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Syllabus fall 2010-9 - History 151-007 History of Western...

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History 151-007 History of Western Civilization to 1650 MW 12:00-12:50 Hanes Art Center 121 Prof. Jay Smith 564 Hamilton Hall 962-3949 [email protected] Office hours: M 9:45-11:45 and by appointment Like any course on “western civilization” (a concept invented only in the late 19 th century), and especially one with such an arbitrary end point (1650? Why?), History 151 necessarily has a certain artificial quality to it. The unity of the subject matter is imposed by the instructor, and the coherence of the presentation (such as it is) is achieved through the instructor’s selection of the topics and texts that merit inclusion or omission. Alas, much that is of interest, importance, and value in the European past will NOT be covered in this course. This version of Western Civ focuses especially on the one theme that has a continuous and inescapable presence in the European past from antiquity to modern times, a theme whose complex permutations do seem distinctly “western” (or at least European): the endless debate, or discussion, about the respective claims of “spiritual” versus “secular” values and forms of authority in human societies. The people of the pre- modern European past did not simply repeat themselves for generation after generation. The debates that rose up around the spiritual/secular divide differed from place to place and according to the conditions of the times. Behind the particular arguments waged, however, one finds a thematic consistency that forms a more or less unbroken narrative that runs from the Greeks to Galileo. Our main (though not only) task in History 151 is to understand the many manifestations of this tension between the secular and the spiritual—as well as the contextual conditions that continually altered the tenor and direction of the debate. The learning objectives that define History 151-007 are listed here in roughly descending order of importance: 1. To practice the document-based art of interpretation that constitutes the intellectual discipline of “History.” 2. To appreciate the complex relations between “text” and “context.” 3. To craft sound historical arguments based on logical reasoning, knowledge of relevant details and context, appropriate use of historical evidence, acknowledgment of the existence of counter-evidence, and clear prose. 4. To see the historical past as “a foreign country” with distinct “cultures” (or combinations of cultures) incorporating world views different from our own.
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5. To place important developments, events, and historical figures of western history in proper chronological sequence. Books to purchase: Gregory the Great, The Life and Miracles of Saint Benedict Peter Abelard, The Story of My Adversities Other readings are on electronic reserve in the undergraduate library, or are otherwise accessible online (see note by each reading.) Basic structure of the course Lectures are scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays; your recitation section will meet either on Thursday or Friday (logistics to be discussed on the first day of classes.)
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