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People, Power, and Politics

Brooklyn College, Fall 2018

Instructor:  Asher Wycoff Email:
Time:  T/R, 9:30am–12:00pm, JH 5407 Office Hrs.:  R, 11:30am–12:30pm, JH 3416

Course Overview: In unusual times like ours, political and historical literacy is especially important. In this course, we will explore the origins of US liberal democracy and the various challenges it has faced. While the focus of this course is the American political experience, painting a robust picture requires detours to other areas of the globe. The first unit traces the philosophical origins of the American project to debates arising from the English Civil War, considers parallels between the American and French Revolutions, and then moves on to the US’s political development up through the Civil War. The second unit emphasizes the first and second Red Scares, the US’s strategies for opposing anarchism and Communism internationally, and ways in which this shaped domestic politics. The third and final unit centers debates over religious and cultural values that enjoyed renewed prominence in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Readings for this course include primary and secondary documents, ranging from letters and speeches to theoretical essays. We will situate each text within the political context to which its author was responding. The object is to provide background on major political history and concepts, as well as help you develop the skills to read and respond to challenging texts.

Texts: The required reading for this course is compiled, for your convenience, into a course pack, available for purchase at Far Better Printing (43 Hillel Pl.). If you have any difficulty getting the course pack, let me know as soon as possible. Reading for this course will be relatively short, but some of it will be difficult. Set aside time to complete it, and always bring assigned readings to class.

Requirements and Grading: Class meetings will include a combination of lecture and discussion. The point of lecture is to contextualize the readings and provide background on key concepts, while the point of discussion is to foster critical inquiry. Active engagement is necessary to make course activities productive. As such, you are expected to take notes on both lectures and readings. Formal requirements are listed as follows

Here's a breakdown of how grading for this course adds up overall:

Course Requirement Points Possible
Participation 10 points possible
Response Papers (two) 30 points possible (15 points each)
Pop Quizzes (five) 10 points possible (2 points each)
Midterm Exam 20 points possible
Final Exam 30 points possible
Total 100 points possible

Since the course as a whole is graded out of 100 points, your raw score at the end of the semester is also your percentage score in the course. I assign letter grades by the usual scale: 93–100 is an A, 90–92 is an A-minus, 87–89 is a B-plus, 83–86 is a B, 80–82 is a B-minus, and so on. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns about grading over the course of the semester.

Conduct Guidelines: While I do not grade on attendance specifically, students are nonetheless expected to attend class regularly having completed and prepared to discuss the required reading. As not just quantity but also quality of participation is important, I strongly recommend that you stay on topic during class discussions.
I do not permit cellphone use during class, and I encourage you to avoid using other electronics as well, if possible. If you use a laptop or tablet in class, please only use it for purposes related to the course (taking notes, e.g.).

Academic Integrity: Since we are all drawing on the same readings for this course, I do not expect you to write a bibliography for each response paper. That said, in-text citations are still essential. When quoting or closely paraphrasing texts in response papers, please provide author and page number parenthetically at the end of the sentence, e.g.: (Locke, 16).
Proper citations are essential for avoiding plagiarism. Plagiarism is any act of presenting someone else’s words and/or ideas as your own. Each student is responsible for knowing what constitutes plagiarism and avoiding it. If you are unsure, the full CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for its implementation is available online here. If a faculty member confirms a violation of academic integrity, they are required to report it. Familiarize yourself with CUNY’s Academic Integrity Policy and avoid violating it.

Accessibility: In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services (CSDS). Students with a documented disability, or who suspect they may have one, are encouraged to set up an appointment with the Director of Student Disability Services by calling (718) 951-5538. If you have already registered with the CSDS, please provide me with the appropriate documentation and discuss your specific needs with me, and I will provide any necessary accommodations.

Course Schedule

Unit 1: Origins and Development of Liberal Democracy

Unit 2: Radical Specters

Unit 3: Politics at the End of History

Final Exam on Thursday, December 20 at 8:00am.