Core 102
History and the Modern World
Roger Williams University
T,F 2:00-3:30:   T,F 3:30-5:00
CAS 207
Fall, 2001
Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph.D.
Office:  Feinstein College 111
Hours:  M, T, Th, F.9:00-10:00
or by appointment 
Phone (401) 254-3230
Printable Version, Introductory Remarks
Textbooks:  (Required Reading)

Sherman, Dennis and Joyce Salisbury.  The West in the World
New York:  McGraw- Hill, 2001.

Swanson, Stein, Speakman, Moskowitz, & Greco, The Democratic Idea
Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 2001.

A Few Introductory Remarks

I can start by introducing myself, I guess. I'm Mike Swanson of the American Studies and History programs in the Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences. My background is cultural history. I took my Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio, majoring in American Studies. I began here in the American Studies program in 1972 (wow, that's a long time).. I've always had an interest in material culture (the study of things people make) as well as intellectual history, and that interest took me into the historic preservation field about twenty years ago. I proposed the first Historic Preservation major here, and I expect to continue teaching in it from time to time, though I returned to my roots here in the College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2000.

The Core Program at Roger Williams College centers on three recurring questions in Western thought: "Who am I?" "What can I know?, and "Based on what I know, how should I act?". No single academic experience can provide satisfactory answers to these questions: five of them, working in concert, at least introduce the perspectives, which traditionally have provided tentative answers to these questions. Core 102 uses the disciplines of History and Political Science to look at socio/political answers to the question "Who am I?", the methodology of history and political science to explore "what can I know?", and at the results of behavior based on former answers to these questions to suggest avenues of responsible action in today's society.

The course description gives an insight into the content of Core 102. It is more opaque concerning the rationale for a Core Curriculum in the first place. There was a time when the idea of a Core Curriculum would have made no sense: not because the idea seemed ridiculous, but because there was within the western world, at least, a universal agreement concerning what constituted a fit education. Throughout most of the periods we're studying, this was the case. Though the content varied across time, the categories of content proved remarkably stable. It wasn't until a little over a century ago that the idea of "electives" was put forth in academic circles. The culprit was a President of Harvard University.

...A decade or two before, the idea of specialties began not as an undergraduate mode of investigation, but as what one did in graduate school. Here, the first American venture was based on a German model, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was the grand innovator. Now, of course, specialty education is shattering the cohesion of what Thomas Jefferson called the "Academical Village".  Perhaps that's a bit too strong: "threatening to shatter" might be a more appropriate turn of phrase. Core Curricula such as the one at Roger Williams University are responses to this sense of fragmentation. We are participating in an attempt to forge a universal educational experience for all members of the Roger Williams student community, regardless of major, regardless of age, regardless of the majors they take or the schools in which those majors are located. This might be a brilliant exercise: it might also be a noble folly. I have the kind of mind that can hold both of these views simultaneously. It is worth the effort, in my judgment, to bring this diverse group into a common enterprise.

I'm planning to have a good time doing it. I'm also planning to continue to develop a class website for Core 102.  At this stage of its development, the Internet is perhaps the most democratic medium ever invented. It is certainly the most potent educator since the invention of moveable type. I make that statement fully recognizing we've a few other means of disseminating information which have been invented since Gutenberg's day: movies, radio, television, to name the big three. Yet none of these allows the level of public access that the Internet does. You'll be required to drop by to check weekly: is the URL. There, I've uploaded a version of the "cover sheet" which all the faculty distribute, and copies of the statements on writing expectations and plagiarism. The required readings are listed there as well, and each has a link to an Internet resource. Notes on each week's reading and discussion activities will also be found there. These will develop as the semester progresses.  All required reading assignments will be posted on the class website.  In about three weeks I will cease distributing a paper version of the syllabus.  Those who want to have a paper copy can print the Internet version themselves.

The work ahead.

Shortly I will distribute paper version of the semester calendar with the principal readings from The Democratic Idea for the semester.  I will be supplementing those readings with others that reflect some of my own personal interests. Some of these will be handouts, and some will be Internet sources. Generally once a week, I'll prepare a week's minisyllabus like this one, with notes concerning the ideas and issues under discussion in the week coming. These will be posted on the Internet.  If you want a hard copy, print it from there.

Attendance Policy

I don't take attendance as a regular course of events. I will read the roll over often the first few sessions so that I can begin to put faces with names. I reserve the right to change course in midstream, assigning new material or revising the sequence of things on the spur of the moment. If you miss a class, you may miss the turn. See me or look on the Internet for the latest information.

Evaluation and Grades

I don't like to do it but it comes with the territory.  One of my goals for this course is to help you become more articulate and persuasive in presenting your ideas at the same time you are learning to frame questions, access information and form judgments and solutions.  Consequently I'm going to have you do as much writing for me as I can find time to evaluate.  I am going to encourage you to submit writing to me in electronic form whenever possible, though I will accept hard copies as well.  Your Mid-term Examination will be take-home, and parts of your final examination will be take-home, as well.  In terms of proportions of your grade, I expect to use the following:

Midterm (date to be announced) 20%

Final Exam (date to be announced) 25"%

Papers (3) 30%.  I will weight the last paper more heavily than the first. 

Class Participation Including Preparation for Class, 25%

Here's what I want you to do: Purchase a pack of 4" x 6" note cards.  As you read in preparation for each class, write down THREE questions (points about which you are unclear), observations (reactions to the ideas in the readings assigned), or assertions of your own (statements of agreement or disagreement with those ideas).  Keep these short, but make them grammatical (full sentences for each).  Sign them (legibly), date them, and turn them in at the beginning of each class.  At least 30 minutes per period will be devoted to discussing selections from these cards.

Classroom Practices and Procedures

Our primary focus will be the documents in The Democratic Idea.  These are primary source materials, written by Western thinkers spanning 2,500 years.  Primary materials are the bricks out of which narrative history is constructed.  The readings I have chosen are designed to focus on several crucial themes, among them:
1.What is "The Democratic Idea," as first espoused by the Greeks and then modified by the Romans in Classical Times?
2.Civic Theory: What is "society" and how can "Reason" be applied to creating rational government?  What is the appropriate relationship between "Authority" (government) and the civil state (the governed)?
3.Who should participate in a democratic society, and what does participation mean?  How has that meaning changed across time?
4.Is "Democracy" appropriate for all societies and cultures?  Is it appropriate for any? 
5.Does Democracy have a future?

I spend a lot of time in "close reading" of texts; probing for implications in the structure of the argument. Your books will be open and used during class, but only if you have them along. So...


The other required text is a standard survey of Western History, in other words, a college textbook.  We are not going to read it cover-to-cover, or even chapter-to-chapter.   I will be training you to use it mainly as a book of reference, to help you understand the documents that we will be discussing.  In the beginning of our time together I will assign specific sections of the book.  Later, once you familiarize yourself with the format of the book and the index to it, I'll leave it to you to go searching for what you feel a need to know.  What you can't find you can ask about using the questions on cards mentioned previously. 

Generally my classes are pretty informal.  I talk, you talk, and out of the conversation comes knowledge of a sort.  We are not going to construct a linear narrative this semester.  I am aiming to provide you with a richer, more complex, and more sophisticated understanding of The Democratic Idea.  Much of your final understanding will result from what you piece together yourself.  Some of you will be much more comfortable with this approach than others will be, at least initially.  If you are a person who requires a lot of structure you're going to have to switch gears and trust the system I'm using.  If this is difficult or impossible for you, there are other sections of Core 102 that are organized differently.  The syllabus for each section is (or shortly will be) posted on the class website.  Enrolments are very full, but you may be able to find someone who would trade sections with you.
Home Page
Syllabus, September 18 - 21
Syllabus, September 4 - 14
Introductory Remarks
Syllabus, September 25 - 28
Syllabus, October 2 - 5
Syllabus, October 9 - 14
Syllabus, October 16 - 19
Syllabus, October 23 - 26
Syllabus, October 30 - Nov 2
Syllabus,  November 6 - 9
Syllabus, November 13 - 16