Given its goals and principles, this program represents a departure from traditional study-abroad programs in one important aspect: it is structured – its curriculum consists of two mandatory core courses supplemented by elective courses.
Both core courses are co-taught by American and Czech instructors. The first course – Ethnicity, Race and Ideology in Central Europe — aims to:
- demonstrate that challenges faced by Central Europe and solutions adopted have foundationally influenced the shape of 21st century Europe. Central Europe is responsible for the concept of the paternalistic welfare state, for ethnic nationalism, modern anti-semitism and racism, as well as Marxism and Communism that provided a popular alternative to the „exploitation“ by capitalists.
- recover the geopolitical and cultural concept of Central Europe that, after 1945, was eradicated by redividing the continent into Communist „Eastern Europe“ and non-Communist „Western Europe“ – even now we often hear about „East Central Europe“ or „East Europe and the Balkans.“
- examine the historical struggle of Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Hungary – the former Hapsburg Empire and Poland) to achieve political consolidation. We will take as an example the strenuous and some might say forceful road to German unification resulting in the creation of the Second Empire by 1900’s. We will compare it with an equally strenuous of Hapsburg monarchs to prevent decomposition of their Empire. Their effort was in vain, their empire fell apart and gave way after WWI and gave way to nation states.
- explain how this historical resistance to political consolidation resulted in nationalism and to discuss its beneficial as well as the sinister forms.
- examine in detail the evolution of the modern Czech nation in the bosom of the multiethnic Austrian Empire that accorded a privileged position to Austrians of German ethnicity. There were several political forces within the empire, some asserted themselves and others had to accommodate. Czech politics and culture were marked by this habit of accommodating to Austrian German hegemony, as Slovaks were accustomed to Magyar overlordship. That is what makes the Czech and Slovak effort at building their own state with German and Magyar minorities a fascinating spectacle.
The second core course – Race, Ethicity and Gender in American History and Literature – provides a contrast between the European ethnic nation states and the U.S.A. as an anti-nation-state that devalorizes ethnicity. The course focuses on American attitudes towards ethnicity and race, and how these have shaped, and been shaped by, the principles of the American political nation and its history.
Together, the two core courses challenge students to understand and accept Europe and the US as worlds similar yet conceptually different.
Fall and spring semester students receive upon arrival an intensive, 10-day course in the Czech language that provides them with a basic linguistic and cultural orientation.
The core course teachers represent two different cultures: Czech/Central European and American, each having an extensive experience with the others’ culture and systems of education. Faculty members cooperate closely and make appearances in each other’s classes, thus providing complementary insights on subjects under discussion.