Is Our Conservative Bloviators Learning?

by Henry Farrell on September 16, 2006

Joseph Lindsley on the “Weekly Standard’s website”: .

AS THE NEW ACADEMIC YEAR BEGINS, parents will give, as they always do, lectures about studying hard and attending class. But nonetheless many collegians will devote time to chugging pints, throwing darts, and doing just about anything that doesn’t involve cracking the books. This seems a gross waste of resources, but, considering the often ridiculous content of those neglected textbooks and ignored lectures, some of these prodigal students just might be better off.

…[various denunciations of various courses] …

Swarthmoreans have to wait until next year to feast on “The Whole Enchilada: Debates in World History,” but right now they can take “Engendering Culture” where they’re supposed to learn how “culture is constructed and reconstructed to replicate gender roles,” by studying “New York night life and John Wayne movies and the masculine West.”

Timothy Burke gives us the rather demanding “syllabus”: (for it is he) for his course at Swarthmore, “The Whole Enchilada: Debates in World History” (copied below the break).

This displays in its primeval majesty the boneheaded stupidity of a common genre of opinion article (and occasional “rigorously researched”: report) on the Evils of Left Wing Indocrination and Pandering to Lazy Students in the Modern University. Sloppy Google searches and sweeping assertions don’t provide evidence of anything other than the author’s laziness and desire to find backup for his prejudices with the least amount of exertion possible. The kind of guff that deserves an F, in other words.

The Whole Enchilada, Fall 2003

History 63
Professor Burke
Fall 2003
The Whole Enchilada

This course is an exploration of world history as a form of historical writing. It is not a survey of events in world history, though we will undoubtedly find ourselves learning quite a lot about certain common topics or issues in world history.

The central question of the class is, “What happens when a historian or writer tries to describe the history of the world, whether limited to a particular time period or theme or encompassing literally everything that has happened to humanity in historical time?” As a genre of writing about history, world history is quite distinctive not just in its scope but in its tone and its outlook. The form has a history all its own. We will focus on the debates between world historians (and between historians writing about global history and historians who are more specialized) that are highly distinctive and particular to the form, ranging from the question of why Western Europe achieved global hegemony after the 1500s to the issue of whether there is a meaningful distinction between “civilizations” and other human societies.

While I typically encourage students to skim readings, and will do so in this class, I nevertheless want to caution that in this course, the reading load is quite heavy and I will expect somewhat closer attention to the reading than I normally require. We are reading world histories as a literary form, and that means we need to understand not just the bare bones of their argument and the evidentiary material they assemble in defense of it, but the rhetorical approach they employ. Reading carefully and working from such readings in class discussion are both important requirements in this course, and I will base the final grade more heavily than I normally do on whether or not students are reading with the appropriate discipline and depth.

Do not take this class if you are unprepared to engage the material.

Attendance, as per History Department policy, is required. Unexcused absences will have a serious effect on your grade. Participation and evidence of careful reading are important to your grade. There will also be three papers: two of them short, one of them a longer assignment requiring a modest amount of independent research.

Sept 2

“Global history” and “world history” (scholarly standardization of a field; literary breadth of an idea)
The question of “Eurocentrism”
The global and the local; the big picture and the details
The materialist turn in 20th Century world histories

Sept 4
From the particular to the universal: origin narratives and historical thought

*The Old Testament, Genesis
*Pietro Vannicelli, “Herodotus’ Egypt and the Foundations of Universal History”, in Nino Luraghi, ed., The Historian’s Craft in the Age of Herodotus

Sept 9
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqadimmah, pp. Vii-48, pp. 58-68
Mini-lecture: St. Augustine, medieval historians and universal history

Sept 11
Khaldun, Muqadimmah, pp. 91-332

Sept 16
*Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality”
*Georg Hegel, “Introduction to the Philosophy of History”
Mini-lecture: Vico, Kant, Rousseau, Hobbes, Hegel, Marx: The idea of a “universal history” and the European Enlightenment

Sept 18
*Leopold von Ranke, “On Universal History”
*M.C Lemon, “Marx on History”, from Philosophy of History: A Guide For Students
First paper due

The development of world history as a scholarly genre

Sept 23
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, pp. 3-86
Mini-lecture: Toynbee and Spengler

Sept 25
Spengler, Decline of the West, pp. 226-418

Sept 30
William H. McNeill, Rise of the West, pp. Xv-63, pp. 167-248, pp. 295-360
Mini-lecture: The Cold War, geopolitics and world history

Oct 2
McNeill, Rise of the West, pp. 484-507, pp. 565-598, pp. 726-808

Oct 7
Ferdnand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, pp. 23-103, 104-182, pp. 266-333
Mini-lecture: The Annales school and the “longue duree”

Oct 9
Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, pp. 385-564


The idea of world systems

Oct 21
*Immanuel Wallerstein, The Essential Wallerstein, selections

Oct 23
*Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills, “The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand?”

The critique of Eurocentrism in world history: materialist and philosophical

Oct 28
*JM Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World
*Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony

Oct 30
*Ashis Nandy, “History’s Forgotten Doubles”

Why didn’t China industrialize first? A case study of debate in world history

Nov 4
Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence , pp. 3-208
Mini-lecture: Other perennial debates in world history

Nov. 6
Pomeranz, The Great Divergence

Thematic world histories

Nov 11
*Philip Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History
*Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery

Nov 13
*Barbara Freese, Coal: A Human History
*John Keegan, The Face of Battle

Hegel and Kant revisited

Nov 18
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Mini-lecture: World history and the idea of progress

Nov 20
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Second paper due.

Politics and power

Nov 25
*Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?”
*Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Volume 1, pp. 73-178

Sociobiological and materialist world histories

Dec 2
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
Mini-lecture: McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples and other non-Marxist materialist world histories

Narrative world history

Dec 4
Larry Gonick, The Cartoon Guide to the Universe, Volume 3
*Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, short selection

Dec 9
The Once and Future World History
Final paper (genre critique) due December 15th

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Easily Distracted » Blog Archive » The Secret of My Success
09.18.06 at 6:44 pm



Michael 09.16.06 at 11:45 pm

What a great syllabus. I’m really glad he included Gonick, which is a fun history to read. A few I don’t know and their inclusion here makes me more likely to investigate.

I’d’ve expected Will and Ariel Durant, William Manchester (I personally hate A World Lit Only By Fire, but it needs to be dealt with), and I’d’ve liked to see Frances Fitzgerald’s America Revised or some similar work or historiography. OTOH, it’s only one semester and they’ve got to have something to write the papers about.

Nothing to say about the Weekly Standard article, but thanks to Henry for bringing this to the table.


Anarch 09.16.06 at 11:48 pm

Is Linsdley kidding? I’d take that class in a heartbeat.


bi 09.17.06 at 12:21 am

As Stephen Colbert tells us, it’s not about facts, it’s about Truthiness.


John Holbo 09.17.06 at 9:33 am

It’s interesting the way the knife is stuck in: “Swarthmoreans have to wait until next year to feast on “The Whole Enchilada: Debates in World History.” This of course produces the strong implicature that the course is one of the bad ones, since it is getting mentioned in the article. But the author, if pressed, would quite likely pull an innocent face and say that the course was being cited as an example of how students would have to wait a whole year for a meaty, stick-to-your-ribs history course. Plausible deniability. I almost suspect it is intentional.


Miles 09.17.06 at 9:40 am

I’m taking a class with said professor right now (Mfecane, Mandela & Mines: South African History)) and as I leave class most days, my classmates and I discuss how valuable we think the course is. At the same time, I’m quite sure Lindsley would have just as much disdain for the course as he does for Engendering Cultures.

These pundits should realize that while college students aren’t experienced, they also generally aren’t stupid, and many (most?) college students do intend to eventually be employed.

We *choose* to take the courses that we do because we get something out of it. Some people choose to take easy courses, yes, but that choice is usually made to make room for something else. I take my courses because I am interested in the subjects, because I think their subjects are valuable.

What is the alternative? Creating a strict hierarchy of courses that every student should take? You already see that, to some degree, in the sciences…and speaking as social-scientist, I don’t think it would benefit most fields. Even better, administrations could strictly oversee what courses created by professors. That would work *wonderfully*. Bah.

Anarch: I’d take the course in a heartbeat as well. I just need to find out if it will be offered…


FL 09.17.06 at 10:10 am

The only thing that keeps this from being perfect is that the title “The whole enchilada: debates in world history” isn’t sufficiently flaky. Maybe the meaty syllabus should be offset by a title about hegemonic narratives.


dearieme 09.17.06 at 11:29 am

“parents will give, as they always do, lectures about studying hard and attending class”: golly, what an earnest lot you Yanks must be. My Scots father simply said: “Take out English girls – you can afford beer but not whisky.”


Adam Kotsko 09.17.06 at 11:59 am

Burke should change the title to “Hegemonic Norms: A Queer Perspective.”


Ophelia Benson 09.17.06 at 1:05 pm

No, “The Hegemonic Enchilada: Queering the Metanarrative.”


Barry Freed 09.17.06 at 1:23 pm

Hey, make it “The Whole Hegemonic Enchilada: Queering the Metanarrative” and I’m there.


engels 09.17.06 at 1:38 pm

“Transgressing the Metanarrative: Towards a Queer Hermeneutics of The Burrito”?


bi 09.17.06 at 1:41 pm

Screw all that. Just call it “The Theory and Practice of Eating Enchiladas”.


anon 09.17.06 at 2:02 pm

11 — to be followed by “TtM II — Problematizing Metanarratival Transgressions: The Reification of Pseudopoliticized Burrito Relations”


Adam Kotsko 09.17.06 at 2:09 pm

No, “The Theory and Praxis of Eating Enchiladas.”


josh 09.17.06 at 2:20 pm

What a great idea for a course!
What I find irritating about such attacks as the WS article quoted is this. OK, so the objection to anything that smacks of any ideology or theory that is disagreeably left-wing or ‘post-modern’is understandable. One might disagree, but at least it’s a consistent, arguable position (and I might have some sympathy with the criticisms that someone like Lindsley might make of a course like ‘Engendering Culture’– though, obviously, I’d need to actually have some substantive criticisms, and more information on the actual content and conduct of the course, to know). But some of the courses mentioned are clearly designed to appeal to, and attract, undergraduates. As such, they’re operating along good market lines; this is the consequence of applying market principles to various facets of life, including education. One suspects that most (though, to be fair, not all) people who write for the WS would generally be in favour of the all-great market; so its a bit annoying to see them complaining about its consequences — or blaming these on leftist academics.
But then the incoherence and dishonesty of combining cultural conservatism and market fundamentalism is obvious; I’m just bloviating, too.


engels 09.17.06 at 3:31 pm

“The Coming of the Post-Enchilada Society”, by Taco Bell


Kieran 09.17.06 at 3:43 pm

Engels wins.


Colin Danby 09.17.06 at 3:48 pm

Tim, with his characteristically infinite patience, had a discussion along similar lines on his blog back in May, around a similar sort of critique.

To repeat a point I made then, a common charge against the academy is that we neglect the Big Issues in favor of parochial identity politics, and let the Classics languish while we teach Rick Moody novels. Here’s a class that would seem to meet those challenges head-on.

But like your dog, Joseph Lindsley doesn’t follow arguments, relying instead on exquisite sensitivity to tone. The course title, clearly, didn’t demonstrate the necessary respect. I guess Tim should have called it Western Civ.


FL 09.17.06 at 3:59 pm

taco bell hooks.


nick s 09.17.06 at 4:12 pm

“Transgressing the Metanarrative: Towards a Queer Hermeneutics of The Burrito”?

Ah, but the MLA’s not until December. (At which point, we’ll see the inevitable ‘weird MLA session and paper titles’ 1000-worder knocked out by lazy hacks in the slow news days after Christmas. Is there a Microsoft word template for that piece yet?)


Barry Freed 09.17.06 at 4:16 pm

Al-Qa’ida or La Quesadilla? Interrogating post-colonial postures towards the neo-liberal/conservative globalisation paradigm.


Jon H 09.17.06 at 5:19 pm

Hedwig And The Angry Hegemonic Enchilada: Queering the Metanarrative


Jon H 09.17.06 at 5:23 pm

The Whole Enchilada Is Burning: Queering the Metanarrative


Guest 09.17.06 at 6:14 pm

idle psychological speculation: 50% jealousy, 50% projection. dude who wrote that piece wishes he had interesting courses to attend when he was in school, but he knows he woulda blown in off if he had. in my experience contempt correlates heavily with disappointment & jealousy.


John Holbo 09.17.06 at 8:11 pm

“Make a Run For Transgressing the Border”


Barry Freed 09.17.06 at 8:40 pm

For the MLA make that: Make a Run For Transgressing the Border/Bordering Transgression.


eb 09.17.06 at 9:03 pm

Making the Enchilada Whole: Synthesizing the Ingredients of a World History


astrongmaybe 09.17.06 at 9:15 pm

Antsy Ladas: Automotive Breakdown in the Soviet Bloc, 1948-1989


Colin Danby 09.17.06 at 9:53 pm

La Enchilada Equivocada: Entre el Pollo Entero y la Ensalada Mixta.


Thers 09.17.06 at 11:47 pm

What level course is this? Freshman, sophomore, grad? The “63” is a bit of a puzzle to me, I’m afraid.


Timothy Burke 09.18.06 at 5:57 am

I intended it largely for sophmores, juniors and seniors who had already taken at least one history course, though I didn’t formally lock out 1st year students.


Thers 09.18.06 at 8:25 am

Thanks — sounds like a terrific course.

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