Humanities 401: Exodus and the American Vision

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Humanities 401: Exodus and the American Vision is a senior course at Wyoming Catholic College that highlights and illustrates the relationship of the American founders to the Classical tradition more broadly.


To understand the American tradition is to appreciate the social, cultural, and political traditions of four key civilizations: in the ancient period, the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman, and in the early modern period, the English. Having explored in the first three years the significant aspects of the societies in which Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, and London emerged as iconic cities, students are prepared well for understanding the significance of the society that found Philadelphia at its center in 1776 and 1787. Embodied in the Puritans, the older covenant tradition of the people of Israel provides a powerful point of departure for the American story. The course pays particular attention to the Puritan habit of self-governance, which Alexis de Tocqueville contends is the seed of American liberty. Jefferson’s Notes reveal the anxiety and dismay over owning slaves in a nation rooted in natural liberty; Jefferson’s agrarianism also provides an alternative view to an emergent individualism and commercialism. The Federalist Papers furnishes the constitutional morality behind the American contract. Lincoln ponders the integral connection between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a tie that the founders articulate both through their earliest legislation and their written documents.

The great writers of fiction take the American story into the depths of world myth. In his great American fable Moby-Dick, Melville imagines a ship–a regime, a civilization–taken captive by a quest for metaphysical retribution. In Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the journey of Huck and Jim down the Mississippi exposes both the greatness and the flaws of the American experiment in human liberty. Students come to understand that the American Tradition is wrought with many intrinsic tensions, exacerbated by place and pluralism, and yet leavened by America’s ancestry in the old Mosaic strain.


  • Mayflower Compact, Massachusetts Body of Liberties, Puritan Writings
  • Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
  • Virginia, Declaration of Rights
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • The Constitution
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Lincoln, Temperance Address, Lyceum Speech, Cooper Union Address, Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural
  • Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Typically Taught By[edit]