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Using Classic and Contemporary Literature to Explore Themes in Law and Politics
Unformatted Document Text:  classic and contemporary literature rather than textbooks based on empirical social science research. The course, then, crosses the boundaries between the social sciences and the humanities and it exposes students to topics and readings in three academic fields: political science, law, and English. In some ways the course reaches beyond those disciplines. With the discussion of natural and positive law, equality, punishment, morality and justice, the class examines many fundamental philosophical issues. There is even a historical element to the course because the readings and themes of the authors are often shaped by the historical events that each generation experiences. For example, George Orwell’s personal experience as a colonial police officer in Burma is the basis for his classic short story, Shooting an Elephant, and readers will find it is useful to have some knowledge of the political debate over gender, pornography and reproductive issues in the 1980s in order to understand the political themes explored in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The course on law, politics, and literature has four objectives: 1) to introduce students to great works of literature and to develop an appreciation for many classic texts; 2) to understand how literature can provide insight into law, politics, and the human condition; 3) to improve literary and critical thinking skills through reading, writing, and discussion; and 4) to recognize and value diverse perspectives and interpretations of texts. These objectives are met by reading a variety of classic and contemporary works, engaging in small group discussion, keeping a journal and writing short critical reaction papers, and completing two essay exams. These projects are described in the course syllabus located in the appendix to this paper and they will be discussed in more detail below. Developing an appreciation for classic literature among political science students is a worthwhile goal. There is growing evidence that many Americans are reading less for pleasure Page | 3

Authors: Fliter, John.
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classic and contemporary literature rather than textbooks based on empirical social science
research. The course, then, crosses the boundaries between the social sciences and the
humanities and it exposes students to topics and readings in three academic fields: political
science, law, and English. In some ways the course reaches beyond those disciplines. With the
discussion of natural and positive law, equality, punishment, morality and justice, the class
examines many fundamental philosophical issues. There is even a historical element to the
course because the readings and themes of the authors are often shaped by the historical events
that each generation experiences. For example, George Orwell’s personal experience as a
colonial police officer in Burma is the basis for his classic short story, Shooting an Elephant, and
readers will find it is useful to have some knowledge of the political debate over gender,
pornography and reproductive issues in the 1980s in order to understand the political themes
explored in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
The course on law, politics, and literature has four objectives: 1) to introduce students to
great works of literature and to develop an appreciation for many classic texts; 2) to understand
how literature can provide insight into law, politics, and the human condition; 3) to improve
literary and critical thinking skills through reading, writing, and discussion; and 4) to recognize
and value diverse perspectives and interpretations of texts. These objectives are met by reading a
variety of classic and contemporary works, engaging in small group discussion, keeping a
journal and writing short critical reaction papers, and completing two essay exams. These
projects are described in the course syllabus located in the appendix to this paper and they will
be discussed in more detail below.
Developing an appreciation for classic literature among political science students is a
worthwhile goal. There is growing evidence that many Americans are reading less for pleasure
Page | 3


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