Rome: Origin Dem Imperialism&human Rights

HUM4612 Rome: Origins of Democracy, Imperialism and Human Rights

4 Advanced Liberal Arts Credits

At a moment when democracy is contested around the globe, why not return to the source?

This course invites students to revisit the origins of democracy through interdisciplinary study-philosophy, political theory, history, literature-in Rome, one of the places where it all started (at least for the western world). Significantly, this city/state was also one of the first empires, meaning that the Romans explored, conquered or colonized, and ruled and exploited other geographic territories. This course studies the original principles, processes, and representations of democracy from 1st century Rome, while also considering its role as an empire and linking both to human rights in their modern form.

If democracy aspires to equality and freedom, imperialism is its foil, a centuries-long program of conquest, racial and cultural superiority, and ongoing economic exploitation. Some might argue that the tension between them is precisely responsible for current global social, political, and economic challenges. Paradoxically-or not?-the two are deeply intertwined, and both inform the language and practice of contemporary human rights (for the better and for the worse, alas). Examining their earliest aspirations and most significant historical failures where they actually happened will help us to address the current problem of migration and asylum seeking in Europe as a limit to the "human" envisioned by human rights.

Consider this: We'll climb the Palatine Hill, site of the founding of Rome, while reading Virgil's account of that event in The Aeneid; study Shakespeare's Julius Caesar while visiting the Curia of Pompey, site of the Roman Senate (and, so they say, of Caesar's death); and experience the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica while learning about how the Catholic Church fueled the Roman Empire-and vice versa. We will visit ancient ruins and markers of cultures meditating on what they meant to those who made them, and to us, now, and we will relax along the banks of the Tiber listening to music in the evenings.

All along, we will address the profound questions of power, ideology, law, freedom, obligation, hospitality, cultural contact, and human rights that arise with our journeying. Perhaps most significantly, we will visit sites devoted to the lives and futures of migrants and refugees in Rome, one of Europe's key points of entry, as well as meeting members of non-governmental organizations working on human rights issues stemming from migration and other crises.

While experiencing the city and understanding its shifting identity as historical/tourist site and migration center, we will negotiate its spaces as ones where we can most powerfully witness and test ideas of democracy and rights for ourselves.

Prerequisites: Any combination of 2 ILA (HSS, LTA, CSP, LVA, CVA)

  • Program: Undergraduate
  • Division: Arts and Humanities
  • Level: Advanced Liberal Arts 4600 Requirement (UGrad),Advanced Elective (UGrad),Advanced Liberal Arts (UGrad)
  • Course Number: HUM4612
  • Number of Credits: 4