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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

Democracy Inaction

Instructor(s): Michael Arnush, Classics

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 Plato's Apology and Aristotle's Athenian Constitution, the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, Livy and Polybius, tragedies and comedies like Aeschylus' Oresteia and Aristophanes' Wasps, and ancient Greek and Roman law codes; and will examine the archaeological remains of ancient, civic Athens and republican Rome. The seminar 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, investigate 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.

Course Offered