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CHID 207 A: Introduction To Intellectual History

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
CHL 015
Nick Barr pic
Nicolaas P. Barr

Syllabus Description:

Introduction to Intellectual History: 

The Idea of Community in Western Thought



In Keywords, the critic Raymond Williams suggests that what is most notable about the term community is that “unlike all other terms of social organization (state, nation, society, etc.) it seems never to be used unfavourably, and never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term.” It is therefore unsurprising that community has figured prominently in Western thinking about our bonds to and relations with others, whether in political and social theory, religious thought, or the modern disciplines of sociology and psychology. However, the sense of proximity or closeness that often gives community its positive connotation also suggests a problematic dimension of the idea: in order to sustain itself, a community must define who is to be included in—and excluded from—its boundaries, definitions that are grounded in particular notions of reason, faith, tradition, or shared experience, among other possibilities.

This course will explore the idea of community through an historical and critical examination of the works of canonical figures in the Western intellectual tradition, as well as critical reflections from prominent theorists who have challenged this tradition from within. Rather than striving for comprehensiveness, we will focus on key turning points in the idea of community and the historical crises out of which they often arose. Throughout, we will consider how specific conceptions of truth have figured into attempts to define, construct, and contest community and its limits.

We will study not only the major contours of Western thought and its critique, but also develop the conceptual and methodological tools of the discipline of intellectual history. We will read closely and discuss primary texts and develop our interpretive and analytical skills through a variety of structured writing assignments. Lectures will provide historical and methodological frameworks through which these voices from the past can be engaged as partners in dialogue. Paradoxically, it is by situating these figures in their historical contexts that their concerns might be found to resonate with our own.


Nicolaas P. Barr Clingan                                                                   

Padelford B-101                                             

Office hours:   M/Th, 1:00-2:00, and by appointment                                 


Class meetings: M/W, 10:30-12:20, Chemistry Library Building 015


Required Texts:


Course Reader (available at RAMS Copy Center, 4144 University Ave NE)


Plato. Republic. Translated and introduced by C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004.


Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. Translated and edited by James Strachey. Introduction by Christopher Hitchens. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010.




Active Participation                                                                20%

Response Papers                                                                  30%

In-Class Peer Review Assignment for Midterm Paper          10%

Midterm Paper                                                                       15%

Final Paper                                                                             25%



  • Participation: class meetings are comprised of a mix lectures and discussions, as well as regular small-group activities. “Active participation” entails attentive and thoughtful engagement with the instructor and other members of the class during lectures, small group work, and larger discussions. In order to participate, you must bring the course reader and/or assigned book to all class meetings.
  • Response papers: beginning in week two, each week’s readings will be accompanied by a study question (or a choice of two questions, in some cases). These questions will be designed to help you develop your understanding of the readings prior to each class meeting (and adhere to the reading schedule).
    • Submission: Your responses will be submitted via Canvas by 7:00 PM the Tuesday evening prior to each Wednesday class for informal review by the instructor. You should also bring a digital or hard copy of your response to class, which will serve both as a discussion reference for your thoughts on the material and a space to annotate, correct, revise, and expand your interpretations. Following each lecture meeting, you will have until Sunday at 11:59 PM to edit your original submission in Canvas.
    • Purpose: studies have found that writing greatly improves comprehension and retention. Writing is therefore not a separate academic practice, but rather an integral part of the learning process. There are no exams for this course, so your portfolio of response papers will form a cumulative record of your engagement with the course material. Consistent engagement with the material and improvement over the course of the quarter will be rewarded.
    • Structure: the study question for each reading will ask you to synthesize your understanding of the reading in relation to the themes of the course. In order to do this successfully, you must provide one or two brief quotations from the text and analyze them, demonstrating how the text supports your interpretation.
    • Grading: Each paper will be graded according to the quality of the response and the level of intellectual reflection evident in the revision process:
      • 0 = incomplete.
      • 0-2.5 = off-topic or underdeveloped; insufficient textual evidence.
      • 2.5-3.5 = successfully responds to the question; provides and analyzes textual evidence.
      • 3.5-4.0 = responds to the question insightfully; provides close textual analysis that supports a clear interpretive claim or argument.
      • Unless otherwise excused, late response papers will be penalized by one point (on a 4.0 scale) for the first day and 0.3 points for each day thereafter.
      • Although it may be possible to write an excellent response paper without making substantial revisions, in most cases, you will need to revise your original submission in light of insights gained from the lectures and class discussions.
    • Midterm paper: you will describe a community of which you are a member in a substantially meaningful sense and analyze the ways in which the relations among members are structured. We will spend one full class meeting doing a peer review excercise. Participation is mandatory and will factor significantly into your grade. You will receive more information about this assignment in a few weeks.
    • Final paper: after receiving feedback about your midterm paper, you will build upon it using some of the figures, ideas, and texts from the course. This paper will ask you to sythesize and apply your learning to your personal experiences. Again, you will receive the details of the assignment later in the course.


Classroom Technology:

We are all responsible for maintaining a classroom environment that is conducive to learning. Please be on time and turn off cell phones and related electronics. You are responsible for checking your official UW email account on a daily basis; any communications sent to the class by the instructor regarding the course (such as changes to assignments or due dates) will be considered binding.


Writing Centers:

Students from either course designation (HIST or CHID) may access two dedicated writing centers:

The UW History Writing Center (Smith 210C; offers individual appointments with the writing center director, an experienced instructor in the History

Department. Advance appointments are recommended, and drop-in appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis. See:

The Pol S/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center (Gowan 111; 206-616-3354) is staffed by undergraduate and graduate peer tutors. Office hours are M-Th, 9:40-4:30 and F, 9:30-2:30. Appointments are recommended, and drop-in hours are 1:15-close every day. See:


Plagiarism and Academic Honesty:

Copying and pasting or paraphrasing language from the Internet or other sources and turning it in as your own is considered plagiarism. Students who plagiarize will receive no credit for the plagiarized assignment, there will be no opportunity to re-submit the assignment, and the plagiarism will be reported to the UW Academic Conduct Committee with supporting documentation. The consequences of appearing before this committee when there is a clear case of plagiarism are quite serious. For more information, refer to the UW official plagiarism policy:


Course Schedule (subject to change)

Note: Readings are to be prepared for the date on which they are listed.


9/30                 Week 1

Wednesday:    Course Overview; The Idea of Community

                        In class: Ross Douthat, “The Age of Individualism”

10/5-10/9         Week 2

Monday:          What is Intellectual History? Introduction to Plato

Read: Raymond Williams, “Community,” and Republic, ix-xiii, Books 1-3; skim Mark K. Smith, “Community”

Wednesday:    The Polis as Rational Community                              

Read: Republic, Books 4-5                                

10/12-10/16     Week 3

Monday:          Light and Shadow: Truth and the Grounding of Community

Read: Republic, Books 6-8

Wednesday:    Plato to St. Augustine: The Metaphysics of Christian Community

                                    Read: Republic, Books 9-10

10/19-10/23     Week 4

Monday:          The Reformations: Defining Communities of Faith

Read: St. Augustine, City of God (excerpts), and Martin Luther, “On Governmental Authority”

Wednesday:    The Enlightenment: Natural Law and the Body Politic

Read: Montesquieu, The Persian Letters (excerpt)

 10/26-10/30     Week 5

Monday:          Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Modern “Society”

                                    Read: Rousseau, “Discourse on Inequality”

Wednesday:    Rousseau’s Vision of Political Community

                                    Read: Rousseau, The Social Contract, Books I-II (excerpts)

                                    Due:    Midterm Paper Draft (submitted via Canvas by 11:59 PM)

 11/2-11/6         Week 6

Monday:          Peer Review Workshop

                                    Read: Rousseau, The Social Contract, Books III-IV (excerpts)

Wednesday:    Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft: Gender and Community

Read: Wollstonecraft, “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (excerpt)


11/9-11/11       Week 7

Monday:          G. W. F. Hegel: From Negative Freedom to Ethical-Political Community

Read: Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History (excerpts)

Due:    Midterm Paper (submitted via Canvas by 11:59 PM)

Wednesday:    Veterans Day


11/16-11/20     Week 8

Monday:          Karl Marx: Labor and the Making of Universal Humanity

Read: Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (excerpts)

Wednesday:    Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber: The Analysis of Communal Forms and Social Structures

Read: Tönnies, Community and Society (excerpts) and Weber, “Types of Solidary Social Relationships”


11/23-11/27     Week 9

Monday:          Sigmund Freud: The Limits of Rationality and the Demands of the “Soul”

Read: Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, pp. 21-88

In class: Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Madman”

Wednesday:    Freud: Psychic Life and the Demands of Culture

                                    Read: finish Civilization and its Discontents

11/30-12/4       Week 10

Monday:          The Frankfurt School: Dialectic of Enlightenment

Read: Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda”

Wednesday:    Frantz Fanon: Race and Recognition

                                    Read: Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (excerpt)     

12/7-12/11       Week 11

Monday:          Edward Said: Community, Identity, and Cosmopolitanism

Read: Said, Freud and the Non-European

Wednesday:    Conclusions


12/14               Due:    Final Paper (submitted via Can

Catalog Description: 
Ideas in historical context. Comparative and developmental analysis of Western conceptions of "community," from Plato to Freud. Offered: jointly with HSTCMP 207.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
April 28, 2016 - 9:11am