Week 1 First Readings

As you learned in the lecture, Western Civilization as a college course has only been around for 100 years. For most of the 20th century, it was a foundational college course which all students at most institutions were required to take. Usually, the course consisted of reading a small selection of great intellectual works of European history; this was thought to be the essential education young Americans needed to be educated participants in American democracy. Beginning around the 1960s, however, this course came under sustained attack as civil rights leaders, feminists, gay rights activists, and indigenous activists decried the curriculum as Eurocentric, “old dead white men” history. It was almost universally true that textbooks included no women or people of color; all of the supposedly “brilliant minds” of the past were wealthy white men. In response to such blistering critiques, today many colleges and universities have entirely thrown out Western Civ as a course.

It is not evident to me that we should have a Western Civilization course at Rutgers. After all, the students of our university are extremely diverse (and more than 50% female) and come from many rich cultures that could and should be the foundation for learning. Should we still be focusing our curriculum on European traditions and history?

Indeed, Western civilization as an idea and as a college course are hotly debated subjects. Therefore, to begin the course we are going to get a taste for the debate. Below are two short, abridged magazine articles. The first, from a conservative news magazine, argues that Western civilization is still a necessary course for young Americans today. The second article argues the opposite: that Western civilization is an outdated and even harmful class.

This is a controversial subject and these authors’ ideas are mutually incompatible. Our goal is to understand the controversy, not necessarily to solve it.