Spring 2023

Big Social Science

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-433

Moodle site: Course


Jonathan M. Obert (Section 01)


What are the origins of human civilization? What causes political, economic or categorical inequality? What explains the rise of the West or the collapse of complex political orders? Where do states, empires, cultures, religions, organizations, and markets come from? How do technologies, catastrophes, geography, demography, and ideas shape social change? Taking its cues from the recent rebirth in scholarly interest in these issues, this research seminar will investigate the very biggest questions confronting empirical social science. It will introduce students to this literature and provide them with an opportunity to engage in debates across fields and disciplines. Class readings will be drawn from a range of important historical and contemporary works covering eclectic historical eras, geographic contexts, and topics. We will identify the assumptions informing accounts offered by different scholars and will interrogate how the framing of big questions entangle us in new and sometimes controversial ways of thinking about human biology, social structure and agency. Students will also reflect in an original research paper on how - and, indeed, whether - such big questions can be answered.

Requisite: One political science course. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Associate Professor Obert.

How to handle overenrollment: Political science majors given preferences.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: An emphasis on written work, readings, independent research.


2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023