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Wesleyan University

The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)

Wesleyan University via Coursera


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This course examines how the idea of "the modern" develops at the end of the 18th century in European philosophy and literature, and how being modern (or progressive, or hip) became one of the crucial criteria for understanding and evaluating cultural change. Are we still in modernity, or have we moved beyond the modern to the postmodern?


  • Course Pages
    • “The Modern and the Postmodern Part I” covers the first half of a full semester course on European history, literature and philosophy. We begin with Immanuel Kant and Jean Jacques Rousseau and conclude with Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Baudelaire and a very quick look at painting at the time they wrote. Although in the final week themes of postmodernism begin to emerge, a discussion of how modernism becomes postmodernism is at the heart of Part II of this course.
  • Philosophy, Modernity, and Intellectual History
    • Why is philosophy relevant to modernity? Through reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, we examine philosophy as a reflection on modernity and progress.
  • What is Enlightenment?
    • Using Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, we study how the pursuit of knowledge is related to the politics of inequality.
  • From Enlightenment to Revolution
    • Karl Marx is our focus here as we move from a consideration of ideas to a confrontation with alienation, class struggle and revolution.
  • Modernism and Art for Art's Sake
    • We read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as a reflection on convention, stupidity and art in the wake of the failures of mid-19th century revolution.
  • Re-imagining the World
    • We situate Charles Darwin’s great achievement in the context of the English Enlightenment traditions and reimaging the world without a goal for change.
  • From Struggle to Intensity
    • Through an examination of Charles Baudelaire and Friedrich Nietzsche, we focus on an aesthetic embrace of intensity instead of search for the “really real.”
  • Paintings
    • A Quick Survey of how advanced painting moved toward a consideration of the surface of the canvas and away from a quest for the most realistic representation of the world.

Taught by

Michael S. Roth


4.8 rating, based on 21 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 975 ratings

Start your review of The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)

  • Really enjoyed this excellent course which gives you a broad overview on the various themes in Art, Lierature, Science and Philosophy which made our modern world. Michael Roth is a fantastic lecturer, so knowledgeable yet accessible also. It was fascinating watching him search for the precise word he wanted to express his thoughts. Wish some of our English/European academics had his breadth and humanity. Well done Wesleyian!!
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    Dolly Ye
    A illuminating class on our conditions in a world that changes at an exponential speed.
    To quote one of the readings:"Modernity can best be grasped as an attitude, an ethos.
    - This ironic heroization of the present, this transfiguring play of freedom with reality, this ascetic elaboration of the self — Baudelaire does not imagine that these have any place in society itself, or in the body politic. They can only be produced in another, a different place, which Baudelaire calls art."––– "What is Enlightenment" Foucault

  • Anonymous
    Really good course! Michael S. ROth's lectures are of very high quality, informative, well thought through, and not boring at all. The reading materials are carefully selected and well explained for people who are new to literature, but also experienced readers found their match in the assignments' questions and comparisons.

  • Dorothy
    Exciting introduction to some of history's great thinkers. The professor did a great job of describing the context and culture during the time of each of the authors. This course has made it much easier for me to select which books or lines of thought to pursue on my own. There is even a bonus lesson on some famous artwork!
  • Anonymous
    I only audited this course but have to say that the prof's lectures were top notch and the material covered was excellent and most provocative. Strong activity in the discussion threads too.
  • Anonymous
    This course, and Part 2 of the same name, is just fabulous. So interesting and broadening. I have learnt so much about the development of ideas and ways of seeing the world. What a great teacher Michael Roth is: engaging, enthusiastic and a master of breaking down complex ideas to assist our understanding of them.
  • Anonymous
    The Lectures and Readings are excellent. The essay assignments are excellent as well for honing your writing skills. I'd recommend this clas for anyone who wants to learn more about literature and philosophy.
  • Anonymous
    It was awesome, best decision ever to take this class. It was a hard course to take (more demanding than I expected) but totally enriching and worth the effort.
  • Anonymous
    One of the best classes ever! Involving and interesting.
  • Anonymous
    It's a great class! The readings and essays take a lot of time, but stick with it and you'll learn a lot.
  • Anonymous
    The reading list was great; the professor's lectures were enjoyable and substantive.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent... it was interesting, fun and enlightening.
  • Profile image for Valeria Benatti
    Valeria Benatti
    An effective and catchy overview of relevant thinkers which contributed to shape the culture and society of the 19th century. I am looking forward to starting the second part.
  • Anonymous
    5 star course! thank you for the clear explanations, the dynamic delivery and the broadness and depth of your approach to the history of ideas.
  • Aana
  • Mark Marziale

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