Inventing the Citizen: The History of Political Action and its Limits in Western Europe
NEW! Last Updated: 09/25/2009
Major areas of study include European history, classics, art history, intellectual history and political theory, literature
Class Standing: Sophomores or above; transfer students welcome.
How do people learn to think of themselves as political actors? How do they learn their rights as citizens, the ways in which their actions and voices matter in a democracy, as well as the limits of their impact on the state and larger society? In short, what is the difference between the promise and the reality of democracy?
Through examples from ancient Greece and Rome, the Enlightenment, and 18th and 19th century revolutionary Europe, we will examine how citizenship has been created, defined, and acted out in everyday life. We will compare the ways in which the citizens of classical Athens and Enlightenment writers in France and England envisioned the ideal democratic community. We’ll examine the shift from Republic to Empire in the Roman world and the opportunities and limitations this created for the subjects and citizens of Rome. Next we will explore the rights, duties and dangers the French Revolution brought its new citizens, and the ways in which states from ancient Rome to modern Europe have worked both to instill a sense of civic responsibility among common people and to limit the potential for individual and collective political action. Finally, we will discover how marginalized groups, such as women, immigrants and itinerants, fought to find a place for themselves in these political frameworks. Although our focus is on the past, our study will give us tools for understanding the opportunities and challenges of 21st century democracy both in the United States and around the world.
Through seminars, lectures, and workshop, we will engage in critical analysis of primary and secondary source material, including historical documents, literature, political theory, propaganda, art and other visual materials related to political action. Readings will include selections from Aristotle’s Politics, Demosthenes’ speeches, Plutarch’s Lives, and Cicero; as well as Rousseau's The Social Contract, Montesquieu's The Persian Letters, Olwen Hufton's Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution, among others. We will examine the relationship between visual representation and politics, from Alexander the Great’s propaganda through idealized self-imagery on coins and monuments and the visual culture of the Roman Emperors, to artists’ responses to changing regimes as represented by paintings like David's "The Oath of the Horatii" and "The Death of Marat." Students will lead seminars, work individually and in small peer groups on various projects, and write weekly essays, including a research paper at the end of the quarter.
Credits: 12 or 16 per quarter
Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in Politics, law, history, graduate school, careers in the humanities
Planning Units: Culture, Text and Language