Graduate Course Description

350:550 - The Uses of Humanity in the Age of Enlightenment

Course No:  350:550
Index #: 14716
Distribution Requirement:  A3
Monday - 2:00 p.m.
MU 207

The Uses of Humanity in the Age of Enlightenment
Lynn Festa

This course offers a survey of eighteenth-century literature with special attention to the elaboration of concepts of humanity in the age of Enlightenment.  Focusing in particular on the models of human agency that emerged from eighteenth-century technological innovations, global commercial networks, and imperial conquest, we will address the following questions: What capacities were human beings (as opposed to animals or machines) supposed to possess? How might humans and other kinds of beings be permissibly used, and how were definitions of humanity—and exclusions from that class— shaped by questions of ethical use? How did emerging divisions of labor and resources splinter the purportedly universal category of humankind, contributing to the formation and reproduction of modern categories of race, gender, nation, and class? To what degree did the eighteenth century have a concept of humanity as a collective agent? What claims were made in the name of humanity, and what practices did “humanity” justify? Topics include philosophical discussions of human difference, slavery and the discourse of human rights; natural history and biopolitics; animal studies; eighteenth-century theories of the machine and fictions of “artificial life.” Readings will be drawn from philosophy (Descartes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, the Encyclopédie), literature (Behn, Defoe, Swift, Johnson, Voltaire, Diderot, Smollett, Sterne, Cowper, Wollstonecraft), natural history (Linnaeus, Buffon), and histories of slavery and empire (Equiano, Raynal, Stedman), with theoretical readings drawn from Giorgio Agamben, Monique Allewaert, Hannah Arendt, Ian Baucom, Judith Butler, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Jacques Derrida, Saidiya Hartman, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Barbara Johnson, Bruno Latour, Jacques Rancière, and Sylvia Wynter, among others.  Requirements: regular class participation including weekly posts to class wiki; one oral presentation; short paper of 5-7 pages; final seminar paper.