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COURSE NAME: "The Enlightenment and the World - HONORS (This course carries 4 semester hours of credits. A minimum CUM GPA of 3.5 is required)"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:00-4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisites: One previous history course. Co-requisites: EN 110; Recommended: Junior Standing

History Research Seminar: 300-level history courses designated by the prefix HS-RS indicate courses being offered as Research Seminars. These courses are writing-intensive and help to train students to carry out original research by guiding them through the preparation of a significant research paper. History majors are encouraged to take these before their senior year, and especially before the semester in which they prepare their thesis.
This course explores the eighteenth-century intellectual and cultural movement known as the Enlightenment in its global context. In part it does so by examining the work of major philosophes, or thinkers, of the era (e.g., Diderot, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Smith, Voltaire, etc.). It also examines the historical context in which the philosophes worked, focusing on eighteenth-century Europe's relationship with other parts of the world. Much of the course is dedicated to the relationship between the Enlightenment and its "shadows" or "others" in both Europe and abroad, including women, Native Americans, Afro-Atlantic slaves, and Polynesians. As such, it investigates how these people and peoples shaped Enlightenment thought as well as the roles the Enlightenment played in the development of modern gender, racial, and imperial ideologies.

Satisfies "Modern History" core course requirement for History majors.



 This course will primarily be run as a seminar in which we discuss the assigned readings and your research projects.  As such, your active participation in our discussions is absolutely necessary to making the course work well.


A Note on How We Should Approach this Semester


Most generally, I am committed to the principle that my aims as an undergraduate history instructor should be to push (and to help) you to develop the skills, capacities, and modes of interpretation and understanding that will allow you to engage critically with the human past, the traces it has left, the ever-renewing knowledge we have of it, and its meanings for our present.  My role is that of a ‘coach,’ not a performer playing a show or a talking head telling you what’s what (although sometimes I will suggest my understandings of that too).  With this approach, you will without doubt learn more and develop abilities that are useful in other settings more fully than if I simply lectured and asked you to repeat that material on exams, and you will likely find what we do more interesting too. However, for this approach to work, we all need to commit ourselves to meeting the following expectations:


1.  Do the course reading (and especially the discussion reading) on a timely basis. You absolutely must complete it before the class in which we are discussing it and (if relevant) the deadline for making a related forum post (if you can finish it even earlier and thus have a bit more time to think about it, that’s even better).  At times this course will involve a significant amount of out-of-class reading.  I know that this may be a challenge for some of you, but we collectively need an ample amount of solid material to work with to make our discussions meaningful.  Also, do know that with practice you will develop your abilities to deal with larger amounts of reading in limited time frames.  If you wish, we can talk more about how to do the reading and the kinds of things you should be looking for in doing it in class.


2.  When you are present, be present.  We should make the most of the 2 ½ hours we meet each week to engage with the course materials and learn together.  During that time, we should all be focused on that effort and not other things such as checking social media, catching up on e-mail, studying for other courses or whatever else may distract us from the matters at hand.  Doing otherwise is disrespectful to the other members of the class, including me.  As such, if you really, really need to be doing something else, just don’t come to class.


3.  Maintain a respectful, professional tone in your responses and posts, but don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas and interpretations out of fear that they may be controversial (just work on clearly expressing your reasoning).  On this note, I think our discussions will function best if we all work on the assumption that each of us is openly and forthrightly attempting to grapple with the complexities and ambiguities of our shared human past and its relationship to our present (and as such that the things we say and write are never intended to harm or to insult).  Engaging with that past often forces us to look at the many horrid and ugly things that humans have done to and thought about (and continue to do to and think about) one another, which can be a difficult and painful experience.  Frank and open discussion is the best way both to seek to understand that past and to forge civil and tolerant ways of interacting and living with it and one another in the present.


4.  Give credit where credit is due and be sure that all work you hand in is your own.  Not only does plagiarism or any other form of cheating defeat the whole purpose of going to university to learn and to improve one’s abilities, it undermines the basic trust any community needs to learn and work together.  The recent emergence of more effective forms of artificial intelligence (e.g., Chat GPT) presents new challenges in these regards.  Given the newness of this phenomenon and uncertainty regarding the implications it may present for students and teachers I would like for us to discuss it before establishing firm course policies—we’ll have that discussion by the end of the second week of classes.


5.  Try not to be too nervous about grades.  We learn through practice, we all fall short of our aims sometimes, and we sometimes learn more from falling short than anything else.  I purposefully keep many assignments fairly open in terms of the types of topics and arguments you may develop to give you the freedom to present your ideas and sharpen your abilities, and such freedom always entails risks.  Know that I put mechanisms in place to weigh the improvement that you make over the course into the calculation of your final course grade.


6.  Keep lines of communication open.  Please know that the ways in which I structure classroom sessions and on-line discussion activities in this syllabus remain experimental and may change.  Please share your thoughts on them and feel free to suggest approaches, ways of organizing discussions (in-person or on-line), or other activities that you believe may help you and your classmates to better engage with the course material.  I cannot neglect my responsibility to set the rules for the game that is our course in ways that I believe best assure both academic rigor and fairness across the class, but you can be assured that I will value and carefully consider any suggestions you may make. More generally, if you have questions or concerns regarding any matters relating to the course, please do feel free to share them with me.



In successfully completing this course, you should work on developing (and improving) the following competencies and skills:

  • An understanding of the major intellectual and cultural developments, as well as the historical significance of the Enlightenment in its global context;
  • A sense of the ways in which eighteenth-century social and global contexts shaped Enlightenment thought;
  • An understanding of some of the major modes of analysis historians and other scholars have used to interpret Enlightenment thought and its relationship to its historical contexts;
  • Critical analysis of primary sources, including literary and intellectual texts;
  • Critical analysis of historians' and other scholarly arguments;
  • Researching historical subjects (i.e., finding and evaluating primary and secondary sources);
  • Developing well-reasoned, well-supported historical arguments;
  • Effectively communicating information, arguments and ideas orally and in writing in accurate, polished, and persuasive English.

In Class ParticipationThis course will primarily be run as a seminar and workshop in which we discuss the assigned readings and your research. As such, your active participation in our discussions is absolutely necessary to making the course work well. The high percentage of your grade that is based on your participation reflects that fact. You should bring a question based on the readings that you believe we should discuss to each class. On occasion, additional brief in class or out of class reaction papers, on-line Moodle forum activities, and/or in-class presentations may be assigned as components of your participation grade. Please note that behaving in ways that create distractions for other members of the class (including the professor) will lower your participation grade. Such behavior includes, but is not limited to: messaging, checking social media, catching up on e-mail, watching on-line videos, reading non-class related materials, studying for other courses, shopping on-line, and generally any activity that detracts from your or any other classmate's full participation in what we are doing in the classroom.20%
Reaction Papers (3-4) (1 1/2 to 2 double-spaced pages/350-500 words each)In each of the reaction papers (approximately two double-spaced pages in length), you will develop a brief but coherent and well-supported argument regarding the readings for the day on which the paper is due. In these papers, you should not summarize the reading, but rather develop a main thought of your own building on those readings. Ways of developing such arguments include, but are not limited to: critiquing some part of the argument of a secondary source, testing some part of the argument of a secondary source through the analysis of a primary source, comparing and contrasting different readings, or developing a point made by one of the authors more fully and in doing so explaining more of what it may tell us about the subject under discussion. Your grade for these reaction papers will be determined by the strength and focus of your analysis, the persuasiveness of your argument (including quality of writing), and the originality of your thought. The due dates for the first and second reaction papers can be found on the course schedule below. You may do the third (and final mandatory) reaction paper for any class date on which a which a written assignment is not already due (excluding the other days on which we are discussing Graffigny and Montesquieu). You should hand in this final reaction paper on the day we read the sources it discusses.20%
Research Paper (including draft, revision, and presentation, c. 12 pages or c. 3000 words)For the research paper (c. 12 pages or c. 3000 words), you will explore a topic appropriate for the course chosen in consultation with me. Your paper should build on both primary and secondary sources, and in preparing it, I will guide you through the processes of preparing a first draft and revising that draft to produce a stronger final paper. You also will present this paper to the rest of the class for discussion. For these discussions, each of you will also review at least one of your colleagues’ papers, providing both a written review (for the author and for me) and an oral commentary during the discussion of her/his paper in class. The grade on this assignment will be determined by the strength of your analysis and research, the persuasiveness of your argument (including quality of writing), and the originality of your thought.30%
Final ExamThe final exam will be composed of two essay questions I will give you the week before the exam. You will answer one of those questions. You may make use of two double-sided pages of notes during the exam, provided that you submit them for my review before starting the exam. Your grade on the exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments, your capacity to discuss the material we cover in the course as a whole (including level of mastery of course readings), and the factual accuracy of your answers. Remember that what you are being tested on is your ability to develop and present a strong, well-supported argument building on the course materials, not simply provide a 'correct' answer to the question you choose.30%

A Work of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant, thorough, and insightful engagement with the course reading and other materials.
B This is a highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised. There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluate theory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture and reference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of significant engagement with the course reading and other materials.
C This is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
D This level of performance demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material. Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included. In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
F This work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

See above on participation.  To participate regularly, you have to be present regularly.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.




Course Readings

The books should be available at the Almost Corner Bookshop (Via del Moro, 45) or directly from the publisher’s website in eBook form.  You also may be able to find copies through the STAND Book Fundraiser sale at the beginning of the semester.  Other course readings will be available from the Frohring Library via the course Moodle page.  All course readings provide the basis for our classroom and on-line discussions. You must read and think about those assigned for a particular class period and/or the deadline for making a related forum post.  Otherwise, you will be unable to participate adequately and your participation grade will suffer. You should also bring this material to class on the days that we are discussing it.


Important Course Policies

 All assignments should be submitted in both hard copy form and electronically through the Moodle portal for the assignment--I encourage you to double-check on the Moodle page to be sure that work has been submitted after you believe you have done so.  Hard copies are due at the beginning of class on the assignment's due date.


All late work will suffer a grade penalty. No late work will be accepted following the final examination.


Any documented case of academic dishonesty on any assignment will result in a failing grade for the assignment in question and may also result in a failing grade for the course as a whole, regardless of the assignment's weight in terms of the final course grade. Please remember that, as the University's policy states, "Plagiarism can be deliberate or negligent; students are responsible for ensuring that any work submitted with their name on it is properly referenced."  If you have questions about how to cite material properly, refer to the appropriate sections of the MLA Style Manual or Chicago Manual of Style--if you have questions as to whether particular pieces of material should be cited, ask me. Note that submitting work that you have previously submitted (or plan to submit) for credit in another course is also a form of academic dishonesty, unless you obtain explicit approval from both instructors to do so. For this course, no such double submission is allowed. Please note that your papers and take-home exams are to be submitted to turnitin.com to check their content for plagiarism. I am setting up the turintin submission options so that you can see the similarity reports the service generates and resubmit your papers up until the due date.


Office Hours, Scheduling Appointments, E-mail Guidance, etc.

My drop-in office hours are on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 to 10:45 a.m..  I am also available by appointment--to set one up, simply e-mail me or ask me just after class.  Depending on your preference we can meet wither in person (my office is on the Frohring/ex-Tiber Roof) or via Teams using the link posted on the course Moodle page.

Please know that I do not normally respond to e-mails during the weekend or after 6:30 p.m. (but feel free to write me whenever you wish--I'll respond as soon as I can the next week or the next day).  We all need to set aside time to work on other things, disconnect, recharge, and 'stay human.'  I encourage you to do the same in ways that work with your schedule and try to do what I can to provide you with as much flexibility as possible in structuring out-of-class activities.



Course Schedule (N.B. The schedule and specific readings listed may change--all changes will be made directly to the course Moodle page)--last updated August 29



Part 1:  Introductions, an Overview, and a First Look at the Background




9/4. Introductions:  What is the Enlightenment?


9/6. “What is the Enlightenment?” Vs. “What was the Enlightenment?”

Robertson, The Enlightenment: A Very Short Introduction, 1-14; 119-130 (Chapters 1 and 5)

Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784),” 58-63; Mendelssohn, “On the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784),” 53-56; Horkheimer, “Reason Against Itself: Some Remarks on Enlightenment (1946),” 359-367 (All excerpts from James Schmidt, ed., What is Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions)





9/11. A Return to Paganism? Religion and the Enlightenment, Part 1

Robertson, 15-48 (Chapter 2)


9/13 A Return to Paganism? Religion and the Enlightenment, Part 2

Hume, "On Miracles"; Voltaire, "Prayer to God (1763)" and "Catechism of the Honest Man (1763); D'Holbach, "Good Sense"




9/18. A Science of Progress? Questions of Social and Moral Improvement

Robertson, 49-81 (Chapter 3)

Condorcet, “Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind: Tenth Epoch,” 65-82


9/20. A First Look at Contexts: Global Political Economic Orders and European Social Orders in the ‘Age of the Enlightenment’

Strobel, The Global Atlantic, 126-149; Loyseau, "A Treatise on Orders (1610)," 13-31


During this week, we will hold individual meetings to start developing research topics.





9/25. An Enlightened Public? Social Contexts and Print Culture

Robertson, 82-118 (Chapter 4)

Darnton, "A Clandestine Bookseller in the Provinces," 122-147


Part 2:  Did the Enlightenment have a Sex?


9/27. Salons

Goodman, The Republic of Letters (excerpts), Required: 73-91, 99-111, 125-135; Recommended: entire excerpt); Primary Sources on Salon Life; Start Reading Graffigny, Letters of a Peruvian Woman





10/2. Questions of Roles, Rights, and Reason

Outram, “Enlightenment Thinking About Gender,” 84-98; Rousseau, Emile (excerpts); Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (excerpts); Continue Reading Graffigny, Letters of a Peruvian Woman

Paragraph Outlining Research Topic and Preliminary Bibliography Due


10/4.  A Female Philosophe and the Incas--Françoise de Graffigny I

Graffigny, Letters from a Peruvian Woman, ix-xxix, 1-59





10/9. A Female Philosophe and the Incas--Françoise de Graffigny II

Graffigny, Letters from a Peruvian Woman, 59-144

Reaction Paper 1 Due


Part 3: Mapping Humanity Across the Globe


10/11. Classifying and Ordering--The Enlightenment and Science

TBA; d'Alembert, "Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot;" "Trees of Knowledge from Bacon to the Encyclopédie;" Primary Sources TBA





10/16. Consumption, Coffee Houses, and Slavery

Melton, "Drinking in Public"; Dubois, "An Enslaved Enlightenment," 1-14; Start Reading Montesquieu, Persian Letters


10/18. Africa, Africans, and the Enlightenment

Harvey, "Enlightenment Encounters in West Africa," 115-122; Encyclopédie Articles on Africa and Africans; Primary Sources TBA; Keep Reading Montesquieu, Persian Letters



TBA; Encyclopédie Articles Relating to Slavery; Cugoano, Thoughts and Sentiments (excerpts); Primary Sources TBA; Keep Reading Montesquieu, Persian Letters





10/23.  Strangers in a Strange Land: Montesquieu's Persians, I

Montesquieu, The Persian Letters, vii-xxx, 3-65


10/25. Strangers in a Strange Land: Montesquieu's Persians, II

Montesquieu, The Persian Letters, 65-148

Updated Preliminary Bibliography Due





10/30. Strangers in a Strange Land: Montesquieu's Persians, III

Montesquieu, The Persian Letters, 148-243

Reaction Paper 2 Due





11/6. Native Americans, European Settlers, and the Enlightenment

Harvey, "The Noble Savage and French Cultural Criticism," "The Dispute of the New World," and "What Civilization Can Learn"; Rousseau, "A Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind"


11/8.  The Newest Noble Savages: Polynesians and Pacific Exploration

TBA; Diderot, "Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville"





11/13. China and the Enlightenment

Harvey, "The Wisdom of the East,"41-68; Montesquieu, "On the Chinese Empire"; Voltaire, Essay on the Customs and Spirits of Nations (excerpts)

Research Paper Draft Due


11/15. A Meeting of Enlightenments in Tibet

Stewart, “1774: The Scottish Enlightenment Meets the Tibetan Enlightenment," 455-492



Part 4: Your Research




11/20. Research Presentations


11/22. Research Presentations



Part 5: Summing Up—A New, Global Science of Humanity?




11/27.  A New Global Economics (or Better, Political Economy)

Review Robertson, 72-81 (Final Section of Chapter 3)

Smith, Wealth of Nations (excerpts); Quesnay, "Grains" from the Encyclopédie


11/29. A Science of Politics

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (excerpts)





12/4. A New Historical Vision? A First Global History?

Hegel, "Geographical Basis of World History," Voltaire, Essay on the Customs and Spirits of Nations (excerpts)


12/6.  The End of the Enlightenment?

Conrad, "Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique," 999-1027

Final Draft of Research Paper Due


Final Exam--Date and Format To Be Confirmed