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 youll need for any university- or professional-level of historical analysis. These methods include:
Write historical arguments effectively. A successful historical argument has the following features:
I require use and citation of primary sources in your papers, and I will judge your use of them on the following criteria:
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).
Each of these categories, and also their interrelationships in forming a whole civilization, can be compared across spacewith 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.
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 interpretationtwo skills areas that the study of history inevitably entails when it goes beyond straight memorization, as we intend to do.