This course offers an introduction to the literature, culture and philosophy the period of European Enlightenment. Some have called the Enlightenment the Age of Reason. Others have described it as the age of scientific and technological revolution—a pre-cursor to our modern-day digital revolution. The advancements in geographical exploration and discovery during that time created maps, which have come to dominate geo-economic power relations of today. The political and philosophical approaches to established forms of government culminated in the French Revolution and influenced the American Revolution profoundly. Thus, the effects of the age of the Enlightenment have ramifications for our present day culture and politics.
In this course we will study the phenomenon of the Enlightenment as an expression of progressive yet contradictory ideas: its thinkers at once questioned the singular rule of religious and governmental authority; at the same time, new forms of oppression were created while pronouncements of faith and revelation abounded. The freedom of human beings by the powers of their reason was thought to extend to all of humankind. However, slavery and systems of bondage increased. The emancipation of women found new expressions, yet societies remained profoundly patriarchic in structure. The human being became the object of scientific study, as a look inside the human “machine” promised a better understanding and cure of diseases. At the same time, these technological advancements produced human self-alienation.
In short, the age of the Enlightenment was ultimately not a unitary phenomenon, but rather an entity that gave rise to diverse expressions and debates. We will thus study the Enlightenment according to its many diverse expressions in order to gain a differentiated picture of it and its lingering effects on our world today.
We will research and recreate the Enlightenment inside and outside of class in a variety of interactive formats including lecture, class discussion, team analysis, and team projects. Classroom activities will be oriented around the four macro units of Personnel and Locals of the Enlightenment (where did they live and work?); Explorations and Conquests (where did their travels take them?), Scientific advancements (how did humans’ see themselves and their surroundings?), and Places of social exchange (in what formats did they communicate their ideas and experiences?).