Spring 2023

Big Social Science

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-433


Jonathan M. Obert (Section 01)


What are the origins of human civilization? What causes political, economic or categorical inequality? What explains the rise of the West or the collapse of complex political orders? Where do states, empires, cultures, religions, organizations, and markets come from? How do technologies, catastrophes, geography, demography, and ideas shape social change? Taking its cues from the recent rebirth in scholarly interest in these issues, this research seminar will investigate the very biggest questions confronting empirical social science. It will introduce students to this literature and provide them with an opportunity to engage in debates across fields and disciplines. Class readings will be drawn from a range of important historical and contemporary works covering eclectic historical eras, geographic contexts, and topics. We will identify the assumptions informing accounts offered by different scholars and will interrogate how the framing of big questions entangle us in new and sometimes controversial ways of thinking about human biology, social structure and agency. Students will also reflect in an original research paper on how - and, indeed, whether - such big questions can be answered.

Requisite: One political science course. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Associate Professor Obert.

How to handle overenrollment: Political science majors given preferences.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: An emphasis on written work, readings, independent research.

POSC 433 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 1:00 PM - 3:45 PM WEBS 215

This is preliminary information about books for this course. Please contact your instructor or the Academic Coordinator for the department, before attempting to purchase these books.

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Bay Back Books Malcolm Gladwell Amherst Books TBD
Minds make societies : how cognition explains the world humans create Yale University Press Pascal Boyer Amherst Books TBD
Theories of social order : a reader (2nd edition) Stanford Social Sciences - 2nd edition Michael Hechter and Christine Horne. Amherst Books TBD
Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States Yale University Press James C. Scott Amherst Books TBD
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Harper Perennial Yuval Noah Harari Amherst Books TBD
The decline and rise of democracy : a global history from antiquity to today Princeton University Press David Stasavage Amherst Books TBD
Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies W.W. Norton Jared Diamond. Amherst Books TBD
War & Society Polity Miguel A. Centeno, Elaine Enriquez. Amherst Books TBD
The dawn of everything : a new history of human Picador David Graeber and David Wengrow. This book is not a required purchase, but a suggested one Amherst Books TBD
The Origins of Political Order Farrar, Straus and Giroux Francis Fukuyama This book is not a required purchase, but a suggested one Amherst Books TBD
The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History W. W. Norton 9780393925685 This book is not a required purchase, but a suggested one Amherst Books TBD
The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century Princeton University Press Walter Scheidel. This book is not a required purchase, but a suggested one Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023