Some thoughts on the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen

In no particular order

  • Context/Author: most people mentioned either the Declaration of Independence (and sometimes the English Bill of Rights) or the Enlightenment (Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu), but almost nobody mentioned both. Similarly, many of you mentioned Lafayette’s American sojourn but ignored the fact that he was an educated Frenchman to begin with, well-versed in philosophe writings.
  • Responses: The United States did, generally, welcome the Declaration, but it also reacted very badly to the radical turn of the Revolution, eventually passing the Alien and Sedition acts to criminalize revolutionary positions and restrict French immigration. The Haiti slave revolts were very worrying to the plantation states as well. But buying the Louisiana Territory when Napoleon needed cash to try to put down the Haitian revolt was a good deal.
  • Historical Use: Similarly, very few people noted that the Declaration was only operative for a few years, though the principles it establishes do influence later French governments. The effect of the Declaration was both minimal in the short term and extraordinary in the long term. History’s a funny thing, sometimes.
  • I’m still writing “weak paraphrase” on too many papers. Summarizing or condensing primary sources is a challenge sometimes: the temptation to quote extensively is strong. If you’re not using exact quotes with quotation marks, though, what you write needs to be your words, not a slightly modified version of the words you read.

Don’t forget: the document assignment for Japan’s Meiji Constitution is due Monday the 28th.

Hope you’re having a fun and productive break!

Extra Credit Opportunity: Democracy and Revolution in the Middle East

The Department of History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences and theĀ  The International Studies Program Proudly Present “Democracy and Revolution in the Middle East,” a Faculty Roundtable Discussion. Thursday, March 10, 3:00-4:30 p.m. Governors Room, Overman Student Center, PSU. Faculty, students, and community welcome. Discussion open to floor

The faculty panelists will be:

  • Steve Harmon (History), Egypt, Algeria if applicable
  • Paul Zagorski (Political Science), Libya, Tunisia
  • Kahmis Siam (Chemistry), Palestine, Syria
  • Maj. George Johnson (Military Science, History), Emirates, Saudi if applicable

As usual, extra credit requires writing a 1-2 page summary and reaction paper.

Some thoughts on Document Assignments

In no particular order:

  • Be careful about using the language of historical documents.
    • Careful paraphrasing makes it clear that you understand the material in a way that shallow paraphrasing does not.
    • Be careful not to copy the bad habits, slurs and errors of your sources: e.g. “papist”
  • The textbook is an excellent source of historical context, both prior background and responses. You shouldn’t be guessing until you’ve at least examined what the book has to say.
    • However, you also need to show me that you’ve read the document, not just the textbook, by engaging it in some detail.
  • Two points on writing and structure:
    • As I said before, the questions in the assignment sheet are guidance, and if they’re not relevant or you don’t understand them, don’t try to answer them.
    • Take a minute or two after writing to think about whether you’ve got the material in the right sections. Don’t shift things around to make the sections look balanced: put the relevant material where I am supposed to find it.

Finally, I’m only getting document assignments from about half of you. Why? It’s not really that hard of an assignment: read something, summarize it, read the textbook to see where it fits in the history, and think about it a little. I’m not saying that doing it well is easy, but at least do it: these documents will show up on tests, and will also be required for the final exam take-home essays. If you’ve been reading them all along, you’ll have a much better sense of what it all means at the end.