The History of Free Speech

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Welcome to the History of Free Speech from FIRE and The Nomadic Professor!

If you’re here, FIRE probably needs no introduction: the premier free speech defense organization in the country. FIRE has recently expanded its mission from the college campus to the broader public, with three main areas of focus: litigation, public education, and research. We hope this course will go some way toward the goal of public education about free speech and its role in the structure and development of past and present societies. So if you like what you find, pass it along—we’d love to get it into the hands of as many users and classrooms as possible 🙂

That said, we should be clear that this is a history course, not a bit of partisan activism. Like any good history course, we don’t start with the answer (“free speech is always clear and good”) and then develop a narrative that supports that answer. Instead, we start with much more open-ended questions, like “What is free speech?” and “How did ancient and premodern societies conceive of speech?” and “What modern developments have impacted free speech in the Western world?” Answering questions like these should give us some perspective on new free speech questions raised by 21st-century technologies. We hope you’ll find that the answers we put forward contain all the rigor, nuance, and possibility you’d expect.

Dr. W. Kesler Jackson (aka “The Nomadic Professor”) has been on the road since 2016, teaching online university courses and filming his original on-location mini-lectures all over the world, from Alabama to Azerbaijan, Tallahassee to Tibet, Ecuador to Egypt, and everything in between. Dr. Jackson began publishing his first survey courses for a general audience in 2020, when he partnered with high school teacher Nate Noorlander to combine the rigor of his college classroom with the guidance and support more typical of a high school classroom. The combination of college rigor and high school support caught the eye of FIRE’s high school outreach team, and so began the combined effort you see here—The History of Free Speech. The course is designed to be rigorous enough to challenge adult learners, but scaffolded enough to be appropriate for middle and high school learners. We hope you’ll find that it’s just right for you.

Now dig in, and keep the free speech conversation going.

Course Content

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Getting Started
Unit 1
Unit 2
Unit 3
Unit 4
The End