A Brief History of the World
Peter N. Stearns
George Mason University
Ph.D., Harvard University
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 Enlightenment—the remarkable flowering of
drama and the arts, and revolutionary breakthroughs in science and
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
We know of the glories of ancient Rome, the commanding empire that
ruled the known world—but 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 technology—a true golden age for the
If you have wondered about these other histories—of China and Japan,
of Russia, India, and the remote territories of Sub-Saharan Africa and
South America—you can now discover how these stories fit in with
commonly known accounts of Western traditions.
Learn the Rest of the Story
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
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.C–A.D. 500). Next, you'll examine the
Postclassical world (500–1450) and the rise of world religions, the
expansion of economy through international trade, and the discoveries
and achievements of the early modern period (1450–1750). The course
closes with examinations of the first industrial period, also known as
the Long 19th Century (1750–1914), 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 society—slaves and serfs—from 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
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
- 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
- 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
A Globalized World—Then 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 interactions—bartering goods
and resources, absorbing advances in technology and culture, sharing
faith through missionary work—and 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 region—a 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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