History 490P (201) Seminar for History Majors: Histories of Democracy


Ian Beacock



Course Level





This seminar investigates major topics and debates in the history of modern democracy (c. 1750–present) with an emphasis on Europe and North America. What makes democratic life possible? Why does it fail? What does it mean for the people to rule? Who is included and who is excluded? Where did our own democratic ideas and institutions come from? Reading primary sources as well as pathbreaking new scholarship, we will work together to better understand the nature of democracy from the French and American Revolutions to the present. We will consider intellectual foundations (equality, common sense, popular sovereignty, etc.) as well as more specific topics including elections and voting, the rise of constitutions, citizenship, the force of activism and protest, and more. And we will see that historians have brought a stunning range of methodologies to bear on the democratic past, from intellectual history and political theory to social history, political and cultural history, histories of gender and sexuality, transnational history, and the history of emotions. Guided by these readings and class discussions, students will produce 15-20pp. research papers on topics in the history of democracy since 1750. Geographical focus is open. Together, we’ll read and generate new research on the ideas, institutions, practices, and feelings that stitch together our modern democratic lives.