Pompeiian fresco, 1st c. AD

SSP100.001: Democracy Inaction
M 2.30-3.25
W 1.00-2.20 F 1.25-2.20 (Lib 213)

Prof. Michael Arnush Starbuck 201D x8113
marnush@skidmore.edu Hours: M 11-12 F 10.30-11.30
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. Students will conduct close readings of texts - in complete form, and in excerpts - such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution, the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, Athenian drinking songs, Aeschylus' tragedy Eumenides and Aristophanes’ Wasps, and ancient Greek lawcodes; and will examine the archaeological remains of ancient, civic Athens. The class will also examine a very modern and public exercise of democracy – the local November referendum on the type of civic government in Saratoga Springs – as a living laboratory for the contemporary American conception of democracy. Students will analyze Saratoga Springs’ city government, critique Jon Stewart’s irreverent America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, and speak with local politicians. For a final project, students will examine their hometown forms of government and conduct an analysis of that local democratic system based upon the study of ancient and modern democracies.

Our seminar will incorporate a number of special events during the semester, some in-class and others outside of class. They include

  • a session with the Writing Center on how to prepare an essay, and a session with Susie Warden on how to "read" an assignment
  • lectures by the Gregory Howard Williams, author of Life on the Color Line, and Tim Wise, author of White Like Me, with discussions led by Susie Warden
  • a session on "Preparing for Exams" before the midterm
  • peer critiquing of your papers, both in-class and outside of class
  • class visits by Prof. Dan Curley of Classics on Greek comedy, and Prof. Bob Turner of Government on local politics
  • a bibliographic instruction session with a librarian
  • a session with Susie Warden on making the right course choices for the spring semester
  • a presentation by a member of the Counselling Center on stress management, just before the end of the semester
  • a session with Susie Warden on how to prepare an in-class oral presentation.

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