Summer Courses

Revolutionary Legacies: Political Thought of the Founding Fathers

Summer 2014
Subject Area: 
Course Number: 
HIST 203 910
Monday 5:30pm-9:20pm
Wednesday 5:30pm-9:20pm


Primary Program: 
School of Arts and Sciences
Course Description: 

The American Revolution began in 1775 as a colonial protest, but in 1776 it became something else entirely: an attempt to re-establish government on new principles.  The generation we now know as the “Founders” then faced a range of problems - how to build and sustain a democratic society, how to structure a government that recognizes majority will while still protecting minority rights, and guaranteeing just and equitable outcomes.  To a great extent, we face those same problems today.  

This course is about how Americans in the revolutionary era approached these problems and how we in the 21st century continue to approach them.  Rather than a chronological, in-depth history of the founding era, this course will be organized thematically around the concepts that provoked the thought of 18th century Americans as much as 21st century Americans: liberty, democracy, inequality, and the scope of government power.  While students will explore revolutionary-era thinking on these concepts, this course will also invite serious reflection on current American political affairs, informed by a critical investigation of the foundations of the American political tradition in the Revolutionary and early national periods. We will analyze the theories and attitudes of national leaders like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, but we will not privilege them.  Instead, we will broaden the canon of American political thought to consider the alternative democratic traditions formulated by poor farmers, urban artisans, freed slaves, and disenfranchised women.  Ultimately, we will question to which we should be guided by the legacy of the Revolution (and if so, whose legacy?) and the extent to which we must formulate new principles to confront new problems.  

*This course fulfills the U.S., pre-1800 and seminar requirements for the History Major.

The course listing presented here is subject to change. Please confirm all information on the the University of Pennsylvania Registrar's website or via Penn InTouch (PennKey required)