“Western Civilization” typically evokes thoughts of Aristotle and ancient Greek philosophy, Michelangelo and the Italian Renaissance, and Isaac Newton and the scientific revolution. But the idea of Western Civilization and its connection to these touchstones actually dates to the late 1800s, when it was invented at least in part to justify and explain European imperialism. In this course, Western Civilization II, we will critically examine what “the West” and “Western Civilization” has meant over the past two-and-a-half centuries and how this idea has been deployed and reappropriated across the globe. We will examine how liberty, science, and democracy came to be associated with Western society and how capitalism, war, patriarchy, and racism inspired internal and external critiques of the West. We will examine key thinkers of Western history – such as Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud – and how their ideas were reworked by intellectuals in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We will study how the idea of Western Civilization was used to legitimate imperialism and white supremacy and how, in response, observers in other parts of world devised counter-hegemonic notions of Asian, Muslim, and African civilization. Finally, we will examine what is at stake today as pundits and politicians advocate once again to “save Western civilization” from perceived enemies from within and without.
Weekly Patterns and Expectations:
As detailed below, your assignments for this course are to create with your classmates collaborative digital posters that interpret and evaluate a wide range of historical materials. You’ll stick with the same group for the duration of the course, your grade, however, will be based only on your personal contributions.
We will be using Microsoft Teams to manage our collaborations, this is free through Rutgers and easy to access, as I explain here: Accessing Teams.
If you have any trouble with the platforms or the instructions, please let me know so I can fix it and make the course better.
Weeks 1 – 5
Each week of this course follows a particular question or issue related to the idea of Western Civilization. By Sunday night I will open the new week’s page of instructions on this site (under “schedule” in the menu bar) for you to work through on your own. This will include video lectures, readings, primary historical sources, and multimedia sources.
You will have one assignment per week: to create with your group members a poster that combines and interprets the week’s materials.
There will be two deadline moments each week: midnight on Wednesday and midnight on Friday. During the week, I’ll be looking at your projects and providing comments and suggestions. On Thursday mornings, you will receive a mid-week grade based on your contributions to the developing whiteboard poster. To get full points, you will need to have contributed at least two substantive interpretive comments and have added 2 other comments or additions by Wednesday at midnight.
Each week you will receive a different template to guide your poster work, like this one:
You will have to decide amongst your group how you will divide the work and who will focus on which questions and issues.
Although I expect you to use the the template, you are also free to abuse it: that is, you are welcome to alter or add to it in any way that seems intellectually useful. The only rule is that you are respectful and collaborative with your peers.
The week’s poster will be due Saturday at midnight. By then, to get full points you will need to have contributed at least:
- 3 substantive interpretive comments
- 3 other additions (quotes from materials, contemporary connections, random inspirations, etc.)
- Demonstrated serious engagement with your peers by commenting on and/or adding to their work, highlighting connections and contrasts between contributions, challenging or developing their interpretations, etc.
You must keep up with the course and only for extreme circumstances will you be allowed to make up missed work. If you fail to participate on time for two separate weeks (meaning you miss both the Wednesday and the Saturday deadlines for any two weeks, whether consecutive or not) you should withdraw from the course to avoid receiving an F for the course.
If you do begin to fall behind, contact me immediately so we can make a plan.
Your final assignment will be to write a short paper (1000 words, or about 3 pages double-spaced) for which you will choose one of the digital posters that your team produced and turn this into an essay. This will be due by midnight on August 17th.