Americans take pride in their Constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of speech and the press. But what is freedom of speech and why is it valued? This course will read key texts in the long history of Anglo-American freedom of speech: Milton’s first conceptualization of freedom of the press in Areopagitica, Locke’s essay on toleration, Defoe’s True Born Englishment, the use of freedom of speech and the press during the American Revolution and in framing the US Constitution. We will study several classic legal cases from the 20th century (around political incitement, pornography, sexual harassment and hate speech). Finally, we will consider the difference for freedom of speech and the press made by new technologies like the Internet, which was created as a way to expand and reaffirm an affirmation of freedom of expression, but has also expanded the challenges associated with what one critical calls “excitable speech.”
Assignments: 2 papers, a media remix presentation and a late midterm on the reading.