A Brief History of the World

223 Pages · 2007 · 826 KB · English

  • A Brief History of the World

    A Brief History of the World

    Part I

    Professor Peter N. Stearns


    Peter 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 (1996–2006). Professor Stearns was Vice President of the

    American Historical Association, heading its Teaching Division from 1995 to

    1998. He also founded and still edits the Journal of Social History.

    Trained in European social history, Professor 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 understand contemporary patterns of behavior

    is illustrated in American Fear (Routledge, 2006).

    Professor Stearns was “converted” 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.

    ©2007 The Teaching Company. i

    Table of Contents

    A Brief History of the World

    Part I

    Professor Biography...........................................................................................i

    Course Scope......................................................................................................1

    Lecture One What and Why Is World History?............................3

    Lecture Two The Neolithic Revolution..........................................8

    Lecture Three What Is a Civilization?............................................12

    Lecture Four The Classical Period in World History...................18

    Lecture Five Cultural Change in the Classical Period..................24

    Lecture Six Social Inequalities in Classical Societies................29

    Lecture Seven The Roman Empire and Han China........................34

    Lecture Eight The Silk Road; Classical Period Contacts ..............38

    Lecture Nine The Decline of the Classical Civilizations..............43

    Lecture Ten The Postclassical Period, 500–1450 .......................48

    Lecture Eleven World Religions and Their Consequences..............53

    Lecture Twelve The Impact of Islam................................................58



    Biographical Notes.....................................................................................Part II

    Bibliography..............................................................................................Part III

    ii ©2007 The Teaching Company.

    A Brief History of the World


    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 systems—the emergence and spread of the great world

    religions, for example—as 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 incorporation in global patterns from 1492 onward.

    Central Asia maintained a distinct position in world history until the 16th


    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

    (500–1500 CE) that the emphasis of major societies shifted from separate

    development to greater interaction and even deliberate imitation. The early

    modern period highlights a renewed capacity for empire, the inclusion of the

    Americas in global systems, and—though this must be handled with a bit of

    care—the rise of Western Europe. What some historians call the “Long 19th

    Century”—1750 or so to 1914—was 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 another—“if it’s Tuesday, this must be Latin

    America”—by making careful comparisons and focusing on interregional

    ©2007 The Teaching Company. 1

    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 system—

    industrialization, for example—or 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 continuity—the 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 context—and even,

    tentatively, to talk about its future.

    2 ©2007 The Teaching Company.

    Lecture One

    What and Why Is World History?

    Scope: World history has been gaining ground 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 American 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, and 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.


    I. The rise of world history has been one of the most important developments

    in American history education and scholarship over the past two decades.

    II. There are three major approaches to world history—usually applied in

    combination—that help scholars decide what topics to focus on.

    A. The first approach involves studying 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 what 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 experiences of individual civilizations.

    Such forces include new trade or migration patterns, new disease

    patterns, and new missionary efforts.

    D. These three approaches are usually used in combination.

    ©2007 The Teaching Company. 3

    III. These three approaches help us define key time periods in world history.

    A. The time periods, in turn, are often delineated by changes in patterns of

    contact or changes in broader forces, such as the diffusion of new

    technologies or the emergence of new trade patterns.

    B. The time periods we will look at in this course are as follows: classical

    (1000 BCE–500 CE), postclassical (500−1450), early modern (1450

    CE–1750/1800 CE), Long 19th Century (1750–1914), and


    IV. The rise of world history as an academic discipline has been unusual in

    several respects.

    A. World history emerged more as a teaching field than as a research


    B. World history did not develop initially at the most prestigious

    universities in the United States.

    C. The field of world history is not evenly developed around the world.

    1. A great deal of progress has been made in the United States, and

    interesting work has been done in China and Japan.

    2. A few European countries, such as the Netherlands, have

    developed significant world history programs.

    3. But the United Kingdom, although it contributes important

    scholarship to world history, has yet to introduce the topic in its

    educational programs.

    V. Three factors fuel the increasing interest in world history.

    A. The first factor involves changes in the composition of the American

    student body. A growing number of students in American universities

    come from backgrounds that are not American, and there is a demand

    for teaching that reflects this diversity.

    B. The second factor is the extent to which the United States, since the

    1950s, has become engaged with the non-European world. This

    engagement logically propels us to look for a historical perspective that

    gives us some context for understanding the world at large, rather than

    one important but narrow slice of it.

    C. The world history perspective can be used to gain a better

    understanding of crucial historical events and processes.

    VI. We also need to look at the debate surrounding the idea of teaching world


    A. World history inevitably challenges older teaching approaches,

    particularly the tradition of Western civilization. This continues to

    generate disputes between world history advocates and traditionalists.

    4 ©2007 The Teaching Company.

    1. The Western civilization tradition traces a line of historical

    development from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to Greece and

    Rome, then on to Western Europe, and ultimately, to North


    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 the teaching of world history as an

    exercise in “West-bashing,” 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 “West-and-the-rest”

    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 civilizations—

    and not always the most important one.

    C. A second concern about the teaching of world history, raised

    particularly by historians of East Asian civilizations, is that the field

    cannot adequately convey the complexities 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.

    ©2007 The Teaching Company. 5

    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 500–1450) and the time

    right after the early modern period.

    C. The final approach—and the one we will use—views 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


    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


    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 today, 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 elements 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 traditional use of BC (before Christ)

    and AD (anno Domini, “in the year of the Lord”) in world history.

    2. This convention steers us away from 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.

    6 ©2007 The Teaching Company.

    2. 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-Western 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?

    ©2007 The Teaching Company. 7

    Please note: To fully download this free PDF,EBook files you need know All free.
    Found by internet command,site not saved pdf file
You May Also Like

Related PPT Template in the same category.