An Ancient Imagining of the Future of Leadership
(See below for an update on content produced during the Fall 2016 teaching of the Sunoikisis Ancient Leadership Course)Though concept albums have long been imagined as courses of study, this project is, to our knowledge, the first course of study to be conceived of as an album, i.e., with a track-listing of songs, broken down into a series of verses (steps). The purpose for this metaphor is twofold: (1) to emphasize that the process of course design is a creative one and (2) to remind those who participate in the learning process--teachers and students alike--that education is not only a transfer of information, skills, and ideas but also transformation: just as the experience of a great album can introduce us to a strange and wondrous new world from which we emerge a different person, so, too, can the experience of a great course of study. Whether this metaphor succeeds remains to be seen; it is like much on this album experimental.
Our goal for this course, as the album title suggests, is a straightforward one: to challenge students to imagine a new and better condition of leadership in the world by reflecting on ancient examples. This reflection is not to be casual, superficial, or ideological. It is meant to be slow, nuanced, and sustained over time. Leadership is an art, leaders are artists, and, in a sense, they are the artwork itself. Their artistry comes with a thoughtful palette of choices, imagination, ethics, relationships, emotions, motives, language, symbols, images, and historical context. True leaders in any time period are, in their hearts and minds, humanists.
Accordingly, here are some guidelines on how to enjoy this artistic and humanistic exploration of ancient leadership. Each "song" on the track-listing (located on the lefthand side of the page) treats a set of problems associated with ancient and even modern leadership. Often the focus is on the leader herself/himself. Each module contains approximately seven hours of solo activity introduced by pop-up annotations marked "Listening for Leadership" (see for example). For those who will be experiencing this course in the company of fellow students, there are additional pop-up annotations marked "Possible Group Activity." While these "songs" are in many ways self-contained, they are arranged in such a way as to build on one another in terms of theme and content. Probably there are many associations that even we, the creators, of this project have not noticed! Below you will see a brief explanation of each song and some of the overall thematic parameters of this album.
Sources and Leaders
- "You Can Go Your Own Way"--An exploration of the problems of leadership Agamemnon faces in Homer's Iliad
- "I Know What Boys Like"--Gender and leadership in Plutarch's Life of Mark Antony
- "Socrates' Last Stand"--Philosophical leadership in the life of Socrates through the works of Plato and Xenophon
- "The Song Remains the Same"--Spartan leadership (Brasidas) in a time of crisis
- "Spirits in the Material World"--material culture in the exploration of the leadership of Alexander, Augustus, and Trajan
- "A Political Thriller c. 63 BCE"--Cicero and the power of rhetoric to put down the conspiracy of Catiline
- "Born to Run"--Julius Caesar's military leadership
- "Golden Years"--Pericles and the power of rhetoric to define and manage a "golden age" in Thucydides' History
- "Stranger than Fiction"--Sophocles' Oedipus and the limits of the leader's knowledge and efficacy
- "Money Talks"--The emperor Augustus on coins
- "He Will Rock You"--The "global" leadership of Cyrus the Great, king of the Persian Empire, as imagined by Xenophon
- "Getting to Know You"--How eloquent writers like Dio, Plutarch, and Pliny sought to influence the emperor Trajan
- "Who Runs the World? Girls!"--Gender and leadership in Plutarch's Virtues of Women
- "Meet the New Boss"--the responsibility and accountability of Odysseus, the other epic leader in Homer
- "I'm Every Woman"--translating Aristophanes' Lysistrata into the modern world
Themes of this course
- the nature and facets of the leadership role. What does it mean to be a leader in the ancient and modern world? Are there certain traits that all leaders throughout time have possessed? What role do authority, responsibility, accountability, and prestige play?
- leadership and gender. Are the traits we associate with ancient and modern leaders gendered? That is, do we tend to associate certain leadership traits more with men than women and vice-versa? Is there a way to imagine a non-gendered set of ideal leadership traits?
- problems of leadership. Are there certain challenges that leaders always face? What can we do as modern leaders to anticipate these problems and minimize their negative effects?
- the leader's influence and influencers. Where does a leader's influence derive from? What role does appearance play? eloquence? lineage? dress? What, in general, does a leader do to convince her/his audience, "I am worth listening to!"?
- the modern reception of ancient leadership, reception as leadership. What are some specific ways that the ancient world has been adapted to address contemporary problems of leadership?
- the language and symbols of leadership. Where do the symbols of leadership in the modern world come from? What do they mean? How have their meanings changed over time? How are symbols used to establish and legitimize a leader's authority?
- the emotional and psychological experience of leadership. How do ancient and modern leaders cope with their emotions (love, fear, anger, sorrow)? How different are the stresses of the modern leadership role from ancient ones?
- the different kinds of leadership: military, imperial, philosophical, oratorical. How does the experience of leadership change according to mode and context?
Methods of ancient leadership studyphilology (exploring word origins and meaning in context)
archaeology and material culture
Thank you for participating in this experience with us! We hope you find it enlightening and moving. Most of us recognize that the world needs better leadership, and we encourage you to be part of the movement.--The Sunoikisis Leadership Team
UPDATE: December 14, 2016In the fall of 2016 seven institutions and four online cohorts of non-matriculating students participated in a collaborative course on ancient leadership using this scalar site as a textbook (Brandeis University, Emory University, Findlay University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Howard University, Tulane University, the University of Texas-San Antonio):
- 1-hour weekly common sessions on each module
- regular discussion on Slack.com, both during the week and during the common sessions
- inter-institutional office hours and consultation
Students in Joel Christensen's class at Brandeis created modules of their own as final projects:
- Katie Perry on Classical Leadership and Women
- Scott Chase on Demagoguery and the Dark Side of Leadership in Aristophanes’ Knights and Wasps
- Hunter Bruno and Kyle Hall on Antony and Octavian: Leaders of Rome
- Erin Brantmeyer on the Study of Material Culture
- Sunny Akobirshoeva, Rachel Klingenstein, and Felix Batista on Ancient Leadership from Greece and Rome to Brandeis