Books That Changed Modern America
BFS Sector II
Why have some books had a profound impact on their times? How have they articulated an issue, focused debate, captured public attention, and spurred action?
In this seminar, we will read a group of books that changed the modern United States. The Jungle, Silent Spring, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, The Feminine Mystique, The Grapes of Wrath, Conscience of a Conservative: These are books that mobilized Americans to demand food safety and a safer environment, adopt new childrearing practices, redefine traditional gender roles, develop greater awareness of poverty, and rethink their politics.
We will approach these and other works in three ways: We will do close readings of each text; examine the history of each book, including its publishing history, critical reception, and readers’ responses; and consider the broader historical contexts in which the work was written.
History of Classical Liberal Thought
BFS Sector II
This seminar will examine the competing and diverse currents of classical liberal thought that have been a part of the Western dialogue from the nineteenth century to the present.
The course requires active participations in discussion and two papers, one brief and one a longer paper. “Classical Liberal Thought,” in briefest form, is a belief in minimal government and maximal individual choice, consistent with peace and order. Looked at from afar, any movement of thought might seem all of one piece. Studied up close, however, what seemed uniform at first becomes complex and diverse.
As one studies such things as Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Marxism, Islam, conservatism, or feminism, for example, the more that one reads, analyzes, and compares, the more internal debates and differences one sees in each, whatever the agreements. Our “classical liberals” disagree, often in ways that make them mutually incompatible, about rights, benefits, ethical criteria, safety nets, human nature, and human history.
The function of our discussion will be to analyze individual thinkers and, as we read beyond the first of them, to compare our thinkers, looking always both for agreements and, above all, for disagreements.
Western thinkers from the ancient Greeks to the present have speculated about what the ideal human society would look like. We can study the resultant utopias as works of literature, philosophy, religion, psychology or political science; we must understand them in their historical contexts.
This seminar will take a multidisciplinary approach to utopian thought from Plato’s Republic to the ecological utopias of the 1980s. Works to be examined include More’s Utopia; seventeenth century scientific utopias like Bacon’s New Atlantis; the political theory of Rousseau (Social Contract); essays of the French utopian socialists and Hawthorne’s version of the Brook Farm experiment; Morris’ News from Nowhere; its American counterpart, Bellamy’s Looking Backward; Gilman’s feminist blueprint, Herland; BF Skinner’s psychological utopia, Walden Two; and the utopian science fiction of LeGuin. Huxley’s dystopia, Brave New World, will be set against his later utopia, Island.