Friday, September 16, 2011

Annotation for fun and intellectual profit

We will be reading several very dense texts in this class.  In order to follow and fully comprehend these works it will be necessary for you to annotate the texts.

I will be expecting to see notes in the margins of everything we read this class, and the denser the text the more notes I expect to see.

Anyone, even a top-notch Harvard professor, who reads challenging material will make notes in the margins.  Making notes allows you to read actively, not passively.  It is like having a conversation, versus listening to someone talk at you.  It is much easier to understand a complicated issue, or a simple issue presented in complicated language when you read actively and engage in dialogue with the text.

Techniques you may want to employ include underlining or circling ideas or phrases which stand out or confuse you, and noting questions or sudden "ah-ha"moments in the margins. It also helps to number a series of related ideas.

Please follow the link to a PDF put together by Hunter College in New York City.  You may find the example of annotation most helpful.

Hunter College's Guide to Annotation

Monday, September 12, 2011

A pamphlet war in France pitting French opera against Italian opera

Pamphlet wars were waged on topics other than politics.  In the 1750s in Paris a great pamphlet war was waged contrasting the virtues of French opera against Italian opera.  It was called La Querelle des Bouffons or the "Quarrel of the Comedians".  Rousseau was engaged in this pamphlet war because his interests encompassed both music and politics. 

BBC link on the Quarrel of the Comedians

Harvard publishes a book on pamphlets of the American Revolution

Pamphlets of the American Revolution

An Englishman of the Enlightenment who influenced later thinkers

Having mentioned Rousseau I thought I'd also bring up Locke.  He was an English philospher of the Enlightenment who theorized about an ideal form of government.  He believed in the fundamental goodness of people, and was one of the first Enlightenment philosophers to build his ideas out on that platform.

His Second Treatise on Government heavily influenced the founding fathers of the U.S., English rebels such as Paine and thinkers of the French Enlightenment such as Rousseau.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jean-Jaques Rousseau and the call for a civil society

In class I may have mentioned how the first part of Common Sense, with its description of a theoretically utopian society of happy people living together in the woods, mirrors ideas set forth by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  A French enlightenment philosopher who was something of an emotional romantic as well, Rosseau believed in the inherent goodness of human beings and expounded this belief in several works which contributed to the revolutionary spirit of the era.  Emile: or, On Education is a book in which he sets forth his ideas on the perfect way to educate a child so that they do not loose their inherent goodness.

Interestingly these ideas are also at the core of progressive education. Rousseau would no doubt be a big fan of Crossroads. You are no way obligated to read up on Rousseau, but if you have some time and are curious, a little research into the Enlightenment and Rousseau would expand the context in which you understand Common Sense.

A useful timeline of the Revolutionary War

A revolutionary war timeline at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thomas Paine and the Pamphleteers

The advent of the printing press brought a technological explosion somewhat analogous to the what has happened with the internet in recent decades.  Suddenly the means of making one's opinions known to a wide audience became available to anyone who could get their hands on a printing press.  As a result there rose up a new literary format "the pamphlet".  Today we think of a pamphlet as something that advertises a resort or explains a medical condition.  But in the late 1700s pamphlets were printed by rogue intellectuals and fire-brands who were engaging in spirited political debate with one another.  These pamphlets were given away to the right people, or sold in book stores.  The most famous pamphlet in America is undoubtedly Thomas Paine's common sense, a pamphlet which was written by Paine to support the American revolutionary cause.