Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Syllabus Archive

The following syllabi come from a variety of different terms. They illustrate the evolution of this course over time, and are intended to provide alternate views into the instruction of this course.

Spring 2011, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2010, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2009, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2008, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2007, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2006, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2005, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Spring 2004, David Ciarlo (PDF)

Spring 2003, Jeffrey Ravel (PDF)

Subject Description

Has there ever been an “Age of Reason?” In the western tradition, one might make claims for various moments during Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. In this class, however, we will focus on the two centuries from the late 1600s to the early 1800s, a period when insights first developed in the natural sciences and mathematics were seized upon by social theorists, institutional reformers and political revolutionaries who sought to change themselves and the society in which they lived. Through the study of trials, art, literature, music, politics, philosophy, and culture more generally, we will consider evolution, revolution, and their opponents in these two centuries.

Subject Requirements

Active class participation is central to our work together. Attendance is mandatory, and students are expected to arrive in class on time and prepared to discuss common readings. Students will write three seven-page papers during the term. Half the class members will rewrite the first essay, and half will have an opportunity to rewrite either the first or the second essay. In addition, to satisfy the CI-H speaking requirement, we will conduct two in-class debates; each student will have a central speaking role in one of the debates. Instructions for the papers and debates will be distributed later in the term. There will be no midterm and no final. Each assignment will be weighted as follows in the calculation of the final grade, although these calculations will also take into account improved performance during the course of the semester:

Class Participation 20
Three 7-page essays 50 each (150 total)
Class Debates 30
Total 200

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects

Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.

Statement on Cheating and Plagiarism

The web now hosts many sites which offer college-level papers of varying quality on a variety of topics. I am well acquainted with these sites, and with others that offer detection services to professors. Buying a paper and submitting it as your own work is cheating. Copying sections from someone else’s print or online work into your own without an acknowledgement is plagiarism. MIT has strict policies against both activities that I will fully enforce. For the appropriate MIT definitions and policies, visit the following websites. If you are uncertain about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, please contact me before submitting the work in question.

MIT Online Writing Communication Center

Avoiding Plagiarism


1 Introduction  
2 Witchcraft and Magic  
3 Leonarde’s Ghost  
4 The Cartesian Insight  
5 Cartesianism in the Seventeenth Century First paper due
Writing Workshop
6 English Radicalism and The Trial of Charles I, 1647-1649  
7 1688 in England Rewrite of the first paper due

A Visit to the MFA

 A class visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Art
9 Newtonianism  
10 The First Debate First debate
11 State and Art in the Dutch Golden Age  
12 Spinozism and the Idea of a “Radical” Enlightenment  
13 Enlightenment France Second paper due
14 Voltaire Goes to England, and Persians Come to Paris  
15 Are Men Machines? Are Machines Alive?  
16 Encyclopédie I: The Structure of Knowledge  
17 Encyclopédie II: The Place of the Mechanical Arts Rewrite of second paper due
18 Jean-Jacques Rousseau vs. The French Enlightenment  
19 Second Debate Second debate
20 French Revolution I: The Ideals of 1789  
21 French Revolution II: The Lessons of 1793-1794  
22 The Political Backlash: Conservatism  
23 The Cultural Backlash: Romanticism  
24 What is Enlightenment? (1784 & 1984)  
25 Conclusion Third paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2011