Pompeiian fresco, 1st c. AD

Democracy Inaction

MWF 1.25-2.20
(Lib 213) W 4.10-5.05 (Ladd 106)
Prof. Michael Arnush Starbuck 201D x8113
marnush@skidmore.edu Hours: MW 11-12
W 2.30-3.30
4th credit hour
Classics Department
Skidmore College

What does it mean to be democratic? We speak of living in a democratic society, we refer to the “Republican” and “Democratic” parties, and yet do we understand what those terms signify, and what being “democratic” really conveys? We will look for answers first far in the past, with the ancient Greeks and their experiment with demokratia, and the Roman government of the res publica. Students will conduct close readings of treatises such as Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution, the Greek histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, the Roman histories of Livy and Polybius, tragedies and comedies like Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Aristophanes’ Wasps, and ancient Greek and Roman lawcodes; and will examine the archaeological remains of ancient, civic Athens and republican Rome. The class will also examine a very modern and public exercise of democracy – the local November elections for City Council in Saratoga Springs – as a living laboratory for the contemporary American conception of democracy. Students will analyze Saratoga Springs’ city charter, examine local monuments that celebrate democratic practices, critique Jon Stewart’s irreverent America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, interrogate local campaigns and candidates, and participate in the elections. For a final project, students will craft proposals for contemporary, functioning democratic systems based upon their study of ancient and modern democracies.

This course will introduce students to disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives on ancient and modern democracies, with the following goals. In addition, this is a course about knowing, particularly about ways to identify problems, formulate productive questions, and go about answering those questions. Students in this course will demonstrate the ability to:

  • distinguish among, and formulate, types of questions asked by the disciplines of political theory, history, drama, art history and archaeology
  • read critically, and gather and interpret both literary and archaeological evidence
  • distinguish among the evidence and methodologies appropriate to the aforementioned different disciplines
  • consider and address complexities and ambiguities
  • make connections among ideas
  • recognize choices, examine assumptions and ask questions of themselves and of their own work
  • formulate conclusions based upon evidence
  • communicate ideas both orally and in writing
  • relate the result of the course to their educational goals