It is the mark of a fantastic class that you forget to take notes. Inevitably, that’s where my seminar’s musings on Montesquieu lead me. We all shuffled into the class at the ungodly hour of 9 AM, dragging our thousand pages of Montesquieu, our notebooks and our computers, and as our professor and fearless leader Vickie Sullivan introduced the discussion for the day, I would dutifully do my best to take notes on what she was saying. Then someone would make a contentious point or Sullivan would pose a question, and all thoughts of my notes would be left behind as I argued in support of the idea that Montesquieu dislikes virtue as the basis of the regime, or questioned the proper relationship between nations, especially when one nation is committing atrocities. Then, after two and half hours of class, I would look down at my notes and realize I’d written down less than four lines.
My favorite thing about these discussions is that they never led to any animosity. A graduate student in the class would let her motherly side show and bring a different snack to every meeting, until the professor took over for our last day and splurged on pastries and coffee. That last meeting was one of my favorites, not because the class was over, but because of how it ended. We had exhausted our two and a half hour period, and people waiting for the next class had been peering in through the door wondering why we hadn’t left yet when our discussion finally concluded. The professor took a moment to thank us all for our participation and for the help we’d provided her with the book on Montesquieu she was in the process of writing. Then she made an announcement I’d never heard in a class before: she told us we now, officially know as much or more about Montesquieu’s thought than most of the world. A very specific thing to be an expert in, but an awesome title nonetheless.