Introductory Seminar in History

Liberalism: Theory and Practice


Although most Americans think “liberalism” is an old-fashioned name for leftwing ideology, the rest of the world (and scholars) use the term in its classical meaning, as a set of ideas for organizing society and political life, oriented around ideals of liberty.  This set of ideas was a profound turning point in the development of the modern world in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Mutations of liberalism, enemies of liberalism – these are the themes of political life recurring across the last two centuries of global history.

This is a course that follows liberalism, in theory and practice, over those last two centuries, in various parts of the world.  It is a story of rise, fall, renewal, and new challenges.  Now, in the early part of the 21st century, the future of ‘liberalism’ is the great political issue of this generation.

Students will be graded on class participation and on two papers (one due on March 14 and the other due on May 1).

Required readings

History is a subject mainly learned through lots of reading. And this course covers a lot of ground.

Edmund Fawcett, Liberalism: The Life of an Idea (Princeton: Princeton University Press,

2014) (paperback)

R.R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: The Challenge (Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1959)  Note that this volume, "The Challenge," is volume one of two.  (The second volume, "The Struggle," is not required.) Although published in paperback for decades, this book is expensive. Fortunately, you should be available to find less expensive used copies available, including through Amazon.

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, trans. Kathleen

Ross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003)

Jan-Werner Müller, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,






Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
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