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“No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself.” — PYTHAGORAS

Course and section:
NHIS 3116A
Fall 2012
3 credits

66 W 12 Room 615
Tuesdays 8:00 – 9:50 p.m.

Mark Wilson
(212) 229-5124 [Soc. Sci. dept.]

Office Hours:
By appointment

Course Description  From the moment we humans abandoned the hunter-gatherer’s roving life and devised civilization, exchanging mobility for stability and prosperity, we’ve faced the same unending problem: no matter where you set down roots, something will be lacking. Every society wants for some resource found far away — a necessity like wood or a luxury like porcelain; and the more complex, powerful, and proud a society, the more they yearn for that which they do not have. How do the world’s societies slake these needs? And what is the relationship between trade, or acquiring distant resources — and empire, asserting control over them? Is the intrepid adventurer beating a path to Samarkand to acquire their silks or to San Salvador in search of gold the handmaiden—or rival?—to the next generation’s conqueror of the same lands and riches?

In this course we’ll explore the most interesting and illuminating of humanity’s quests and competitions for control of distant resources, toward a greater understanding of what we do as nations when we want what we do not have.

Specific Learning Objectives  In this course we’ll be pursuing a number of goals, including:

  • Exploration of the relationship between the control of distant resources and political power
  • Greater understanding of the causations between economic power, political power, and military power
  • Exploration of great empires in history as case studies in the relationship between trade and empire
  • Appreciation of the diversity of ways in which trade and power over distant resources have developed
  • Development of the skills associated with the study of history, including the interpretation of primary sources and other evidence.


Reading List

This course will be relying on primary sources and other documents which will be posted on my website. For details, see the Schedule and the course web page: http://markbwilson.com/courses/F2012/NHIS3116.html


  • Reading Presentation (2): Each student will choose two readings, one from the first half of the course and another from second half, and prepare a 5–10-minute presentation for the class about the content, meaning, intent, and context of the document in question.
  • Short Essays (2): For each of the two presentations, each student will also do a short follow-up essay building on the presentation and subsequent in-class discussion. The student will write a 4–6 page essay analyzing the document in the context of its time. This paper is due two weeks after the presentation is made.
  • Take-Home Midterm: A midterm exam will be distributed in class on Oct. 16 and will be due Oct. 23.
  • Position Paper: Each student will also write a 10-page research-based position paper on a topic agreed upon with the instructor. More details on how this will be approached will be provided in class.
    • A proposal, consisting of a thesis statement, rough outline, and preliminary bibliography, is due on Oct. 9.
    • An optional draft may be submitted to get feedback and guidance. This draft is worth 5 points extra on the project and is due Dec. 4.
    • The final version of the paper is due on the last class, Dec. 18. For this class meeting, we’ll discuss what each student discovered in turn and see what ideas and conclusions result.

Submitting Assignments

All written assignments are to be typed and formatted normally (double-spaced, in a standard font, with one-inch margins, and with a cover page giving the paper’s title, author, date, course, and instructor).

Paper or electronic. Written assignments are due in class; however, they may be submitted electronically by email. You must get a reply back from me indicating I got your emailed submission in order for it to count as being submitted on time.

Late assignments will be marked down. Written assignments will be marked down one letter grade per class meeting after the assignment due date, up to a maximum of 30 points. That means you’re still better off turning in your paper late, and having it be marked down, than not turning it in at all.

Participation and Attendance

Attendance and preparation are crucial for this course. Students are expected to attend all meetings, and to attend them prepared and on time.

Preparation includes reading the assigned readings and spending some time considering their meanings and implications, and so coming to class equipped with questions about and critical reactions to the material. Lack of preparation and tardiness affect the quality of the course not only for you but for everyone else as well.

Students who miss two meetings will forfeit the participation portion of their grade. Students who miss more than three meetings will not pass the course.


The final grade for the course will be based on the following breakdown:

  • In-class participation (10%)
  • The two presentations and two short essays (30% total)
  • The midterm (30%)
  • The position paper (30%).


Don’t waste this opportunity! Make the most out of this class.

Please use me as a resource. Talk to me after class, or send me emails with any questions you have—whether they relate to the requirements of the course or ideas we’re reading about or discussing in class.

Be on time and prepared. By prepared, I mean you should come into class having done the readings for that day and thought about them. Come in ready to talk about your reactions to the readings and the questions they raised in your mind.

Check your email. Make sure I have a good email address for you and check it, as I occasionally send information and updates by email. If you have not gotten an email from me within the first week after school begins, check your spam folders. If you can’t find an email from me, email me to let me know.

Cell phones and electronics need to be silenced and stowed. A phone ringing during class is hugely disruptive. Texting during class is just as rude and insulting as talking on the phone.

Talk to me if you’re struggling. Come to me after class or via email, and the sooner the better. Don’t wait until it’s too late to turn things around.


Participation and Attendance  If a credit student has more than two unexcused absences the grade will be lowered. According to New School official policies, if a credit student misses two consecutive classes, I am duty-bound to notify Chrissy Roden, Coordinator of Academic Student Services, immediately. The New School adheres to a Zero Tolerance Policy regarding absences and requires all credit students to attend every class. Any unexplained absence will adversely affect your grade.

Plagiarism  The New School adheres to a Zero Tolerance Policy regarding plagiarism. Plagiarism will result in an F in the course at the discretion of the instructor and in accordance with the University’s policy on plagiarism (see Student Handbook). The University recommends that students purchase A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker, available at most book stores, for information on proper citation format.

Incompletes  Assigning a grade of “I” Incomplete indicates failure to complete all assigned work and grants the student an extension to complete outstanding work for the course. This grade should not be given automatically, but only at the request of the student and at the discretion of the instructor. The instructor should determine the deadline for submission of outstanding work in conversation with the student, though not to exceed 1 year after the last class for which the Incomplete was assigned for graduate students, and not to exceed the 7th week of the following Fall semester for Spring and Summer grades of Incomplete and no later than the 7th week of the following Spring semester for Fall grades of Incomplete for undergraduate students. All conditions for resolving the incomplete grade should be confirmed in writing, preferably through use of the “Request for a Grade of Incomplete” form. This form gives the reason for the request, describes the outstanding work, states the date by which it must be completed, and is signed by both student and faculty. Forms are available in the Registrar’s Office. An incomplete becomes an “Unofficial Withdrawal and Failure” (WF) if the work is not submitted in a timely fashion.

Students with Disabilities  In keeping with the University’s policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student with a disability who needs academic accommodations should contact the office of Student Disability Services. All conversations will be kept confidential. Students requesting any accommodations will also need to meet with Jason Luchs in the office of Student Disability Services, who will conduct an intake, and if appropriate, provide an academic accommodation notification letter. Mr. Luchs’s office is located at 79 5th Avenue on the 5th floor. His direct line is 212.229.5626 x3135. You may also access more information through the University’s web site.