This semester I’m linking the class to the Blackboard system.  Every Roger Williams University student has a Blackboard 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.  Because you’re all new
to Roger Williams, I’ve invited the Internet
Technology person in charge of the
Blackboard system to come to class and
introduce it to you.  I will also distribute written instructions about the system
Core 102 History and the Modern World    Michael R. H. Swanson
The Idea of DemocracyOffice:  CAS 110
Roger Williams University Hours:  9:30 - 11:00 T
2:00 - 3:30  T, F     9:30 - 11:00 Th
3:30 - 5:00  T, F      5:30 - 6:45  W
CAS 228   1:00 - 2:00  F
Fall Semester 2005    Ph.   (401)  254 - 3230

The Week's Work
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.  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 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.  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.

  • 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, to name the big three.  Yet none of these allows the level of public access that the Internet does.

  • My 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:

  • Notes on each week's reading and discussion activities will be found there.  Assignments and links to additional resources will, 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.  All required reading assignments will be posted on the class website.  Shortly 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

The Core Readings:
  • At the center of Core 102 are a series of classic texts which frame the central idea of this course, The Idea of Democracy.  Faculty commonly refer to this as the “Core Canon”.   We will use these texts to explore some of the nuances of Democracy, and some of the challenges to it, as well.  This year we are publishing a revised and expanded version of the Core Canon. These documents are available on line at  You will need a three ring notebook into which you will place the documents you download.  One of the things I’m asking you to do is to mark up these documents, using both highlighting and marginal notes.  I will evaluate this.  More later.

  • Additional readings will be assigned from the Internet.  These will also be included in your notebook, as will occasional research projects and other activities I assign. 
  • You will also be given a pocket sized Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools. This little booklet is being given to every freshman entering Roger Williams University.  We’ll use it to introduce you to the vocabulary of critical thinking: a specialized system of thought widely practiced in academia.  You will use this book both semesters this year.  Hold on to it.
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.  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:


Length: no more than 7 pages, typed, double spaced.
Due: Friday, December 9th  (the last Friday class)
   (Turned in by Blackboard).

Consider the following:  Two of the ideas which we have been considering all semester are Reason and Democracy.  I want you to think about the relationship of these two ideas in the context of a society.  In other words...

  • Can One Believe in Democracy as a System of Government Without Believing That Human Beings Are Rational Creatures?  Can One Believe People Are Rational Creatures  and Not Believe in Democracy as a System of Government?  Why or Why Not?

As you write this paper, you will be required to use at least these three documents:
  •      Cicero’s On the Laws,
  •      John Milton’s Areopagitica, and
  • Emanuel Kant’s What is Enlightenment?.

  • Plus such other documents from the Core Canon as
  support or clarify your position.  The best papers will find
  several of these work very well.

Classroom Practices and Procedures
Our primary focus will be the documents in The Core Canon.  These are primary source materials, written by  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 readings 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
Attendance Policy

I do take attendance on a regular basis, using a sign-in sheet which circulates around the room.  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, and the like are freely given, as long as I am notified by e-mail.  USE THE CLASS E-MAIL ADDRESS.     Despite your absence, you are still required to keep up with what’s going on.  Use the website:

The class meets twice a week, so each unexcused absence is the equivalent of a half week’s work missed.  More than three unexcused absences will have a negative impact upon your grade.  More than five unexcused absences and I’ll suggest you withdraw from the course. 

Academic Integrity

At the Freshman Convocation all entering students pledged to live according to the code of Academic Integrity:

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. 

This class will operate according to those time-honored principles.   For a complete statement of the University position on Plagiarism as well as other forms of academic dishonesty, consult the Roger Williams University Catalogue.