Jocasta: What is its nature? What so hard on exiles?
Polyneices: One thing is worst, a man cannot speak out.
Jocasta: But this is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.
Polyneices: One must endure the unwisdom of one’s masters.
-EURIPIDES, The Phoenician Women
Confrontations between the powerless and the powerful are laden with deception – the powerless feign deference and the powerful subtly assert their mastery. Peasants, serfs, untouchables, slaves, laborers, prisoners, and even teenagers are not always free to speak their minds in the presence of power. These subordinate groups instead create a secret discourse that represents a critique of power spoken behind the backs of the dominant.
At the same time, the powerful also develop a private dialogue about the practices and goals of their rule that cannot be openly avowed. In this class, students will explore the discussion both of the public roles played by the powerful and powerless and the mocking, vengeful tone they display off stage – their public and hidden transcripts.
Using examples from literature, history, and politics of cultures around the world, this class will examine the many guises this interaction has taken throughout history and the tensions and contradictions it reflects. We will analyze the ideological resistance of subordinate groups – their gossip, folktales, songs, jokes (including memes), and theater – their use of anonymity and ambiguity. We will also analyze how ruling elites attempt to convey an impression of hegemony through such devices as parades, state ceremonies, media, and rituals of subordination and apology. Finally, students will learn to identify – with quotations that range from the recollections of American slaves to those of Russian citizens during the beginnings of Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign – the political electricity generated among oppressed groups when, for the first time, the hidden transcript is spoken directly and publicly in the face of power.
OUR APPROACH TO TEACHING
Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn social sciences best by doing what professional social scientists do.
(Read more about our approach to teaching.)
This course is designed to increase effective observation and critical thinking skills and to encourage learner interaction. We encourage rigorous (but not ad hominem) discourse, questioning textbooks and teachers alike, and tirelessly trying to improve what we do. We believe in creating a truly welcoming space, where learners can come together with understanding, dignity, and compassion, and where diverse backgrounds and life experiences are embraced.
Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying social sciences involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.
The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.
1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.
1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 1 – 2 hours per week outside of class.
Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18