CITY AS TEXT
This course aims to develop observation and interpretation methods. The semester will consist of an immersion into the nature and meaning of existence in a large urban area, specifically, Greater Miami. It starts with the view that the nature of existence in the city is not given or fixed, but rather is a “text.” That is, the human beings who inhabit the city and its environs have imprinted their own interpretations of meaning onto the cultural and geographic landscape. As a text, Greater Miami is open to interpretation, like other texts. The purpose of this class is to discover or re-discover aspects of the Greater Miami text, and to share them with the class. The main approach to interpreting Great Miami as text will be active learning: that is, we will be moving around the city, and reporting back to the class, as a primary technique.
REACTING TO THE PAST
Most history courses teach what happened. Historians deduce the factors—usually economic, sociological, political, and technological—that caused some consequence and the outcome is sometimes viewed from the perfection of hindsight as an inevitable process. Often missing from scholarly studies is the importance of individual actions and decisions. This course presumes that individuals play a significant role in history; it asserts that broader economic and social forces place constraints on what individuals may do, but that those forces do not determine human events. People do.
“Reacting” seeks to replicate the historical context of a particular past, with all its causal forces: economic, sociological, political, and otherwise. But it also provides students with the opportunity to explore counterfactual issues of individual agency: Would a different constellation of leaders in ancient Athens have effectively resisted the rise of Athenian democracy? Would a different set of arguments have prevented the execution of King Louis XVI in revolutionary France? Throughout the course, the vital significance of individual intervention is made apparent and all participants should be prepared to make significant contributions to the causes to which they are attached. This is not a course for the faint-hearted. Application, vigor, intellectual curiosity and flexibility are all vital attributes for those concerned.