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The American Enlightenment

The American Enlightenment spanned the years roughly 1770 to 1820, some of the most exciting and tumultuous in American and European history. During this half century, such world-changing events as the American, Haitian, and French Revolutions, and the transatlantic Enlightenment stretched people's thinking into many new and unexpected directions.

This course will examine a few of these new ideas. We will study how America became a laboratory for exciting new ideas about politics, nature, rights, and humanity. The course will explore these ideas through original writings from figures such as Thomas Jefferson, and famous contemporaries such as Voltaire and Rousseau. Our discussions will be framed around a series of questions that noted thinkers of the American Enlightenment fiercely debated, and that continue to inspire us today.

Scheduled Class Time

This course meets each day (Monday–Friday) for live, virtual classroom discussion led by Stanford graduate student teaching assistants. A live class period will be held at the times below, and participants will attend just one (1) of the meeting times.

  • 8:00–9:30am PDT
  • 4:00–5:30pm PDT
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Portrait of Caroline Winterer
Session One
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