Core 102
The Idea of Democracy
Roger Williams University
CAS 228
T, F 2:00-3:20:  3:30-4:50
Spring Semester, 2004
Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph. .D
Office:  Feinstein CAS 110
Hours:T, Th 11:00-12:30
W, 5:30-6:45, F 1-2
Phone: 401 254 3230
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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.

About the Core Program itself:
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.
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. My sections have their own website:  Notes on each week's reading and discussion activities will also be found there. Bookmark its URL.  There will be one page of notes and assignments per week, and these  will develop as the semester progresses.  All required reading assignments will be posted on the class website.  By mid-February 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

Textbook:  (Required Reading)

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

Additional readings will be assigned from the Internet.
I also want you to purchase an 8.5 x 11 three-ring looseleaf binder with a ring size of at least 1 inch.  In this you will keep your class notes, your notes on readings, and the materials I ask you do download from the Internet.  I will collect these notebooks twice in the semester and evaluate them.

At the center of our class will be the discussion of a number of documents which have been important in the development of Democratic thought from the days of classical Greece to our own times.  Most of these are found in the text, The Idea of Democracy.  Others will be added.  We will use these texts to explore some of the nuances of Democracy, and some of the challenges to it, as well. 
Your Responsibilities.

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:

Basically speaking, I will consider your notebook “O.K.” if it is complete except for one or two of the  documents I’m asking you to download, and the downloads are timely.  Your internet browser time stamps the documents, so I will be able to tell if you try to complete the notebook in the last week of the semester.  “Good” notebooks are complete, and demonstrate that you’ve worked with the class materials and downloads through some system of underlining the downloaded documents or marginal annotations.  “Outstanding” notebooks include notes on the readings from the book as well as class notes.  Annotations on the downloads include marginal questions or cross references to class notes and  notes on readings in the book.  On many of the weekly syllabi I will include “something extra” which you can do to increase your knowledge.  “Excellent” notebooks will do all of the above and “something extra”.

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, and other evidence of the level of work you’re putting into things.

Because I want you to think about the second paper you will write for me the entire semester, I'm giving you the question right now.


Topic: I will ask you to give your consideration to the following: 

As you write this paper, you will be required to use at least these documents: Cicero’s On the Laws, John Milton’s Areopagitica, and Emanuel Kant’s What is Enlightenment?.  The best papers will use many other documents from the course as well.  You will need to make sure that the definition and implications of democracy which you employ are understood from the context of your paper
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:

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...

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.   Enrolments are very full, but you may be able to find someone who would trade sections with you.


The week of Passover/Easter, Roger Williams University modifies the class schedule so that Thursday classes do not meet and Friday classes are held on Thursday April 8, instead.  Friday, May 7, is scheduled as a reading day and no classes are held.  Last spring, students preferred to hold class on the reading day and take Thursday and Friday off in April.  I am willing to do that again this year if the class so desires.  As this class is on the Idea of Democracy, I think we should decide this democratically.  We will make the decision in a week or so.