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A Brief History of the World


A Brief History of the World
(36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)
Course No. 8080

Taught by Peter N. Stearns
George Mason University
Ph.D., Harvard University

Think of the construction of the great pyramids of Egypt, or the development of democratic rule in ancient Greece. Recall the innovations of the European Renaissance and Enlightenmentthe remarkable flowering of drama and the arts, and revolutionary breakthroughs in science and philosophy.

These are intriguing and important episodes, familiar to students of history. But haven't you also wondered: What else was going on in the world?

Consider the enthralling tales of Venetian trader Marco Polo. He introduced the Western world to mysterious and exotic Asian cultures never before imagined. Those alien civilizations he visited had existed for centuries, even millennia. What do we know about that part of the story?

We know of the glories of ancient Rome, the commanding empire that ruled the known worldbut what about the lands that were not "known"? What, for example, of the Han dynasty in China? It existed alongside the Roman Empire but developed a more enduring legacy than that of the emperors of the Eternal City. How does that imperial saga relate to the more familiar story of Roman domination?

And in the Dark Ages that came after the fall of the Roman Empire, we know that the era following Rome's glory days brought great political and social turmoil to the peoples of Europe. But at that time the Muslims of the Middle East and North Africa were experiencing remarkable cultural flourishing that produced innovations in art, medicine, philosophy, and technologya true golden age for the civilization.

If you have wondered about these other historiesof China and Japan, of Russia, India, and the remote territories of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Americayou can now discover how these stories fit in with commonly known accounts of Western traditions.

Learn the Rest of the Story

In A Brief History of the World, you'll survey the expanse of human development and civilization across the globe. Over the course of 36 riveting lectures, you'll apprehend "the big picture" of world history from the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic era to the urbanized, technologically sophisticated world of the 21st century.

It's a compelling overview of the human experience presented by a pioneering scholar and multi-award-winning teacher in world history, Professor Peter N. Stearns. You'll examine and compare the peoples, cultures, and nations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to understand how, throughout history, peoples all over the world have connected and interacted, traded goods and technology, and conquered and learned from each other.

The course begins with humanity in prehistory and explores, in a meaningful framework, how races organized to form the civilizations of the Classical world (1000 B.CA.D. 500). Next, you'll examine the Postclassical world (5001450) and the rise of world religions, the expansion of economy through international trade, and the discoveries and achievements of the early modern period (14501750). The course closes with examinations of the first industrial period, also known as the Long 19th Century (17501914), and contemporary times.

You'll compare forms of social and political organizations, from the caste system of Classical India to the Communist regime of 20th-century China, and trace the development of the idea of the "nation-state" as it arose in modern society.

This survey casts light on the ruling classes and those on the lowest rungs of societyslaves and serfsfrom China to Europe to the New World. You'll learn how views on subjugation have evolved, from Aristotle's view that slave labor was necessary to support the wise rule by upper classes, to humanitarian views that developed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and led to widespread abolition of slavery.

The realm of religion provides another lens to examine and compare how faiths have evolved over centuries, influenced day-to-day life and large-scale historical events, and inspired ingenious works of art and literature.

Fresh Insights into the Human Experience

As you travel around the world and through time with Professor Stearns, you'll also learn about the unique characteristics of each society you visit.

Over the course of these lectures, Professor Stearns provides surprising insights that will overturn many of your assumptions about history. Here are some of the fascinating facts he uncovers:

  • The invention of agriculture set the stage for progress in many ways. It also brought with it a number of drawbacks, including a new inequality between men and women, greater exposure to epidemic diseases, and a more labor-intensive lifestyle than was experienced by hunter-gatherers.
  • Although Mongols are often represented as destructive, bloodthirsty pillagers, as invading rulers they were in fact tolerant and chose to adopt the practices of the subjugated peoples rather than repress them.
  • Africa, which is often overlooked as having "no history," played a key role in trade and the dissemination of technology, and has a history remarkable in its complexity.
  • Although China has been frequently characterized as isolationist, it has for millennia been a leader in technological innovation. It has contributed some substantial inventions, including gunpowder and the printing press, that have been adopted by societies all over the world.

Through these and other fascinating episodes, you'll gain a deep appreciation of the human experience as it was lived throughout the centuries.

A Globalized WorldThen and Now

Some say globalization, the ever-intensifying interconnection of societies all over the globe, is a modern phenomenon. Professor Stearns tests that notion by showing how civilizations have always shared complex interactionsbartering goods and resources, absorbing advances in technology and culture, sharing faith through missionary workand wrestled with the tensions of regional identity versus participation on the world stage.

With Professor Stearns as your guide, you'll travel the Silk Road, the vibrant trade route that stretched from western China through Persia and into the Mediterranean regiona crucial artery of travel, communication, and influence during the Classical period.

You'll see how, even with travel as difficult and arduous as it was, adventurers, traders, and conquerors were nearly always on the move. You'll hear about the 14th-century adventurer Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, a Muslim who traveled more than 75,000 miles in his 65 years.

As you join Professor Stearns in his majestic journey, you'll encounter many examples in which efforts at globalization were welcomed and encouraged, as well as cultures that resisted the forces of globalization, investing in their own independent, political, economic, and cultural development.

What do patterns of globalization show us for the future? Will distinct civilizations blend into new forms of identity, of a globally shared culture? Or will societies resist and try to balance regional and global drives in an eternal tension? These are powerful questions that you'll contemplate in this course.

View This Comprehensive and Compelling Perspective

"There are many good reasons to be interested in history," says Professor Stearns, "among them, the opportunity to see how the past shapes the present." And Professor Stearns is the perfect host for this epic journey through the history of civilization. Articulate, engaging, and an expert in the field, he provides an epic overview with fascinating facts and memorable anecdotes. With his expert guidance, you'll gain access to profound insights into humanity's long history.

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Tags: Brief, World, History, Mason, University