically about how the waves of feminism swelled and crested across the twentieth century's latter decades and about how narratives about those waves were, and are, constructed. We will examine a wide range of material, including archival documents, historical analyses, theoretical texts, memoirs, and films. Students in this course will develop the critical tools to engage with a variety of historical documents, while sharpening their understanding of the contexts out of which these texts emerged. Students will also be challenged to (re)examine their approach to their own historical writing: why and how they choose to tell the stories they do.

HIST 29677  History Colloquium: Religion and History  (R. Fulton Brown)  The study of religion presents an enormous challenge to the historian. On the one hand, religious beliefs typically posit a reality beyond that accessible to the tools of analysis employed by most historians; on the other, such beliefs and their associated practices have given shape and purpose to human society and psyches throughout human history, making them one of the most important drivers of human thought and behavior. In this colloquium, we will wrestle with the question of how, as historians, it is possible to make sense of the role of religion in history. We will explore different methodologies for thinking about religion and test them with specific examples of belief and practice across various religious traditions. To ensure a variety of perspectives, students will be able to choose the tradition they want to focus on for their class presentations and final projects.