Freshman Clusters

Cluster 21A,B,CW
History of Modern Thought

Lecture Schedule: Monday and Wednesday | 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
Faculty: Joshua Dienstag | Political Science, Coordinator
Sarah Kareem | English
Christopher M. Kelty | Anthropology and Institute for Society and Genetics
Theodore Porter | History
Librarian: Joanna C. Cham | Powell Library

This course examines classics of Western social, political, philosophical, literary and scientific thought from the 17th century to the present. We will read works by such authors as Thomas Hobbes, Daniel Defoe, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, T. R. Malthus, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Thorstein Veblen, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Simone de Beauvoir and Michel Foucault. These thinkers address enduring questions about the modern world – questions about human nature, the natural world and our place in it, the source and legitimacy of political authority, the meaning and limits of human freedom, the status of women, the dynamics of capitalist markets, the role of slavery, imperialism and colonialism in the constitution of modern European thought, the workings of the human psyche, and the limits of reason. These problems, and the solutions proposed by our authors, are neither simple nor settled, and students are expected to bring an openness, curiosity and rigorous questioning to class.

The course invites students to engage in these questions by reading the primary sources directly and carefully–and to join in a dialogue across the centuries. Lectures, discussion sections and reading assignments are designed to bring students into direct engagement with the authors and the ideas they wrestle with and the complicated language or methods they use to attempt to solve them. Students will be expected to understand the context of those issues and to understand the distinctive methods, styles and commitments that these authors brought to these problems.

We welcome all students, whatever their prospective major, who are interested in exploring fundamental issues in the history of modern thought. We particularly welcome students with an interest in social and political theory or in scientific and philosophical ideas. However, we discourage students from taking the course if your primary interest is in efficiently satisfying GE requirements. The readings are difficult and long, and they require concentration and commitment. The course requirements are primarily writing assignments in which students are expected to demonstrate an ability to comprehend and manipulate the ideas expressed in the course readings to make original arguments. As a result, however, you will develop study and reading habits, and writing skills that will serve you well in any major or career.

Course Format

During fall and winter quarters, the course meets twice each week for lectures and once a week for a two-hour section discussion. During spring quarter, students choose a seminar that allows them to explore a particular topic in greater depth.

Spring Seminars – Previous seminar titles have included:

  • I Feel, Therefore I Am--I Think: History of Emotions
  • Slavery and Freedom: Modern Thought on Drugs
  • Humanism between Europe and its Others
  • Fantastic Enlightenment
  • The Political Animal and its Nonhuman Others
  • Being Human: Identity in the Age of Genomics and Neuroscience

Writing II and Foundation Area General Education Credit

Upon completion of the yearlong cluster, students will fulfill the Writing II requirement and satisfy 4 GE course requirements:

  • 3 in Foundations of Society & Culture (1 in Historical Analysis and 2 in Social Analysis)
  • 1 in Foundations of the Arts & Humanities (Philosophical and Linguistic Analysis)

Social Thought Minor

For students interested in continuing their academic study of modern thought, consider the Social Thought Minor. The completion of GE Cluster 21A and 21B satisfies all lower division requirements for the minor. For more information on the minor and how to apply, please click here.