Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity
Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-121
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Trent E. Maxey (Section 01)
In post-Enlightenment Europe, intellectuals have frequently drawn on images of Asia and Asians to illustrate what it means to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. Why? Through close readings of key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), Adam Smith (1723-1790), Georg W. H. Hegel (1770-1831), Karl Marx (1818-1883), and Max Weber (1864-1920), this seminar will explore the epistemological and ideological function of cultural opposites, in this case the “East and the West.” The seminar will conclude with more recent Western constructs of East Asia, asking to what extent do currently prevalent images of Asia continue to reproduce the logic and substance of Hegel, Marx, and Weber? How might we learn to read against the grain of persistent images of an Asian other that sustains the identity of the modern West?
The seminar will focus on the related skills of close reading, engaged discussion, and critical writing. In addition to assigned readings, we will also look at visual resources, including a field trip to the Peabody Essex Museum to view the “Fish, Silk, Tea, Bamboo: Cultivating an Image of China” exhibition. We will also examine eighteenth and nineteenth-century travel narratives about Asia from the Amherst College Rare Books Collection, many of them important sources for the well-known intellectuals we focus on in this course.
Fall semester. Professor Maxey.
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