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 ago). 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, though I returned to my roots here in the College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2000.
About the Core Program itself:
The Core Program at Roger Williams University 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. The link will take you to a brief (30 p.) history of higher education curriculum in the United States. Imagine yourself entering Harvard or Yale (women you’ll have to imagine yourselves as men) and think what your four years would have been like. Would those have been the “good old days,” from your educational perspective?
CORE 102 Learning Outcomes
Trace the growing complexity of the idea of democracy by analyzing primary source documents;
Examine the idea of democracy, its inherent tensions, and its relationship to other concepts including but not limited to: reason, equality, liberty, order, and identity;
Describe how key concepts within democratic thought are practiced in the modern world including how those concepts relate to the three Core Questions.
Though the content varied across time, the categories of content proved remarkably stable. It wasn't the late 19th century that the idea of "electives" was put forth in academic circles. The culprit was a President of Harvard University. That's Charles Eliot to the right. Click on his picture and learn a bit more about him.
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
C.P. Snow, (born Oct. 15, 1905, Leicester, Leicestershire, Eng.—died July 1, 1980, London), was both a novelist a molecular physicist. He worried about the growing divide between academics on both sides of a cultural divide and delivered a famous lecture on the subject in 1959. In it he said,
The Literary intellectuals at one pole-at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension–sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding. They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can’t find much common ground. Non-scientists tend to think of scientists as brash and boastful. . . .
The non-scientists have a rooted impression that the scientists are shallowly optimistic, unaware of man’s condition. On the other hand, the scientists believe that the literary intellectuals are totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men, and in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential moment. And so on. Anyone with a mild talent for invective could produce plenty of this kind of subterranean back-chat. On each side there is some of it which is not entirely baseless. It is all destructive. Much of it rests on misinterpretations which are dangerous.
Click on his picture to the left to read the Rede Lecture Essay, The Two Cultures, His Novel, A Time of Hope can be read online by clicking here.
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.
Each faculty member of the Core 102 team shapes the general content of the course to his or her individual interests and expertise. My sections will use different materials and in a different sequence, than you'll find in the other sections. 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, and the cell phone to name the big four. Yet none of these allows the level of public access that the Internet does.
I always teach at this course because I like teaching Freshmen. This section is a LLC section (Most of the students not only live in the same housing unit, they also take this course together. Convictions about the potential of the Internet have caused me to emphasize its use in all the courses I teach, including this one. My sections of Core 102 have their own Website and you are reading this on that Website now.
Notes on each week's reading and discussion activities will be found there. Assignments and links to additional resources will be there, as well. Bookmark the URL. There will be one web page of notes and assignments per week, and these will develop as the semester progresses. There will be an index on the home page at the left, with links to the page appropriate for the week’s work, and I’ll publish these one week in advance. So make sure “we’re all on the same page”. All required reading assignments will be posted on the class Website.
The Work Ahead
The Core Readings:
At the center of this course are a series of classic readings related to the idea, “democracy”. The earliest of these documents dates to nearly five centuries B.C.E. The most recent dates to last spring. Faculty refer to this collection as the “Core Canon”. (Canon is a word used to describe a collection of representative and authoritative texts on a subject,...in this case, Democracy.) Several years ago we began the posting the “Core Canon” online. The experiment worked very well, and we have repeated this procedure ever since. The entire canon can be found at
We won’t be using all the documents in the Core Canon: It would be a good idea to look the list of documents over, however. The documents are published as Portable Document Format (.pdf) files. This format is useful because it maintains formatting regardless of which browser or printer one has. Pdf. files are read by the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Most computers come with this software installed. Should you not have it, you can get it at
If you do not have a computer and printer there are free machines available for use in the library.
Critical Thinking as an Academic Method.
Critical thinkers are clear as to the purpose at hand and the question at issue. They question information, conclusions, and points of view. They strive to be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. They seek to think beneath the surface, to be logical, and fair. They apply these skills to their reading and writing as well as to their speaking and listening.
Richard Paul and Linda Elder,
The Foundation for Critical Thinking
One of the objectives of Core 102 is to introduce college freshmen to the kinds of thinking behaviors which are rewarded in college. These may be quite different from those which are rewarded in other environments–workplaces, for example, and even other educational levels.
There are a number of different Critical Thinking techniques. There are a number of excellent sources on the Internet, including Critical Thinking on the Web. Acquiring and consistently practicing these techniques will make a significant difference in your academic success. The Foundation for Critical Thinking has many resources available, and they’re not expensive. You might find some of them useful to you. There are other aids, too. If you’re interested, drop by the office and I’ll point some out to you.
You will not have to purchase any other books for this section. Be aware that other teachers do require supplemental readings. If you have purchased a book by mistake, you can return it to the University Bookstore for a refund if you haven't marked it up. The central assignment for this course will be to download and annotate the required readings (using highlighters and marginal notes available on the free Adobe Reader.) according to principles I'll explain as the course progresses. You will upload these to your Bridges dropbox More about that later. The dropbox will be graded, and the work you do here will help in the papers you’ll write for me. Your markups will form a basis for class discussions. I encourage you to add to your dropbox as soon as possible, as I have to read them all before class starts.
Undergraduate Pledge to Academic Integrity
For a number of years now, this pledge has been the centerpiece of the convocation which begins the fall term. It is worthwhile taking a minute or two to reflect on what it says. The twin supports of Academic Life are collaboration and independence of thought. In this class, there is no curve. In the largest sense, you're not in competition with each other, and to the degree that you can assist each other in learning you'll win nothing but praise from me.
Yet it is equally important that each student exercise his/her own independent judgment, and have confidence in his/her own mind. Plagiarism defeats the whole purpose of the enterprise, and the University will not tolerate this particular form of intellectual theft. For the university statement on plagiarism, and for a general exposition of its Academic Standards, consult the University Website.
You will learn appropriate techniques for incorporating ideas from others with your own in writing classes and elsewhere. When in doubt about something you've written, don't hesitate to show it to me or any other professor and ask for an opinion. The Roger Williams University Writing Center is very helpful to those who make the effort to use it. It has also posted a number of helpful documents online.
Your Responsibilities in Core 102
1. Woody Allen once said that 90% of success in life is simply showing up. In here, expand that idea to "showing up prepared". Being prepared means reading the readings, and annotating them before the class in which they're to form the basis for discussion. As I indicated above, each week I will prepare a study guide for the following week's work. These will be posted to
2.When you go to the Website early in the semester you’ll notice that the table of contents is nearly empty. By the end of the semester, they'll all be filled. At the top of each page, underneath the heading, is a large horizontal button. In nearly every instance the I will have the next week's work posted to the Internet by 9:00 Wednesday Evening. You are responsible for visiting the Website familiarizing yourself with it before Thursday's class. It is my habit to introduce the new page and talk about it briefly. If you have any questions, just ask away.
3. Read, analyze, and thoroughly mark up the assigned readings before the class on which the document is to be discussed. They are in .pdf format, and once you have the free adobe reader installed on your computer you can highlight, use marginal arrows, and footnotes. The last footnote should be your summary opinion of the assigned reading. I'd like these to be informal, and about 100-150 words long. (This paragraph is 125 words long). You will upload your marked up file to your dropbox before the start of class. I will choose from those submitted several to serve as the basis for class discussion.
4. Attendance will be taken and excessive absences will have a negative effect on a person's grade. Attendance means coming prepared. If your copy of the assigned reading isn't in front of you, marked up for discussion, and your journal entry isn’t posted, you won't be given credit for attending. I have a liberal policy as far as excused absences is concerned. Absence for illness is excused: I trust you to be honest about this, and I don't need a note from a doctor or nurse. I also excuse absences based on family emergency or participation in official University events (athletic participation, for example) PROVIDED I'M NOTIFIED IN ADVANCE!. IF you know you're going to be absent, put the assigned work your drop box before your absence. If you are having difficulties making your drop box work, e-mail me the assignment and I will upload it for you.
4. This semester I'm linking the class to the Sakai system called Bridges. Every Roger Williams University student has a Bridges account. Teachers who opt to use this system have a number of useful communications tools, including e-mailing abilities, message boards, augmented calendar possibilities and a "mailbox" which allows easy delivery of student papers. I will survey you the first class period to determine how many of you are comfortable with Bridges. If it looks like the class needs more tuition on how to use it than I can give, I'll arrange for the good people of Information Technology to come and give a tutorial.You can also reach Bridges through http://www.rwu.edu, clicking on "Bridges” and following instructions.
ALL WORK FOR THIS COURSE WHICH IS WRITTEN OUTSIDE OF CLASS MUST BE SUBMITTED THROUGH BRIDGES UNLESS OTHER INSTRUCTIONS ARE GIVEN. THERE WILL BE SOME ROCKY GOING FOR ALL OF US REGARDING THIS SYSTEM. BUT IF A GUY RAISED ON THE TYPEWRITER CAN FIGURE IT OUT, SO CAN YOU–PROBABLY FASTER THAN I DID. DON’T GIVE UP. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CAN HELP YOU! NOTE: WORK MUST BE SUBMITTED IN A FORM WHICH I CAN OPEN. CURRENTLY I CAN NOT OPEN MACINTOSH "PAGES" FORMAT. IF YOU USE A MACINTOSH WORD PROCESSOR, YOU CAN SAVE DOCUMENTS IN OTHER FORMATS WHICH WINDOWS-BASED COMPUTERS CAN OPEN (.DOC, DOCX. .PDF AND A FEW OTHERS).
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. Your Mid-term Examination and your Final examination will be done outside of class. In terms of proportions of your grade, I expect to use the following:
MIDTERM (date to be announced) 20% This must be submitted through Bridges
FINAL EXAM (date to be announced) 25% this must also be submitted through Bridges.
TWO PAPERS. Together, these will count 30%of your grade. I will weigh the second of these more heavily than I weigh the first (10% for the first, 20% for the second). I will preview drafts of papers if they are submitted to me in timely fashion. I will expect these papers to be constructed in a workmanlike fashion, conforming to standard academic writing practice. More about that later.
YOUR Drop Box will count 20% for its content: how well you solved the problems or thought about the issues involved in the readings. The completeness of the dropbox will count as well, both here, and as I evaluate your Class Participation. .
ACTIVE LEARNING, CLASS PARTICIPATION Including Preparation for Class, 5%. I will have one hard point of data here: your signatures on the class sign in sheets. Another will be your turning in your work on time! In addition, I will recognize your frequency of participation in class, your use of e-mail to clarify what you're working on, your use of my office hours your your dropbox, and other evidence of the level of work you're putting into things.
It is particularly difficult to project in great detail what we're going to do or what is going to happen in this class before we meet and come to know each other. I reserve the right to make changes in this outline of work as may prove necessary. What you see here constitutes a guess of the maximum requirements. I may, for example modify the paper requirement to include paper two as part of the final exam. I'll give ample notice of any changes.
Classroom Practices and Procedures
The primary objective of this course is to trace the development of a number of ideas associated with the central idea, Democracy. Historians understand that ideas don't just "pop up" out of nowhere, fully developed and isolated from what happened before. Ideas have antecedents and ideas have consequences. Consequently, we can create "genealogies" of ideas and thereby understand them better.
ALWAYS BRING YOUR MARKED UP ASSIGNED READINGS WITH YOU
In this modern era, most prefer to bring their computers with them and hook into their dropbox. If you don't have a laptop or prefer not to bring it, a three ring notebook will be a reasonable alternative. If you don't have a printer, they can be accessed in the library However if a laptop is your choice, expect me to get grumpy if I catch you on Facebook or writing e-mails. 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. But give the system a fair trial, and you may be surprised at how your skills grow through practice.
I do take attendance on a regular basis, using a sign-in sheet which circulates around the room. Your prepared work for the day is your passport to the assignment sheet. To receive full credit for attendance you must prepare before class. If you come, but come unprepared, you will receive partial credit, because you'll still be able to benefit from the work of your peers. You are responsible for making sure you sign in on the sheet. I try to be as liberal in excusing absences as I can be. Excuses for illness, family emergency, school-sponsored events (travel to athletic contests, etc.) and the like are freely given, as long as I am notified by email.
Use the Website to keep informed.
The class meets twice a week, so each unexcused absence is the equivalent of a 1/2 week's work missed. More than three un-excused absences will have a negative impact upon your grade. More than six un-excused absences and I might suggest you withdraw from the course.
I'm looking forward to meeting you all and getting to know you. I hope you'll be able to tell that I love the way I make a living, and that meeting with and teaching a group of students such as yourselves is as pleasurable way to spend a few hours as any I can possibly imagine. Good luck this semester, and if there's anything I can do to be helpful to you, call upon me. As I get to know you, I may modify the course requirements a bit.
We, the undergraduate students of Roger Williams University, commit ourselves to academic integrity. We promise to pursue the highest ideals of academic life, to challenge ourselves with the most rigorous standards, to be honest in any academic endeavor, to conduct ourselves responsibly and honorably, and to assist one another as we live and work together in mutual support.