The news is very much a part of our lives. It is the rare American who is unaffected by major national or international events. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, for example, had an immediate impact: The price of gasoline jumped over night; the stock markets throughout the world plummeted; the price of gold soared; the parents of young men and women in the Armed Services shuddered at the prospect of war; and, a few months after the invasion, the U.S. economy began to woefully contract -- all this from the invasion of a sheikdom located on a barren patch of earth bordering a remote corner of the Persian Gulf.
Being well informed about current events and being able to read behind the headlines -- to analyze the news -- are important objectives of a college education. These require that we are aware of the biases, limitations, and contexts that shape "the facts" that are reported to us.
This course should enhance your ability, therefore, to view news not as isolated phenomena but as part of social, economic, political and cultural contexts. Most importantly, you will gain an appreciation of the deep connections with the past that many newsworthy events have -- the historical perspective. For example, knowing the historical context of Iraq's relationship to Kuwait helps us to understand why Iraq felt justified in invading and annexing Kuwait. What seemed to the democratic nations of the world as the outrageous and irrational act of an evil despot was viewed by Iraqis as an act justified by history and sanctioned by Allah.
In approaching diametrically opposed points of view such as these, we will seek a historical perspective. In the instance of the Persian-Gulf crisis we would have considered the following: What was Kuwait's relationship to Iraq during the Ottoman Empire? Was Kuwait once a province of Iraq? Did Iraq try to annex Kuwait once before? How long had Iraq claimed Kuwait as part of its sovereign territory? Is this the first time that the West has intervened on Kuwait's behalf? What motivated the West to intervene? Why was Saddam Hussein's threat to lead the Arab world in a Holy War against United States "imperialism" plausible to many in the Arab world? Doubtless, our reaction to the invasion and annexation was shaped in large measure by our lack of knowledge of the history, politics, and culture of the region.
Because we cannot predict the course of events, either domestic or foreign, the specific subject matter will unfold as we progress through the term. We will focus on matters of import (lead stories) -- economics, politics, technology, foreign affairs, etc. --as events unfold. Additionally, I encourage you to consider matters that have professional or personal interest for you. For example, business students might wish to follow the trade controversies involving the WTO (World Trade Organization), the EC (European Community), Japan, NAFTA, and the United States, or stories on business and the environment. Human services students might follow articles that focus on the impact of budget cutbacks on the programming of public and private agencies, or the debates around "welfare reform," "affirmative action," and the "balanced budget" --at what costs to which people?