1999-2000 History of Ideas

1999-2000 Bulletin Entry for:

History of Ideas

(file last updated: [7/6/1999 - 13:11:16])


Santayana put it well: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." To understand the significance of our beliefs and commitments--even to understand the significance of the questions and problems that beset us--we need to trace their sources and their history. Because ideas are expressed in social and political institutions as well as in philosophical, scientific, religious, and literary works, the program in the History of Ideas (HOID) is distinguished by its multidisciplinary approach. Since political structures and institutions are themselves articulated in vigorous intellectual debates, we need to understand the ideas that have formed and that continue to form them. HOID proposes to provide students with the historical background of the issues and values that have shaped their interests. It is intended to provide students with the skills and the knowledge, the guidance and the freedom to construct a focused and rigorous course of study, one that explores the historical transformation of a set of ideas and institutions across several traditional disciplines.

Students who successfully fulfill the requirements of the program will receive a certificate in the History of Ideas; their participation will be listed in their University transcripts.

How to Become a Program Member

Students may apply to the program in the History of Ideas any time before the end of their junior year. They are strongly encouraged to consult with the advisor in their primary concentration as well as with the director of the Program.


Tzvi Abusch

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

Pamela Allara

(Fine Arts)

Joyce Antler

(American Studies)

Bernadette Brooten

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

John Burt

(English and American Literature)

Jacob Cohen

(American Studies)

Stephen Dowden

(Germanic and Slavic Languages)

Gordon Fellman


William Flesch

(English and American Literature)

Richard Gaskins

(Legal and American Studies)

Stephen Gendzier

(Romance and Comparative Literature)

Eugene Goodheart


Robert Greenberg


Mark Hulliung


Patricia Johnston

(Classical Studies)

Jessie Ann Owens


Laura Quinney

(English and American Literature)

Michael Randall

(Romance and Comparative Literature)

Shulamit Reinharz

(Sociology and Women's Studies)

George Ross

(Politics and Sociology)

Benson Saler


Silvan Schweber



Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, Chair and Undergraduate Advising Head

History of Ideas.

Requirements for the Program

Students will work with the HOID advisor to form a plan of study that draws upon and develops their particular interests. Such a program might trace the history of a particular theme, problem, or tradition (e.g. Platonism: or the idea of revolution in politics, science, or the arts) or it might trace the mutual influence of distinctive approaches to a subject.

A. Students must have taken at least one course in each of the following areas:

1. Literature and the arts.

2. History, Near Eastern and Judaic studies, and philosophy.

3. Social sciences.

B. Students must take at least five courses whose substantive theme falls within the history of ideas, as determined by the HOID advisor. These courses must meet the following distribution requirements:

1. At least two courses within the field of concentration.

2. One course in a related field.

3. HOID 127a (Seminar in the History of Ideas: Case Studies).

Students are strongly encouraged to construct individual curricular programs and to include areas of study that are not presently listed (e.g., biology, chemistry, environmental studies, mathematics, physics). Since courses and faculty interests vary from year to year, the list of courses recommended for the program will change annually.

Members in the program are invited to participate in the History of Ideas Student Forum. The Forum provides the opportunity to present a problem or issue for discussion. Working individually or in groups, students propose a discussion topic and a list of readings.

Students are encouraged, but not required, to present a senior thesis. They may register for HOID 98a or b (Independent Study) to prepare their thesis.

Courses of Instruction

HOID 98a Independent Study

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


HOID 98b Independent Study

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


(100-199) Courses for Both Undergraduate and Graduate Students

HOID 108b Greek and Roman Ethics: From Plato to the Stoics

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Devoted to tracing the major issues of early Western ethics: Is there a general conception of human nature and the human good? What is the relation between pleasure, virtue, and happiness? What are the conditions of responsible agency? What distinguishes voluntary from non-voluntary actions? What is the relationship between ethics and politics, between "local" and "universal" ethical norms? Usually offered in odd years.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 120a Immorality: Its Genealogy, Varieties, and Attractions

[ cl4 cl28 cl34 hum ]

We trace the history of negative ethics, tracking transformations in conceptions of immorality: prohibitions of pollution and impurity, sin, vice, evil, malevolence, waywardness, outrageousness, incivility, criminality, and psychological pathology. What are sources of immorality? What marks a state of character as vile or despicable? Who judges? Usually offered in odd years.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 127a Seminar in the History of Ideas: Case Studies

[ hum ]

Brandeis faculty present case studies of the role of history in forming the current agenda of their disciplines. Topics vary annually. Past topics have included conceptions of political and scientific revolutions; Federalism then and now; the sources and consequences of Darwinian theory; conceptions of historical progress; transformations in conceptions of class warfare; conceptions of "good society." Usually offered every year.

Ms. Rorty

HOID 130b Varieties of Liberty, Freedom and Choice

[ cl4 cl20 cl29 cl44 hum ss ]

Conceptions of public, political liberty affect ideas of individual "free will" and vice versa. We trace the history of the mutual influence of arguments for political/social liberty and those for the "inner freedom" of individual conscience. Readings range from Sophocles and Thucydides to Isaiah Berlin and include selections from Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Rousseau, Kant, Jefferson, Constitutional Amendments, Mill, Dostoyevsky, Rawls. Usually offered in even years.

Ms. Rorty

Elective Courses

The following is a partial list of approved program courses. Other courses may be elected with the approval of the Program advisor. The courses approved for the program are not all given in any one year and students are advised to consult the Course Schedule for each semester.

ANTH 80a

World Religions

CLAS 115b

Topics in Greek and Roman History

CLAS 170a

Classical Mythology

COML 152a

The Rise and Fall of Humanism

ECON 32b

Comparative Economic Systems

ECON 74b

Law and Economics

ENG 125a

Romanticism I: Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge

ENG 125b

Romanticism II: Byron, Shelley, and Keats

ENG 166a

A Selection of Major American Poets

ENG 166b

Whitman, Dickinson, and Melville

ENG 171a

History of Literary Criticism

ENG 174b

Eighteenth-Century Novel

FA 41a

Art and the Origins of Europe

FA 54b

Renaissance Art in Northern Europe

FREN 122b

The Renaissance

FREN 132b

The French Enlightenment

HIP 30b

The Persistence of Tradition: As Introduction to Japanese Poetry, Drama, Fiction, and Film

HIST 24a

An Intellectual History of Modern Europe and America

HIST 80b

East Asia in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

HIST 131a

The Scientific Revolution

HIST 132a

European Thought and Culture: Marlowe to Mill

HIST 132b

European Thought and Culture since Darwin

HIST 136a

Doctors and Patients since 1789

HIST 181a

Seminar on Traditional Chinese Thought

MUS 2a

The Western Tradition as Seen through Chamber Music

MUS 57a

Music and Culture: From Romanticism to the Modern Era

NEJS 132b

Ethics and the Jewish Political Tradition

NEJS 155b

Judaism and the Religious Quest

NEJS 177b

Responses to Catastrophe in Hebrew Literature

PHIL 122a

Classical Political Theory

PHIL 161a


PHIL 162b


PHIL 176b


POL 10a

Introduction to Political Theory

POL 183b

Community and Alienation: Social Theory from Hegel to Freud

POL 184a

Utopia and Power in Modern Political Thought

POL 185b

Politics of the Enlightenment

POL 188a

Advanced Topics in Social Theory and Intellectual History

RECS 130a

Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature

RUS 148a

A Survey of Russian Theater from 1719-1917

RUS 148b

A Survey of Twentieth-Century Russian Theater: Chekhov to the Present

SOC 2a

Introduction to Sociological Theory

SOC 136b

Historical and Comparative Sociology

SOC 141a

Marx and Freud

SPAN 110a

Introduction to Peninsular Spanish Literature

SPAN 170a

Topics in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Spanish Literature

THA 100a

Theater Texts and Theory I

THA 100b

Theater Texts and Theory II