by PN Stearns · 2007 · Cited by 10 — A Brief History of the World. Scope: This course presents some of the highlights of the world historical approach to the past, suggesting major changes in
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©2007 The Teaching Company. iPeter N. Stearns, Ph.D. Provost and Professor of History, George Mason University Peter N. Stearns is Provost and Professor of History at George Mason University, where he annually teaches a world history course for undergraduates. He previously taught at the University of Chicago, Rutgers, and Carnegie Mellon and was trained at Harvard University. While at Carnegie Mellon, Professor Stearns won the Smith award for teaching in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Spencer award for excellence in university teaching. He has worked extensively for the Advanced Placement program and chaired the committee that devised and implemented the AP world history course (1996Œ2006). Professor Stearns was Vice President of the American Historical Asso ciation, heading its Teaching Division from 1995 to 1998. He also founded and still edits the Journal of Social History . Trained in European social history, Prof essor Stearns has authored a wide array of books and articles (on both Europe and the United States) on such subjects as emotions, childrearing, dieting and obesity, old age, and work. He has also written widely in world history, authoring two textbooks that have gone through multiple editions. He edited the sixth edition of the Encyclopedia of World History and is currently editing an Encyclopedia of Modern World History. He has written several thematic studies in world history, including The Industrial Revolution in World History (2nd ed., Westview, 1998), Gender in World History (2nd ed., Routledge, 2006), Consumerism in World History (2nd ed., Routledge, 2006), Western Civilization in World History (Routledge, 2003), and Childhood in World History (Routledge, 2005). His book Global Outrage: The Evolution and Impact of World Opinion (OneWorld) appeared in 2005, and his current interest in using history to unde rstand contemporary patterns of behavior is illustrated in American Fear (Routledge, 2006). Professor Stearns was ﬁconvertedﬂ to world history more than two decades ago and has taught it annually since then, first at Carnegie Mellon and currently at George Mason. He believes that the framework of world history allows him to learn a great deal about the world without degenerating into random detail and helps his students to better understand the past and the present.
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©2007 The Teaching Company. ii Table of Contents A Brief History of the World Part I Professor Biography .i Course Scope1 Lecture One What and Why Is World History?.3 Lecture Two The Neolithic Revolution8 Lecture Three What Is a Civilization?..12 Lecture Four The Classical Period in World History.18 Lecture Five Cultural Change in the Classical Period24 Lecture Six Social Inequalities in Classical Societies.29 Lecture Seven The Roman Empire and Han China34 Lecture Eight The Silk Road; Cla ssical Period Contacts ..38 Lecture Nine The Decline of the Classical Civilizations..43 Lecture Ten The Postclassi cal Period, 500Œ1450..48 Lecture Eleven World Religions and Their Consequences..53 Lecture Twelve The Impact of Islam58 Timeline63 Glossary69 Biographical Notes .Part II Bibliography .Part III
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 1A Brief History of the World Scope: This course presents some of the highlights of the world historical approach to the past, suggesting major changes in the framework of the human experience, from the rise of agriculture to the present day. The lectures cover the emergence of distinct major societies as they deal with common problems but generate quite different institutional and cultural approaches. The course also discusses key changes in belief systemsŠthe emer gence and spread of the great world religions, for exampleŠas well as alterations in trading patterns and basic shifts in technology, exploring why some societies reacted differently to technological change than others. Throughout the course, we will look at many parts of the world, including those clustered into shared civilizations. East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean loom large from the start. Sub-Saharan Africa, where the human species originated, has also played a great role in world history, as ultimately has northern Europe, including Russia. The Americas offer an important variant until their incorpora tion in global patterns from 1492 onward. Central Asia maintained a distinct position in world history until the 16 th century. World history divides into a limited number of time periods, defined in terms of dominant themes. The rise of agriculture requires a discussion of pre- agricultural patterns. Following agriculture came, in several places, the advent of civilization as a form of human organization. The classical period in world history draws attention to China, India, Persia, and the Mediterranean, when the expansion and integration of these large societies dominated over a millennium of human history. The collapse of the classical empires ushered in a vital postclassical period, when emphasis shifted to religion but also to more ambitious patterns of interregional trade. It was in this postclassical period (500Œ1500 CE) that the emphasis of major societies shifted from separate development to greater interaction a nd even deliberate imitation. The early modern period highlights a renewed capacity for empire, the inclusion of the Americas in global systems, andŠthough this must be handled with a bit of careŠthe rise of Western Europe. What some historians call the ﬁLong 19 th CenturyﬂŠ1750 or so to 1914Šwas dominated by Western industrialization and its economic, military, and cultural impact on, literally, the entire world. Finally, the contemporary period in world history, after World War I, features a bewildering variety of themes that must be sorted out, with emphasis among other things on the relative decline of the West, the huge surge in human population, and the potential for greater globalization. World history highlights a number of major regions, but it avoids simply examining one area after anotherŠﬁif it™s Tuesday, this must be Latin AmericaﬂŠby making careful compar isons and focusing on interregional
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 2 contacts. The discipline emphasizes a number of key time periods (though not an indefinite number), defined in terms of basic changes in the ways many societies operated, whether the change was in an economic systemŠ industrialization, for exampleŠor a cultural system, as seen, for example, in the emergence of vigorous missionary religions. World history also embraces two common themes. First, and most obviously, is the eternal tension between change and continuityŠthe stuff of history as a discipline. Particularly once the classical traditions are defined, world history can be seen in terms of new forces being met and interpreted by established cultural and institutional systems. Of course, these systems change but never completely and never in exactly the same ways from one society to the next. The second theme involves a perpetual interplay between local or regional identities, on the one hand, and the attraction or simple inevitability of wider contacts, on the other. Societies began trading at long distances several millennia ago. They received immigrants and diseases and, sometimes, ideas from distant places. But they rarely, at least willingly, simply surrendered to outside influence, and sometimes they battled fiercely against such influence in the name of established values. Over time, of course, and particularly with contemporary globalization, the pendulum shifted toward more outside influence, either willingly embraced or endured of necessity. But the tension has not ended, and assertions of regional identities can intensify precisely because the external framework is so intrusive. World history allows us to trace the main iterations of this tension and to place its current iteration in contextŠand even, tentatively, to talk about its future.
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 3Lecture One What and Why Is World History? Scope: World history has been gaining gr ound rapidly as a teaching field over the past 20 years, although studies in this discipline also encounter objections, including questions about feasibility. The field advances because of the growing need for historical perspective on global relationships and cultural differences around the world, because of changing political demands among Am erican students, and because world history scholarship itself improves, particularly for certain time periods, highlighting a number of interesting findings and interpretations. World history also unsettles certain kinds of assumptions, particularly about the longstanding superiority of Western values and experiences. The field requires careful choice of focus; even though it concerns the whole world, it does not encompass everything. Three overlapping approaches define the real heart of the world history enterprise: comparison, contact, a nd global forces. Each of these approaches reminds us that world history is not just, or primarily, a list of facts but an invitation to use facts in historical analysis and to ask and answer key questions about the human experience. Outline I. The rise of world history has been one of the most important developments in American history education and sc holarship over the past two decades. II. There are three major approaches to world historyŠusually applied in combinationŠthat help scholars decide what topics to focus on. A. The first approach involves studyi ng major civilizations to determine how they developed and how they helped define the experience of many people in societies around the world. This approach brings major civilizations together to compare wh at they share and how they differ. B. The second approach involves paying attention to cases where major societies, including civilizations, come into contact with each other. Scholars look at how this contact occurs and how it changes both parties, using this information as a framework to explore far-reaching changes in the experience of peoples around the world. C. The third approach emphasizes the emergence of broader forces that help define contacts and the experi ences of individual civilizations. Such forces include new trade or migration patterns, new disease patterns, and new missionary efforts. D. These three approaches are us ually used in combination.
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 51. The Western civilization traditi on traces a line of historical development from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to Greece and Rome, then on to Western Europe, and ultimately, to North America. 2. This approach asserts that because the United States is part of the Western tradition, its students should pay particular attention to the emergence of Western institutions and values. B. Some world historians approach th e teaching of world history as an exercise in ﬁWest-bashing,ﬂ but others take a more considered position: it is more important for American students to learn something about the world as a whole, including how the West fits into larger world patterns, than it is to learn about the Western tradition more narrowly. 1. World historians also argue that the opportunity to learn how the West developed, its distinctive features, and its contributions to the global experience is not lost in the study of world history as opposed to Western civilization. 2. The choice of world history in a teaching program involves a different set of emphases from the Western civilization tradition. Scholars of world history seek to avoid the ﬁWest-and-the-restﬂ approach, which focuses on the Western experience with brief mentions of other societies. The more thoughtful approach looks at Western civilization as one of a number of major civilizationsŠ and not always the most important one. C. A second concern about the teach ing of world history, raised particularly by historians of East Asian civilizations, is that the field cannot adequately convey the comp lexities of individual traditions. Chinese history, for example, is so nuanced and complex that it is inevitably simplified if taught as only one part of a broader course. D. The third objection, raised recently as some Europeans have attempted to insert themselves into a world history framework, is that the field is somehow yet another product of American imperialism. 1. To some extent, this objection seems to coincide with criticisms of American foreign policy. 2. It may also reflect an understandable anxiety that American world historians would slight the European experience, although most world historians in the United States make an effort to deal evenhandedly with the experiences of various societies. VII. In terms of chronology in world history, we need to be aware of three kinds of emphases. A. The first is the emphasis on origins. In the world history context, this approach pays greater attention to the emergence of human societies, sometimes at the expense of more recent developments.
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 6 B. The second approach acknowledges that the greatest contributions of world history scholarship to our understanding of the past apply particularly to the postclassical period (roughly 500Œ1450) and the time right after the early modern period. C. The final approachŠand the one we will useŠviews both the early and middle phases of world history as contributing to an active modern period and uses the modern period, in turn, to help understand the world in the present day. VIII. Let us look at an overall framework and a few final definitions for the course. A. World historians, like any analytically sensitive historians, are interested in the balance and tensions between change and continuity. 1. At times, world history seems to focus particularly on changes, but we will also pay attention to continuities among human societies. 2. The civilizational approach will help us track continuities and traditions in juxtaposition with new elements in the global framework. B. We will also look at the tension between developments and identities formed in particular localities or regions and the advantages of contact and exposure to crosscutting forces. 1. We will see that up until about 1,000 years ago, the human experience probably placed more emphasis on the local and the regional than on contact and broader forces. 2. For the past 1,000 years up to t oday, the human experience places more emphasis on contact and crosscutting forces and less emphasis on local and regional developments and identities, but the tension between the two el ements is always present. C. This course will look primarily at seven civilizational/geographic areas: East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East (and, later, the Middle East and North Africa), Eastern Europe, Western Europe, sub- Saharan Africa, and Latin America. D. We will use BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) as our main chronological divides. 1. This terminology replaces the tr aditional use of BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini, ﬁin the year of the Lordﬂ) in world history. 2. This convention steers us away fro m the Christian definitions used in Western-focused history and reminds us that we are operating in a global environment. E. We will see different reasons for the choices of certain dates to mark specific periods. 1. World historians conventionally end the postclassical period around 1450 CE, then pick up the early modern period.
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 72. The year 1450 CE has some relationship to the Renaissance and the Reformation, major periods in traditional Western history, but the year also relates to important developments in the Middle East and North Africa, Russia and Eastern Europe, and in the relationship between the Americas and the rest of the world. Further Reading: Patrick Manning, Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past . David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History . Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart Schwartz, and Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, 5th ed. Gerald Danzer, Atlas of World History. Questions to Consider: 1. Why does world history seem anti-Wester n to some? Is this a rift that can be healed? 2. One world historian once proclaimed that the field depended on a key principle: dare to omit. But what criteria can world historians use to decide what to omit? Are some parts of the world less important than others? Are some periods of time less vital than others? Can the three basic approaches to world history help deal with the decisions on what to omit?
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©2007 The Teaching Company. 8 Lecture Two The Neolithic Revolution Scope: The rise of agriculture was one of the great changes in the human experience. Many important developments occurred before this, yet the emergence of agriculture was neither tidy nor uniform, and this messiness must be taken into account when studying this period. The fact is that agriculture greatly changed the nature of life for most people around the world. Further, much of what we deal with in world history involves societies that were primarily agricultural. Indeed, the world is still grappling with the legacies of agricultural patterns and the incomplete transition between agricultural and more urban and industrial ways of life. Outline I. Agriculture began around 9000 BCE. Between the emergence of humans about 2.5 million years ago until about 11,000 years ago, our species was involved in hunting and gathering. This long period between the emergence of our species and the rise of agriculture raises three important points. A. Between 2.5 million years ago and about 100,000 years ago, the human species went through a variety of evol utionary phases in different parts of the world. 1. Early versions of the human speci es originated in East Africa and migrated to different parts of the world. 2. Homo sapiens sapiens emerged about 120,000 years ago, and from that point onward, there have been no major evolutionary changes in the human experience. B. The human species, even before Homo sapiens sapiens , was a tool- using animal, more adept than other species at finding tools for hunting, gathering, or use as weapons. During the Mesolithic era (c. 12,000 BCE) and the Neolithic era (c. 8000 BCE) tool useŠand, by extension, domestication of some animalsŠbecame increasingly deliberate, setting a framework for th e emergence of agriculture itself. C. Massive migration is particularly vital to world history. 1. Some thousands of years after the species originated in East Africa, Homo sapiens sapiens began to pour out into other regions and, ultimately, around the world. The reason for this migration is simply that hunter-gatherer societies require as much as 2.5 square miles of space per person. 2. By 25,000 BCE, Homo sapiens sapiens occupied virtually every place in the world that is currently inhabited, except New Zealand, some other Pacific islands, and Bermuda.
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