This course has two major goals. The first is to give you an understanding of the history of the world over the past several thousand years. Since this is a vast topic, we will manage it with a few systematic approaches (for more specifics, see Approaches #1, #2, & #3 later in this section of the syllabus.

The second goal of this course, as with most introductory-level history courses, is to introduce you to the ways in which professional historians think about the world. You will use the methods you’ll need for any university- or professional-level of historical analysis. These methods include:
Evaluating and analyzing large historical patterns, rather than memorizing rote facts.
Using comparisons over time and between civilizations to evaluate historical patterns. For example, we will assess why Russian experienced a political revolution while Japan did not. We will have several written assignments (paper and short homework assignments) so you may practice making appropriate comparisons.

Write historical arguments effectively. A successful historical argument has the following features:
1. A clear thesis, stated in the opening paragraph.
2. Examples from primary sources (for the purposes of this course, the documents books will provide you with primary sources) that support the thesis. These examples must be clearly cited so interested readers can easily consult your sources for verification after reading your work. Failure to properly cite sources will damage your grade. An example of a good citation is:
Achebe, Chinua. “Excerpt from Things Fall Apart.” World History in Documents Ed. Peter N. Stearns. New York: New York University Process, p. 417.

I require use and citation of primary sources in your papers, and I will judge your use of them on the following criteria:
do the cited passages support your argument?
do you integrate cited material into your paper well? Is it clear when you are quoting material versus stating your own opinion? Do you place quotes within the context of your argument and analyze their meaning, or do you simply throw passages from the sources in and fail to elaborate on their significance?
when you are making comparisons between civilizations, do you use relevant, cited sources for both parts of your comparison?
are your citations clear enough that a reader can easily locate your primary sources?

As with all writing, a good historical arguments contains no spelling or grammatical errors. Writing errors undercut the authority of the written argument; the convincing historian produces papers that are clearly and strongly argued. If you would like assistance with your writing, feel free to visit me during my office hours. I also accept rough drafts of papers if you would like more detailed criticism of work before you submit it for a final grade. Details on how to submit rough drafts will be included in the paper assignments.

We will tackle the vast topic of world history with a few systematic approaches. This course surveys major features of the principal existing civilizations of the world, as they were originally formed and as they have been altered during the past two to four centuries by the “forces of modernity.” We will try to define what the major traditional features of each civilization were, and particularly how cultures persisted and changed, and what the “forces of modernity” have been.

Obviously, a survey of this sort in one semester involves some challenges for all participants. Here are some advance clues on what to look for in developing an analytical approach to a world history overview.

We will deal with three main approaches to world history. These are outlined in the next paragraph, and then spelled out more fully (you may wish to refer back to this fuller statement for later).

Approach #1:
Culture refers to a system of ideas about the nature of the world and how people should behave in it that is shared, and shared uniquely, by members of a community. Many issues in our society involve questions about how much behavior a culture causes, but also what factors can cause a culture to change. A world history course must discuss how cultures form—particularly, large regional cultures like those of China or Islam; how much history these cultures explain; and how and to what extent cultures change. World history is not the only framework for cultural analysis, but it highlights some major features. In dealing with leading civilizations over time, one analytical issue focuses on culture squarely: the extent to which a society holds to particular values from its early history to the present, and so responds to common challenges in distinctive ways.

Approach #2:
The comparative approach is vital in analysis of world history. Each civilization can be compared, at major stages, to others. We suggest breaking down each civilization into political, cultural, economic, and social categories—i.e., how it is governed, how it explains and represents the world, how it supports itself, and how it structures social groups and families.

Each of these categories, and also their interrelationships in forming a whole civilization, can be compared across space—with the other major civilizations. You can even keep an informal chart of each civilization, in its four aspects, for comparative purposes. We will be dealing with seven civilizations: East Asia, India and southern Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western civilization, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Approach #3:
The course will introduce the factor of change over time. We will be dealing with four major time periods (after brief discussion of the earliest civilization phase): a classical period, from about 1000 B.C.E. to about 500 C.E., in which large civilizations formed in China, India and around the Mediterranean. A “spread of civilizations” or post-classical period, 500-1400 C.E. in which changes occurred in the classical civilizations and new civilizations arose, to the total of seven ongoing cases mentioned above, but in which new connections among civilizations also developed. Next, the “rise of the West” or “creation of world economy” period, 1400-1750 C.E., in which new contacts and various ideological and economic developments brought some degree of change to each of the seven civilizations we’re dealing with. And finally, the modern period (1750 C. E. - present) in which new economic and political developments affect all civilizations. Some historians argue that the modern period can further be divided with the 20th century seen as possibly a new period in world history. In this period, changes building in the previous period turn into a full-fledged confrontation with the forces of modernity in each major civilization.

The three main approaches in world history, combined, produce two related analytical tensions. The fundamental issue in current world history scholarship involves the balance between the separate cultural traditions and the steadily-expanding contacts among major civilizations, in causing major developments. How many of the features of China, or the United States, around 1800, can be explained by distinctive patterns in each nation, including distinctive cultural traditions, and how many by involvement with some larger international experiences and contacts? This is the kind of question that can fruitfully be applied to earlier as well as later time periods, and to all areas of the world.

This basic tension in interpreting world history, between distinctive cultures and interconnections, generates a more specifically modern variant: as international contacts spread in recent centuries, leading to more extensive technological, commercial, cultural, even biological connections among societies, how have different traditional cultures reacted? Are present-day societies shaped primarily by common forces, like a desire for economic growth, or by the heritage of older cultures? Here is the central analytical focus for the second half of this course, after the major cultural traditions and earlier kinds of interconnections have been explored.

One other point about the purpose of the course. We will be relying on an essay-format textbook for general coverage, with particular issues and comparisons highlighted in class discussions. We will also discuss some more specific readings, to deal with types of historical evidence and problems of conflicting interpretation—two skills areas that the study of history inevitably entails when it goes beyond straight memorization, as we intend to do.