The Myths of Western Civilization: Decolonizing and Queering European History

This is part of our special feature, Imagining, Thinking, and Teaching Europe.

 

Spanning from antiquity, this course deconstructs the concept and history of “Western Civilization.” Through the study of primary and secondary sources, students will consider how history can be written to include oppressed and marginalized voices while still attempting to understand the broad scope of European history and its legacy. While significant modification was made to accommodate for the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular an assignment to research, script, and record a podcast, the syllabus describes how the course was originally envisioned.

 

Texas State University Diversity and inclusion statement

The Department of History and the University share the belief in the necessity of “a diversity of people and ideas, a spirit of inclusiveness, a global perspective, and a sense of community as essential conditions for campus life.” As historians, we are acutely aware of the diversity of historical narratives. As teachers, we are dedicated to introducing our Texas State students to the variety of cultures and peoples that co-exist in our world. We are committed to the freedom of expression. We condemn bigoted speech, which threatens public safety, restricts academic freedom, and tacitly justifies hate. We believe that a fuller understanding of our diverse pasts is essential to understanding our shared history and our common present. Texas State University rejects “all manifestations of discrimination, including those based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or political beliefs.”

 

How will students be evaluated?

There will be no exams/tests. Students will be evaluated on writing, participation, leading a discussion, and a final project.

 

Students will be responsible for:

  1. Reading course materials and actively participating in class discussions (30%)
  2. Working with a group to assign short primary sources for the class to read that corresponds to your area of interest and leading a discussion of those texts. Texts should challenge or supplement standard historical texts. (10%)
  3. Use one or two primary sources on a topic of your choice related to this course, and write a short essay describing how it can be used to challenge a standard historical narrative found in your textbook. Attach your primary source with your 1000-1200-word analysis.
    • Due 16 February 2020. (15%)
  4. The group with which you presented will write 500-words describing and critically analyzing how your chosen period has been written about in your textbooks, and this will be edited and used for an article that will be published by the Council for European Studies at Columbia University’s journal, EuropeNow. Students will be expected to submit and revise.
    • Due 15 March 2020. (15%)
  5. Scripting and recording a podcast/video related to a topic relating to this course (as a group or individual). Topic must be approved, and transcript must be submitted with audio or video file. An individual’s video must be at least 5 minutes long. A group video should be between 7-12 minutes long, depending upon the number of people in the group. Your transcript should include citations of primary sources and images. Images should be attributed, and available for publication (creative commons or copyright free).
    • Due during final exam time. (30%)

Students will be given feedback on their participation and written work over the course of the semester. At the end of the semester, students will write a 500-word reflection on the semester and the work they’ve doing, proposing the grade they feel they deserve based upon the work they’ve done.

 

What do you need for the class?

Short History of Western Ideology, by Rolf Petri (Bloomsbury Academic)
ISBN: 1350026107

Additionally, students should find the cheapest possible used edition of a “Western Civilization” textbook (year of publication does not matter.) Most importantly, when finding this text, you should look for a “combined” edition, which includes ancient history to modern history. Some popular textbooks include:

  • A History of Europe: From Prehistory to the 21st Century, Jeremy Black
  • A History of Western Civilization, Roland Stromberg
  • A History of Western Society, John P. McKay
  • A Short History of Europe: From Pericles to Putin, Simon Jenkins
  • A Short History of Western Civilization, John B. Harrison and Richard E. Sullivan
  • Civilization in the Western World, J. Russell Scranton, et. al.
  • Cultures of the West: A History, Clifford R. Backman
  • Europe: A History, Norman Davies
  • Making of the West: A Concise History, Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, et al.
  • The Rise and Development of Western Civilization, John L. Stipp
  • The West: A Narrative History, A. Daniel Frankforter and William M. Spellman
  • The West: A New History, David A. Bell, Anthony Grafton
  • Understanding Western Society: A Brief History, John P. McKay, et al.
  • Western Civilization, Edward McNall Burns
  • Western Civilization, Jackson J. Spielvogel
  • Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society, Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, et al.
  • Western Civilization: Its Genesis and Destiny, Norman Cantor
  • Western Civilization: The Struggle for Empire to Europe in the Modern World. Paleolithic Man to the Emergence of European Powers, William Leonard Langer
  • Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture, Joshua Cole and Carol Symes
  • Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture, Edward McNall Burns

 

Content warning

Much of European history is and should be disturbing. It often involves violence, queerphobia, racism, classism, sexism, and xenophobia. While these are sensitive issues, this class assumes they should have a spotlight shown on them through critical discussion.

 

 

Week 1: The Mediterranean world and the myth of “Europe”

Day 1

 

  • Norman Davies, “The Legend of Europa” in Europe: A History

 

In-class primary sources:

  • Fox Business News, “Stanford student: ‘All Hell Broke Loose’ over Western Civilization Courses,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsZQ48ApPRo
  • Moschus, “Europa” (c. 150)
  • Titiano, “The Rape of Europa” (c. 1560)

 

Week 2: Orientalism: what is Western civilization? I

Day 2
  • Rolf Petry, “Introduction” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account
  • Natalie Wynn, Contrapoints, “The West,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyaftqCORT4
  • Edward Said, Selections from Orientalism (1978)

 

Primary Sources

 

Day 3
  • Rolf Petry, “Europe and History” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account
  • Gilbert Allardyce, “The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization Course” (1982)
  • Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Western Civilization Panel: Why Teach the West,” http://youtube.com/watch?v=aJBJNSWyxAY (6:30-20:30 minutes)

 

Primary sources

  • James Harvey Robinson, “Preface,” in An Introduction to the History of Western Europe (1902)
  • James Harvey Robinson, “Chapter 1, The Historical Point of View,” in An Introduction to the History of Western Europe (1902)
  • James Harvey Robinson, “Chapter 2, Western Europe Before the Barbarian Invasions” in An Introduction to the History of Western Europe (1902)
  • “The New Freshman Courses at Columbia” (July 1919)

 

 

Week 3: Orientalism: what is Western civilization? II

Day 4
  • Amin Ghaziani and Matt Brim, “Queer Methods: Four Provocations for an Emerging Field” in Imagining Queer Methods
  • Leila J. Rupp, “In Ancient Worlds (3500 BCE–800 CE)” in Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women

 

Primary sources

  • Sappho, Sources 1-9, in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation
  • Selections from Letters Attributed to Women Followers of Pythagoras (Sources 242-256) in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation
  • Selections from Letters Attributed to Women Followers of Pythagoras (Sources 267-274) in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation

 

Day 5
  • John Boswell, “‘A Friend Inspired by God’: Same-Sex Unions in the Greco-Roman World”, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
  • Sarah Waters, “‘The Most Famous Fairy in History”: Antinous and Homosexual Fantasy”

Primary sources

  • Plutarch, Love Stories
  • Plato, Charmides


One of these texts of your choice:

  • “Narcissus” in Lovers’ Legends: The Gay Greek Myths
  • “Achilles and Patroclus” in Lovers’ Legends: The Gay Greek Myths
  • “Zeus and Ganymede” in Lovers’ Legends: The Gay Greek Myths

 

Week 4: Antiquity, #MeToo, and Rome

 

Day 6
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on Ancient Greece.
  • Dana Goldstein, “Two States, Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories: American history textbooks can differ across the country, in ways that are shaded by partisan politics,” https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/01/12/us/texas-vs-california-history-textbooks.html
  • Donna Zuckerberg, “Arms and the Manosphere,” in Not All Dead White Men Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age

 

Day 7
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on Ancient Rome.
  • Donna Zuckerberg, “How to Save Western Civilization,” in Not All Dead White Men Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age
  • GROUP ONE will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to Ancient Greece or Rome. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

 

DUE: Sunday, 16 February 2020

Use one or two primary sources on a topic of your choice to demonstrate how it can be used to challenge a standard historical narrative found in a Western Civilization textbook. Attach your primary source with your 1000-1200-word analysis.

 

Week 5: Rationalizing the crusades

 

Day 8
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on Medieval Europe.
  • David Perry, “Introduction,” in Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, edited by Nicholas Paul, et. al.
  • Stephennie Mulder, “No, People in the Middle East Haven’t Been Fighting Since the Beginning of Time,” in Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, edited by Nicholas Paul, et. al.
  • Nicholas L. Paul, “Modern Intolerance and the Medieval Crusades,” in Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, edited by Nicholas L. Paul, et. al.

 

Day 9
  • Cord Whitaker, “Race-ing the dragon: the Middle Ages, race and trippin’ into the future”
  • GROUP TWO will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the Middle Ages. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

 

Week 6: Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and the Reconquest

 

Day 10
  • John Dagenais and Margaret R. Greer, “Decolonizing the Middle Ages: Introduction”
  • Samantha Katz Seala and Nicole Nolan Sidhu, “Feminist Intersectionality: Centering the Margins in 21st-Century Medieval Studies”
  • Mark Ormrod, “How Do We Find Out About Immigrants in Later Medieval England,” in Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, edited by Nicholas Paul, et. al.
  • Geraldine Heng, “Medievalists and the Education of Desire,” in Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, edited by Nicholas Paul, et. al.

 

Luncheon seminar with Dr. Geraldine Heng

 

  • Geraldine Heng, “Color Epidermal Race, Fantasmatic Race: Blackness and Africa in the Racial Sensorium” in The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages

 

Day 11
  • Joan Cadden, “Introduction: The Natural Philosophy of Sodomites and Their Kind” in Nothing Natural is Shameful: Sodomy and Science in Late Medieval Europe
  • GROUP THREE will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the Middle Ages. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

 

Week 7: European colonialism and the invention of human rights

 

Day 12
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on the early Spanish colonization.
  • Rolf Petri, “Civilize or make disappear” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account

 

Choose at ONE of the pairing of sources to read in advance:

  • Anonymous, “The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain” (1495)
  • Francisco Núñez Muley, “A Morisco Plea” (1567)

 

  • Ferdinand and Isabel, “Decree of Expulsion of the Jews” (1492)
  • Phillip III, “Decree of Expulsion of the Moriscos” (1609)

 

Day 13
  • Matthew Restall, “Invisible Warriors: The Myth of the White Conquistador” in Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest
  • Federico Garza Carvajal, “A Brief History of Early Modern Spain on Sodomie,” in Butterflies will Burn: Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico

 

  • GROUP FOUR will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the Spanish conquest of the Americas and excerpts from The Lieutenant Nun (Catalina de Erauso). Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class

 

Week 8: The Transatlantic slave trade

 

Day 14
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on the transatlantic slave trade.
  • Robert Sussman, “Early Racism in Western Europe,” in The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea

 

Day 15
  • Sergio Tognetti, “The Trade in Black African Slaves in Fifteenth-century Florence” in Black Africans in Renaissance Europe
  • John K. Brackett, “Race and Rulership: Alessandro de’ Medici, first Medici Duke of Florence, 1529-1537 in Black Africans in Renaissance Europe
  • GROUP FIVE will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the Renaissance. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

 

DUE:

Your group will write 500 words describing and critically analyzing how your period has been written about in your textbooks, and this will be edited and used for an article that will be published by the Council for European Studies at Columbia University’s journal, EuropeNow. Students will be expected to revise their paragraphs as part of the assignment.

 

Week 9: Inventing human rights: From France to Haiti

 

Day 16
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on both the Enlightenment and French Revolution.
  • Rolf Petri, “Freedom and Sovereignty” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account

 

Primary Sources

  • “Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen” (August 1789)

 

Day 17
  • Annette F. Timm and Joshua A. Sanborn, “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” in Gender, Sex and the Shaping of Modern Europe: A History from the French Revolution to the Present Day
  • Rolf Petri, “Hierarchy among equals” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account

 

  • GROUP SIX will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the French Revolution or the Enlightenment. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

Week 10: The industrial revolution, empire, and slavery I

 

Day 18
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on The Industrial Revolution.
  • Eric Williams, selections from Capitalism and Slavery
  • Rebecca J. Scott, “Insurrection and Slavery,” in Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899

 

Primary sources

  • Letters between Marx and Lincoln in An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln

 

Day 19
  • Ron Ramdin, “Post-Emancipation Developments: Indentureship and the Rise of Pan Africanism” in The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain
  • GROUP SEVEN will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the trans-Atlantic slavery or the Industrial Revolution. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

 

Week 11: The industrial revolution, empire, and slavery II

 

Day 20
  • Thomas Abercrombie, “Introduction,” “Confession: Self-Fashioning and the Involuntary Autobiography, “Appendix A” and “Appendix B,” in Passing to América: Antonio (Née Maria) Yta’s Transgressive, Transatlantic Life in the Twilight of the Spanish Empire
  • Students are to locate a history podcast and come prepared to critically discuss that podcast. Students will discuss what would they do different and dow would they adapt Abercrombie’s history to a podcast format.
Day 21
  • Riley Snorton, “Anatomically Speaking: Ungendered Flesh and the Science of Sex” in Black on both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity
  • GROUP EIGHT will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to the trans-Atlantic slavery or the Industrial Revolution. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

Week 12: The Great War

 

Day 22
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on World War I.
  • Stephen Bourne, “Ralph and Monty: The Man I love” in Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars
  • Meyer, “Introduction” in Men of War: Masculinity and the First World War in Britain
  • Film clip in class, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

 

Day 23
  • Andrew Wackerfuss, “Shattered Sons” in Stormtrooper Families: Homosexuality and Community in the Early Nazi Movement
  • GROUP NINE will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to either the First World War, “The Rape of Belgium,” or Weimar Germany. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

Week 13, The Holocaust and its memory

 

Day 24
  • Students are to locate and read a chapter of a Western Civilization textbook on Interwar Europe and World War II.
  • Andrew Wackerfuss, “Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis”

 

Day 25
  • Stefan Micheler, “Homophobic Propaganda and the Denunciation of Same-Sex-Desiring Men under National Socialism” in Sexuality and German Fascism, edited by Dagmar Herzog
  • GROUP TEN will locate short primary sources for in-class analysis and discussion related to Nazi Germany. Students will lead discussion using primary sources they have identified that challenge narratives discussed in previous class.

Week 14: Decolonization and multicultural Europe

 

Day 26
  • Rolf Petri, “A craving for goodness” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account
  • Jan C. Jansen and Jürgen Osterhammel, “Decolonization as Moment and Process” in Decolonization: A Short History

 

Primary sources

  • Frantz Fanon, selections from “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952)
  • Frantz Fanon, selections from “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961)

 

Day 27
  • Rita Chin, “The Birth of Multicultural Europe” in The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History
  • Wim Peumans, “Belgium: the heart of a Europe in crisis” in Queer Muslims in Europe Sexuality, Religion and Migration in Belgium
  • Rolf Petri, “Ecology and Apocalypse” in A Short History of Western Ideology: A Critical Account

 

Week 15: Europe of the future?

 

Day 28
  • Elizabeth Fekete, “White Grievance and the Cult of Exit” in Europe’s Fault Lines
  • Alexandra Minna Stern, “The New and Old of White Nationalism” in Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination

 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020, 8-10:30 AM

Students will present podcasts and progress, playing a small clip.

 

Photo: San Marcos, Texas – May 19 2020: Texas State University banner and Old Main building | Shutterstock
Published on June 2, 2020.

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