Inventing the Citizen: The History of Political Action and its Limits

Fall 2017
Winter 2018
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Bradley Proctor
U.S. history, African American history, American studies
2020 Krotscheck, Ulrike
classics, archaeology

How do people learn to think of themselves as political actors? How do they learn their rights as citizens, the ways in which their actions and voices matter in a democracy, as well as the limits of their impact on the state and society? Finally, how have citizens and non-citizens alike utilized, circumvented, and resisted existing social and political structures to become engaged agents of change in their communities and beyond?

This two-quarter program aims to use what we can learn from the past to inform current and future civic action. The first quarter will focus on history and political theory of ancient Greece and Rome and 18th-20th century America. In the second quarter, students will organize a community event that focuses on civic engagement. There will be an associated spring quarter program, Applied Citizenship, in which students will be asked to translate theory into practice through internships and individual research projects.

We will examine how citizenship has been created, defined, and acted out in everyday life using examples from ancient Greece and Rome, as well as 18th– 20th century U.S. history. First, we will gain a basic understanding of the relevant historical contexts, and learn how to interpret primary sources with scholarly rigor. Next, selected historical sources will illustrate both creative and destructive examples of civic action and engagement. We will learn how citizens, non-citizens, and semi-citizens were legally distinguished in Athens, Sparta, Rome, and the United States. We will compare the ways in which the citizens of classical Athens and citizens in early America envisioned the ideal democratic community.

Next, we will explore the ways in which states from ancient Greece and Rome to the contemporary U.S.A. have worked both to instill a sense of civic responsibility and to limit the potential for individual and collective political action. We will also learn how arguments about the history of democracy shaped who belonged and who was excluded as notions about U.S. citizenship changed. Furthermore, we will discover how marginalized groups, such as women, enslaved people, immigrants and itinerants, fought to find a place for themselves in these political frameworks. Students will be expected to lead seminars, work individually and in small peer groups on projects, and write weekly essays.

Finally, the class will organize a community outreach event that focuses on civic engagement. Ultimately the program seeks to help students to shape a new understanding of themselves as actors in local, national, and global politics.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

history, politics, and law.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.

$150 in fall for entrance fees.

Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Advertised schedule:

First class meeting: Monday, September 25 at 10am (Sem II A3105)

Located in: Olympia

2018-02-16Winter fee cancelled.
2017-12-18This program will not accept new enrollment winter quarter.
2017-06-30This is now a fall-winter program. Description has been updated.
2017-04-25Fee increased (from $50 to $150 per quarter).