GERM-585 Private Lives/Public Virtues
Spring for 2016-2017
Durpree, M. H.
Scholars have long focused on the ‘long eighteenth century’ in Europe as a time of radical social transformation and reconfiguration of both public and private life. The notion of the public sphere articulated in Kant’s Was ist Aufklärung? helped to facilitate a new understanding of Öffentlichkeit that was distinct from older models of representative public space associated with aristocracy and the court. As Reinhart Koselleck has argued in his groundbreaking Kritik und Krise, in the eighteenth century, seemingly ‘private’ institutions such as the coffeehouse, the Masonic lodge, and the salon became the basis of bourgeois public life and the forerunners of middle-class public institutions. Meanwhile, in popular literary works of the era, ideals of domestic life and private virtue from England and France quickly gained currency and helped to define the self-image of the culturally and socially ambitious German Bürgertum. The Europe-wide cult of sensibility and the homegrown religious strains of Pietism also colluded to produce new ways of conceiving of the individual’s place in the family and society. Through an examination of literary and philosophical texts together with historiography, works of critical theory, and cultural documents, this course seeks to frame and implement new ways of thinking about the public/private distinction and the relationship between cultural norms and individual experience in the eighteenth century and beyond.

In line with the goals of the MLA-sponsored “Connected Academics/Reinvent the PhD” project, the course readings and discussions of the public/private distinction will also serve as a critical framework for an extended reflection on the role of the humanities in the public sphere in America and Europe today. In conversation with the instructor and with partners in local public-humanities institutions, students will identify and implement strategies for effective public communication in the humanities, aimed at a variety of audiences. This will allow students to reflect on their own long-term goals and (re)define what it means to be a humanities academic in the twenty-first century.


Course Goals and Requirements:

The course will help students identify and implement effective strategies for argumentation, analysis, and communication of complex ideas for a variety of audiences, both in academic and non-academic settings. Throughout the semester, students will perform a variety of scaffolded tasks that will help them develop communicative skills relevant to public-humanities work with an eighteenth-century focus. In addition to participating in regular class discussions, students will be asked to write several one-page response papers, an article summary, and a brief (2-3 page) analysis of a local institution (museum, theater, library, cultural mission, etc.) whose work engages the themes of the course. During the first half of the semester, students will also give a short presentation (Kurzeferat), focusing on one of the historical texts or topics listed on the syllabus. The last five weeks of the course will be dedicated to the final research project, which will culminate in the writing of an 8-10 page research paper. Students will present their research as part of a symposium, which will be held at the end of the semester and will be open to the public.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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