Monday, May 23, 2011

World History - the 5 Big Things

It has been said that there are two kinds of students. Those who hate history, and those who really hate history. Let me play the contrarian. I'd wager that young people who have the chance to grapple with the world's most powerful forces and learn about the men and women who made the world we live in do not hate history.

But apparently historians have not done a good job making the point. Although the U.S. dominates the world, most of our freshly minted college grads wouldn't dominate international tests measuring knowledge of the world. Americans can and should do better. We send treasure, troops, and things around the globe. We are at war in two countries in the Middle East. We are part of a number of international alliances and organizations -- the UN, NATO, World Bank, G6/8/20, etc. China, the UK, and Germany bankroll our debt. A number of foreigners are buying American real estate and equity in U.S. corporations. We should not be ignorant of the peoples who have such estimable influence in, and over, our nation.

College graduates are, by definition, citizen-leaders. At Grand Valley we say that students are educated "to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies." To be responsible citizen-leaders who can participate knowledgeably in civic discussions and make informed votes in the board room and voting booth, there are five Big Things history can help you know about our world: (1) the impact of threshold events that changed humankind forever, (2) the engines of historical change, (3) the universals in the human condition, (4) the rise of modernity in Western civilization, and (5) America's place in history and in the world. The effort to master this material is intrinsically rewarding and will take you far on the path to becoming a liberally educated citizen.


1. THRESHOLDS  "Recorded history" is two things -- (a) the past itself for the last 5,500 years, and (b) our chronicling, descriptions, analysis, interpretations, and debates about the past. In this second sense, history is not about the tedious memorization of names and dates. History is a great conversation -- about you. It starts with asking, Who are you? and Where did you come from? Grappling with these two questions may lead you to ask another question, Where are you going? As you debate these questions, as your understanding grows, you will find yourself creating a bigger and bigger narrative about yourself and others. The more you think about others and where they came from, the more historically minded you become. All good historical narratives shed light on beginnings, things that change, things that stay the same, meaningful moments, redemption, and endings.

Drawing from David Christian's work in Big History, we first examine threshold events, the biggest passages that humankind has experienced. Threshold events forever alter the human conditionThey introduce greater complexity in our lives. Between great thresholds like the agricultural and industrial revolutions are numerous "turning points" that decisively change a people's existence -- e.g., the invention of democracy, printing press, voyages of discovery, etc. Typically these turning points do not have to be reinvented.

Threshold events and turning points require different scales to measure time -- from eventful moments, to a day, to a season, to a year, to a human life, to a nation's existence, to a species' existence, even to geologic time. The different scales give us necessary perspective.

A course in world history requires that we become familiar with major religions and mythic systems, and I would argue that religion and myth provide a valuable if unscientific scale that puts our minds in the largest manageable framework of all, helping us fit everything meaningful to human life between the act of creation and the end of time. Religion and myth do not use the currency of "clock time" -- the Greek sense of chronos -- the unit adoped by industrial peoples. Time in religion and myth is more closely associated with "readying" and "ripening" -- the Greek sense of kairos -- the flow of time among an agricultural people. History is not religion nor is it myth. But these three ways of organizing our understanding of the world -- history, religion, and myth -- give human beings insight into beginnings, things that change, things that stay the same, meaningful moments, redemption, and endings.

To get an initial feel for threshold events and turning points, it is useful to plot them chronologically on a timeline. At the start of the semester, I like giving students a brief overview of all the major turning points plotted on a timeline. As a class we return to this timeline frequently. If students can keep the major turning points in mind, they will not lose sight of the forest for gazing at a tree. The following are some thresholds (in boldface type) and turning points that occurred before 1500 A.D. Page numbers are keyed to one of the resources we shall use in this class: Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Heritage of World Civilizations, 8th ed.:
    Ziggurat in the Middle East
    • mastering fire: our human ancestors mastered fire before the appearance of anatomically modern Homo sapiens appeared. Evidence from colder parts of Europe indicates that this threshold occurred at least 400,000 years ago. The effect of cooking may have been to make our gut smaller and our calorie-hungry brain larger.
    • the appearance of anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa, the cradle of humankind; studies comparing human beings and higher animals (e.g., chimps who use language and wage war)
    • cultural "big bang"; Afro-Eurasian cave paintings; differentiation between brain and mind begins
    • Agricultural or Neolithic Revolution after the retreat of Pleistocene glaciers. The cultivation of plants is probably begun by women; settlement -- an invented lifestyle; invention of pots to store food, and thus the appearance of large-scale organized theft, another name for war. The Agricultural Revolution was arguably the most important revolution ever in the human experience and accounts for more than 50 percent of our lifeways today. We will also explore Gerda Lerner's thesis about the origins of patriarchy.
    • invention of civilization. These first civilizations are agricultural civilizations. The rise of Sumer, Egypt, India, and China are on great rivers, not coasts. This was the Bronze Age. Civilizations are fragile: in all, 25 of 30 have fallen, according to Arnold Toynbee. Egyptian continuity vs. Mesopotamian change; invention of epic poetry -- e.g., Epic of Gilgamesh praises wise men of Uruk for their city planning [Guelzo 2].
    • invention of what Victor Davis Hanson calls the "Western way of war," a controversial thesis about a far-reaching cultural innovation of the Greeks between 700-600 B.C. This way of war sought the decisive frontal engagement with the enemy, bringing to bear maximum force in a concentrated and frightful encounter. Because this approach to warfare is not found earlier or elsewhere, it helps explain why the Greek/Western way of war has proven so much more lethal than the combat techniques of other cultures. This way of war would lead to battles that forever changed the human estate, so it is a threshold event. (Behind the question of the "Western way of war" is an even more basic question -- Is war genetic, and if so, is it DNA destiny or merely a proclivity, or is war a learned cultural trait?) 
    • invention of empire; and Homer's warnings about empire in the Iliad.
    • "Axial Age" (Karl Jaspers), which occurs after the "tutorial" of a long dark age in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. In this course, we stretch Jasper's chronology to include Hebrews (monotheism), Greeks (reasoning through answers), Indians (Vedic traditions and Buddhism), Chinese (Confucius, Lao Tsi), and Hellenized Jews (prophets and the invention of ethical history); religious, ethical, and intellectual developments; the remarkable 6th century B.C.E. "India's greatest contribution to world civilization was the Buddhist tradition" (p. 61). Jesus and Paul invent Christianity. Ponder the fact that these ancient religions and worldviews are not irrelevant but still dominate the religious and philosophic outlook of the majority of human beings living today.
    • first thallasocracy, Crete
    • first democracy, war-loving Athens
    • first republics, war-loving Rome ... and Carthage, which practiced child sacrifice by roasting them in tophets
    • Alexander the Great and the idea of one dominant, cosmopolitan, worldwide culture (For an analogy today, think of Coca-Cola, Levis, jazz, Hollywood, Mac, and computer games.)
    • Rome -- significant as both a city and an empire, culturally inspired by Alexander the Great; also, Rome is the last empire to unite Europe
    • rise of China
    • Silk Road(s) and the idea and reality of globalization
    • fall of the Western Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon and others)
    • Rise of the last three civilizations -- Byzantium, Islam, Christendom
    • Christendom as a clashing, creative synthesis of (1) Judeo-Christian spiritual aspirations, (2) Greco-Roman philosophical quests, and (3) Anglo-German political arrangements. This synthesis nourished the seedbed out of which the most powerful civilization -- the West -- ever would grow. See Christopher Dawson; also Russell Kirk, Roots of American Order
    • Crusades (humankind's first mass social movement, as H. G. Wells asserted?)
    • Ghengis Khan -- world's greatest conqueror
    • Italian communes keep republican polities alive
    • Magna Carta and the beginning of political rights (such as due process) and of Parliamentary rule to check the power of the monarch
    • Gutenberg's printing press. NB: Printing with movable type on paper reduced the cost of producing a book by orders of magnitude compared with the old-fashioned ones handwritten on vellum. A Bible required vellum made from 300 sheepskins and untold man-hours of scribe labor. Before printing arrived, a Bible cost more than most European houses to build. There were perhaps 50,000 scribe-produced books in all of Europe in 1450. By 1500 there were 10 million books. When you have that much of anything suddenly in demand, a revolution is afoot.
    • Italian and Northern Renaissances, led by numerous clerics who rejected Scholasticism
    • Muslim blockade of overland routes to the Orient, leading to European frustration
    • European voyages of discovery at the dawn of the modern age; the Columbian Exchange (Alfred Crosby), the most far-reaching manipulation of nature since the Neolithic Revolution; contemporary Chinese voyages -- the threshold that wasn't 
    • the beginnings of modernity and of the gap between the West and the Rest
    The Buddha --
    Indian civilization's greatest gift to the world
    It turns out that c. 1450 is an important date not just in Western Europe, but also in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and China. So it is a natural watershed in world history. Anticipating some threshold events after 1450, students might add:
    • commercial revolution; reintroduction of slavery in the West
    • Machiavelli on what is; not necessarily what should be
    • Reformation
    • Scientific Revolution
    • Enlightenment
    • Glorious Revolution of 1688
    • American Revolution -- a revolution not made, but prevented?
    • French Revolution -- tearing down the ancien regime; but to what degree was it truly successful?
    • Industrial Revolution I & II; steam, railroads, telegraph, electricity, chemicals, assembly lines; replacing kairos with chronos; increasingly complex organizations in cities.
    • end of chattel and debt slavery with breathtaking speed in the West
    • colonization of Africa and Asia 
    • urbanization 
    • World War I, World War II, Cold War, fall of the Berlin Wall
    • women's rights spread
    • Era of space exploration; human beings walk on the Moon
    • World wars that weakened the West; Bandung; decolonization; closing of the European era in world history; Civil Rights in the U.S.
    • globalization of goods, services, and ideas
    • personal computers, the digital revolution, Wikipedia, and the democratization of knowledge
    • What thresholds are you living through now?
    For what it's worth, it is fascinating to play the parlor game, What if? Some thresholds almost did not happen. What if, at the Granicus River, the Persian cavalryman Spithridates had finished his death blow against Alexander the Great, cutting short his brilliant career? What if Cleitus the Black had not intervened in the split second before it was too late? No Hellenistic Age? 

    Grappling with thresholds on a timeline will help you intelligently address two of the most important questions you'll ever encounter: What is it to be human? What is it to be Western?

    2. CHANGE  We need to acquire a sense for why some things change, and other things stay the same. Continuity and change are bread-and-butter themes for historians. The thresholds noted above are both indicators of wholesale change and catalysts for further change. A thematic sampling of "engines" of historical change:
    • The first observation is that not all civilizations welcomed or embraced change -- e.g., there were long periods in which ancient Egypt, China, Islam, and Christendom did not. In early modern Europe, for a variety of reasons, a revolutionary transformation would occur: There would be a new attitude toward change itself. Apparently for the first time in human history, a civilization would embrace change for its own sake, and the West would become different from the Rest. Change would become the new norm. The revolutionary attitude toward change would itself become an engine of historical change. The attitude is embodied, for example, in open-ended scientific inquiry, Darwinism and other new philosophies of Becoming (as opposed to Being), Madison Avenue, and the early auto industry. Despite a culture's attitude toward change, in the end, change happens.
    • religion (Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order; Christopher Dawson, on what puts the "cult" in culture; Arnold Toynbee, Study of History); civilizational mission. The founding of a new religion, or the revitalization of that "good old religion," is a powerful engine of establishing a civilization and/or changing one that already exists. 
    • the quest for material security and betterment through long-distance trade; cultural exchange; migration, globalization, manipulation of nature (p. 434)
    • battles, wars, and the lust for power -- domination over nature and over others -- the libido dominandi (Herodotus on Xerxes whipping the Hellespont on his way to Hellas; Thucydides; Alexander the Great's quest to conquer the world although he couldn't conquer himself; Machiavelli.) Consider how decisive battles can be in just a few hours and over a few square miles. On the outcome of these "crucibles of history" hangs the fate of entire peoples, nations, and civilizations.
    • revolution
    • the quest to be free
    • leadership of significant individuals
    • the intellectual quest, winning the debate, changing the climate of opinion (e.g., William Wilberforce eventually wins the debate over slavery); ideas and ideology. Does a culture value intellectual openness and inquiry? Periods in which diverse ideas were more openly debated include Hammurabi's Babylon, 4th-5th century Greece, republican Rome, imperial Rome, China's Sung Dynasty, the Moorish caliphate in Syria and Egypt, medieval Cordoba, the Italian Renaissance, the founding of the great constitutional polities of the modern age, and throughout much of modernity. 
    • natural catastrophes  They can be geologic: the civilization in Crete was obliterated due to a volcano, earthquakes, and accompanying tsunami. They can be biological: epidemics like the Bubonic plague swept across Europe in the 14th century and wiped out 1/3 of the population, with enormous social, economic, and political consequences. They can be climatic: the little ice age shortened the growing season in Europe during the Middle Ages, arresting civilizational progress.
    • other causes of the decline or declension of civilizations, leaving a void -- experienced, for example, by the periodic dynastic contractions that occurred in Chinese history, or the contraction of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. The void invites migration and introduces other significant changes throughout a region.
    • frustration
    • self-preservation
    • As this inquiry demonstrates, historians frequently ask about change vs. continuity. Yet, in the human family, are there Permanent Things, aspects of our quest that do not change (T. S. Eliot's term)? For example, can you think of any values that are universal across time and place?
    Eugene Delacroix, "Liberty Leading the People"
    Grappling with the engines of change will help you develop the habit of thinking like a historian, which will equip you to handle diverse cultural situations and to think more rigorously.

    3. UNIVERSALS IN THE HUMAN CONDITION  Two-dozen additional topics of universal significance to the human estate that the study of world history informs.
    • The problem of presentism. How do we view the past, on our terms or its terms -- or some combination of both? On what basis do we make sound ethical judgments about people who lived in the past and who have not shared our civilizational experience? (Examples: Jewish stoning, Aztec human sacrifices, Sub-Saharan female circumcision, English court whipping boys, African slavery, Hindu custom of sati.) Are there any practices of our civilization that future cultures will judge harshly? This is a variation of the debate between historical relativism and philosophical/ethical absolutes.
    • The pursuit of happiness. What is happiness (centered on the personal or the public and communal)? How is it achieved? See my July 17, 2011, blog post, "Happiness," especially the discussion of the American founders. ...At the end of Sophocles' play, Antigone, the chorus instructs us in the happiness we seek. Happiness is (my paraphrase) not power, profit, prestige, pleasure, or pride in getting our way. The main ingredients of happiness are virtue and wisdom. How do we become virtuous and wise? For most of us, punishment and suffering pound the foolishness out of us. Suffering schools us until we learn the lessons we need to live the good life. Experience teaches that wisdom mostly comes from keeping a clear conscience, worshipping God rightly, and learning from mistakes, our own and others'. If we are mindful of these things, we have a shot at being happy. We are smart about "the pursuit of happiness." ... I also believe the pursuit of happiness is linked to a primordial urge deep within us -- it's a mythic return to Eden as the vestibule to the Heaven that awaits. This leads humans in all cultures to redeem their time and sanctify their place. 
    • What is a great man/great woman? Heroes, saints, and leaders. What criteria would you use to rank the greatest human beings who have ever lived? Who are the heroes, saints, or leaders you know?
    • Consider how leadership traits and styles change with a new threshold. Publius led in a much different way at the founding of the Roman Republic than did the overbearing Etruscan kings who preceded him. Also, did not the American founding end leadership in this part of the world by conquest and dynastic succession, and instead cultivate men and women who had more ability to listen, cooperate, compromise, and accommodate others in a democratic culture?
    • Why did humankind's greatest teachers never write their teachings down? Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Muhammad. This lacuna has led to interpretive challenges. Can you imagine how our interpretation of the New Testament might change if ever archaeologists discovered Aramaic "transcriptions" of Jesus' teachings?
    • Search out simultaneity in any given period; ponder that mystery -- e.g., the Chinese and Europeans set out on major voyages in the same century, but with very different results.
    • Causation and the post hoc fallacy; also, correlation is not causation.
    • Knowledge (of one thing) versus higher-order understanding (of an additional thing, leading to comparison and thus depth of insight). World history empowers you to acquire understanding by juxtaposing civilizations. 
    • With understanding comes the higher order of thinking analogically, comparing events, leaders, situations, and civilizations mutatis mutandis. Why did so many early civilizations, for example, build pyramidal structures (Sumerians, Egyptians, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas)?
    • Wisdom: It is hard to read textbook chapters about past civilizations. To focus on the value of a distant civilization that is otherwise difficult to relate to, what is the wisdom that that civilization added to the collective wisdom of the species? It was purchased through dear experience. How does that wisdom apply to you personally?
    • Globalization's first manifestations -- Persian Empire, Roman Empire, Han Dynasty, Silk Road
    • Tension between local or regional lifeways and global forces
    • Quest for the Third Rome
    • Does any given nation or civilization have a mission beyond its boundaries that is consciously expressed or implicitly understood? How does such a mission manifest itself? Buddhism and Christianity are missionizing religions. Islam spread aggressively in the 7th-8th centuries. Christendom launched the Crusades. Was a clash of civilizations inevitable? Or -- compare the purpose of Spain's voyages of discovery with that of China's voyages. Or -- does our nation or civilization have a "mission"? (Orestes Brownson thought so.)
    • What happens when a people have their history altered or erased by a totalitarian ruler? Isn't one of the first things a dictator wants to do is throw a people's politically incorrect past down the "memory hole" -- a term from George Orwell's distopia, Nineteen Eighty-Four; recall that the protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth! If the past is destroyed or forgotten, then a people cannot remember better days when patriot heroes threw off similar dicators, or when able leaders with sound principles sustained them through tough times and empowered them to stand proud among the nations of the earth.
    • Eric Hobsbawm wrote of the reinvention of tradition or invention of meaning when surveying something from the past. In ancient times, Nubian rulers reinvented the grandeur of Egypt's Old Kingdom by building pyramids of their own. Some sects of the Protestant Reformation tried to reinvent the experience of the early church. Historical reinactors at Colonial Williamsburg and Civil War battlefields literally reinact the past to keep it "alive." Are there examples of the invention or reinvention of tradition in your life?
    • Related to the totalitarian obliteration of politically incorrect history on the one hand, and the reinvention of traditions on the other, is selection. Of all that happened in the past, historians must choose what themes, events, people, and details to construct a narrative from [Guelzo 1]. Tough-minded professionalism and honesty are required. Military history, for instance, has fallen out of favor. But how much violence do we do to the past if we refuse to talk about battles and wars because we fear that it will militarize students [Fagan 1]?
    • Role of geography: In the 1790s Immanuel Kant described geography as the “foundation of history,” and considered the two of them basic to all inquiry because they “fill up the whole span of knowledge; geography that of space, history that of time.” See Kant’s Physische Geographie [1802] in Tim Unwin, The Place of Geography (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992), pp. 70-73. Is geography destiny, merely a stage, or something in between? (See Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.)
    • Why do civilizations arise? Greater control over the natural environment, its processes and threats? Economic efficiencies? Religious inspiration? Power in the possibilities of hegemony or empire over other cultures? Male dominance that seeks to establish patriarchy?
    • Why do civilizations decline and fall? Rome's fall has been paradigmatic and contemplated over the centuries. In what ways might our American civilization show signs of decadence and decline? What can be done about it?
    • Students should seek out multiple accounts and diverse viewpoints (if they exist) of an event and know how to evaluate the quality of the evidence. What historical evidence is available to us to construct an accurate, insightful narrative of the past? For example, if we want to know how ancient wars were conducted, say, among the rival city-states of Sumer in the 3rd millennium, we must find and interpret the evidence: (1) human remains with signs of lethal trauma, especially in mass graves; (2) carvings and paintings of battles, such as on the Vulture Stele; (3) discovery of weapons, shields, and chariots; (4) defensive structures like walls and moats surrounding communities; (5) writing that includes inventory lists and narratives of what happened; maps and bird's eye views of the action. 
    • What are the limits of the Western mind's grounding in the Enlightenment in dealing with non-Western cultures, especially those that transmit their stories orally instead of in writing, as in Africa? Does Western thinking bias what we see and hear?
    • Hilaire Belloc wrote that "Europe is the faith." We Westerners tend to identify Christianity with Western civilization. But this is a narrow view that a world history course challenges and corrects. Increasingly the West grows secular and Christianity is identified with developing peoples in Africa and Latin America. See Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom.
    • What should we preserve from our past? Should some changes be opposed even if they seem progressive? Introduce UNESCO's World Cultural and Natural Heritage sites, accessible here
    • Debate over whether history, as a discipline of inquiry, belongs more to the social sciences that are concerned with predicting the behavior of larger populations, or to the humanities that are concerned with unpredictable, singular occurrences in the human condition -- the wild card. To what degree should historians rely on the explanatory power of both methods?
    • History as tender-minded celebration of one's nation (Herodotus and Xenophon) vs. history as tough-minded analysis of causation (Thucydides) 
    • What does history reveal about human nature -- for example, the seemingly universal differences between men and women? A common exercise at marriage encounters is to ask women, "On a sinking ship, who would you save first, your spouse or your child?" 95 percent of women would save their child first. When asked the same question, 95 percent of men would save their spouse first, figuring they can conceive again! This response holds cross culturally; it's as true in Africa as it is in the U.S.
    • Are women almost universally oppressed? 80 percent of the world's work is done by women; 10 percent of the world's income is earned by women; 1 percent of the world's property is owned by women; 1/2 of the world's population does not have the right to vote, and most of them are women; 65 percent of the world's illiterate people are women; 1/2 of the world lives on less than $2/day; 1/6 of the world lives on less than $1/day.
    • Luck. What if? Historians sometimes ponder what might have been. This exercise is valuable for showing how fragile, how contingent, our way of life is. E.g., a single battle can take place in a few hours on a few acres, yet dramatically change a nation or civilization. What if the battle had gone the other way? E.g., Soon after Alexander the Great crossed into Asia, in the very first battle at the Granicus River, he was almost killed. A Persian cavalryman named Spithridates stunned Alexander with an blow to the head. The Persian had raised his sword to finish off the dazed general when Cleitus the Black suddenly chopped off his smiting arm -- and Alexander was saved to become the greatest general ever, one whose conquering armies bequeathed to the world the Hellenistic idea of the cosmopolitan empire. Later, Rome tried to fulfill the dream.... What if William was not the conqueror and had lost at Hastings? What if Washington had lost at Brooklyn? Napoleon had won at Waterloo? Lee had won at Gettysburg? Hitler had won at Stalingrad? Eisenhower had lost on D-Day? We'd be living in a different world.
    • Organizing principles of a culture/civilization. It is useful to try to discover such a thing. For example, if you seek to understand the worldview of Roman Catholic medieval Europe, you could do no better than to read Christopher Dawson, Russell Kirk, or John Senior. They explain why the cult -- the cultus -- is the basis of culture. They thus help us understand the origin and rise of certain civilizations. John Senior, a founder of the famous Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, condensed the organizing principle of Christendom in a striking passage. According to his student, Robert Wyer, "He understood that Christian culture is the seedbed of the Faith. Though the Faith can (and does) endure amidst a culture antithetical to it, it cannot flourish under such conditions. Archbishop Lefebvre, in a statement Dr. Senior loved to recall, told him, La messe est l’Eglise ["The Mass is the Church"]. In The Restoration of Christian Culture, Dr. Senior elaborated on this most important truth preserved by the courageous archbishop:
      "'Whatever we do in the political or social order, the indispensable foundation is prayer, the heart of which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer of Christ Himself, Priest and Victim, recreating in an unbloody manner the bloody, selfsame Sacrifice of Calvary. What is Christian culture? It is essentially the Mass. That is not my or anyone’s opinion or theory or wish but the central fact of 2,000 years of history. Christendom, what secularists call Western Civilization, is the Mass and the paraphernalia which protect and facilitate it. All architecture, art, political and social forms, economics, the way people live and feel and think, music, literature ―all these things when they are right are ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To enact a sacrifice, there must be an altar; an altar has to have a roof over it in case it rains; to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, we build a little House of Gold and over it a Tower of Ivory with a bell and a garden round it with the roses and lilies of purity, emblems of the Virgin Mary ―Rosa Mystica, Turris Davidica, Turris Eburnea, Domus Aurea, who carried His Body and His Blood in her womb, Body of her body, Blood of her blood. And around the church and garden, where we bury the faithful dead, the caretakers live, the priests and religious whose work is prayer, who keep the Mystery of Faith in its tabernacle of music and words in the Office of the Church; and around them, the faithful who gather to worship and divide the other work that must be done in order to make the perpetuation of the Sacrifice possible–to raise the food and make the clothes and build and keep the peace so that generations to come may live for Him, so that the Sacrifice goes on even until the consummation of the world.'
      "Elsewhere, Senior explained that not all of these elements of civilized human life have to preach the Faith explicitly, but they should echo it in their order and beauty, and even (especially!) in their simple elegance...."
    • Other fundamental tensions and struggles: between generations, the old and the new, civilization and nature, core and periphery, innovation and conservation, etc.
    Why did Rome fall? Ruins at Tyre.
    Grappling with these topics of universal significance to the human estate will take you far on the path to becoming a liberally educated citizen.



    4. MODERN WEST  You need to be able to understand modernity, give an account of why it arose in the West, show how the gap between "the West and the Rest" came about, and discuss not only the causes but the various consequences of that gap. Premodern and modern thresholds should be depicted chronologically on a timeline. A sampling of topics:
    • See the brief list of post-1500 thresholds on the first-semester timeline.
    • Note the nature of the civilization that gave modernity birth and give students a chronological sense of its elements: Christendom is a merging, clashing synthesis of (1) Judeo-Christian spiritual aspirations, (2) Greco-Roman philosophical quests, and (3) Anglo-German political arrangements. This synthesis created the seedbed out of which the most powerful civilization ever would grow. (See Russell Kirk, Roots of American Order.)
    • Might the rise of modernity in the West be explained in part by the notion that there is more social tolerance for boundary transgressions in the West compared to the Rest? (See Daniel Bell, Romanes lecture at Oxford University on boundary transgressions.)
    • Might the rise of modernity in the West be explained in part by the notion that there is more social tolerance for paradigm shifts in the West compared to the Rest? (See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.)
    • decentralizing authority: Protestant Reformation and North Atlantic revolutions
    • Wars of Religion, Westphalia, and the international order
    • state and imperial competition
    • four paths to the scientific revolution: Arabic learning and Western monotheism, voyages of discovery that promote a greater field of observation, and (prompted in part by wars of religion) Enlightenment freedoms
    • invention of the calculus, one of the most powerful mathematical tools ever
    • industrial might and military power
    • the social revolution that results from the Industrial Revolution: the rise of the modern middle class and challenge of the working poor
    • post French Revolution rise of ideologies expressed in isms: nationalism, liberalism, conservatism, anarchism, communism, fascism, ultramontanism, etc.
    • alienation (Copernicus, Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Durkheim) 
    • The Little Ice Age was contemporaneous with the rise of modernity in the West. Is any causation at work?
      • 3 national responses to modernity: embrace it as Japan did; reject it as the Taliban do; or find some selective accommodation as Egypt did
      • clash of civilizations? Islam and the modern West; changing nature of war
      • rise of the BRIC nations 
      Newton's Principia -- one of the texts that launched the European Enlightenment

      [Where opportune, revisit the two-dozen topics of universal significance introduced in the previous semester.]
      Puccini's Madame Butterfly -- emblematic of the dominant West over the passive or submissive Orient
      Grappling with modernity will enable you intelligently to address another of the biggest questions that you will ever encounter: What is it to be Western? And -- What is it to be modern? Grappling with the additional topics of universal significance to the human estate will take you far on the path to becoming a liberally educated citizen.

      5. UNITED STATES  You need to be able to understand your nation, the United States, in a global, historical context. A sampling of topics:
      • Compared to other nations, what is exceptional (as expressed in de Tocqueville's thesis), and what is typical, of America? For example, our origins are not mythic, tribal, or ethnic as with most other nations; our origins are deliberative and constitutional, based on debating the idea of what a republic should look like. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in the first Federalist Paper, our nation was created out of conscious choice, deliberation, and debate over ideas.
      • roots and shoots of our civilization
      • The founders' thought brought together two major streams of thought: the civic republican tradition of antiquity, Renaissance humanism, and certain Whig thinkers that emphasizes the individual's duties to his community; and the natural law tradition of William of Occam, John Locke, and the Enlightenment that emphasizes the community's duty to the individual.
      • the founders as latter-day Roman republicans
      • the critique of the founders in recent years -- e.g., Ray Mark Rinaldi, "Pennsylvania Exhibit Exposes Washington's Cruel Secret," Cincinnati Examiner, July 10, 2011.
      • the fear of direct democracy and small republics
      • America and empire
      • factors in the rise of the imperial presidency; implications
      • how did the rise of America change the nature of leadership?
      • The Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Thomas Jefferson, Dumas Malone, once told journalist Hugh Sidey, "So much of recorded history is about the struggle of individuals and families to feed themselves. That changed dramatically in this country. The greatness of this country was rooted in the fact that a single farmer could produce an abundance of food the likes of which the world had never seen or imagined and so free the energies of countless others to do other things." Sidey believes that it's the greatest story never told.
      • We Americans are a bundle of contradictions between the desire for the new, the Next Big Thing, the latest fashion ... and clinging to the old. I will prove why in a classroom exercise.
      Grappling with this Big Thing called the United States will enable you intelligently to address another of the key questions: What is it to be American? You can better answer the question about being an American once you have some basis of comparison, which comes from world history. It's like the experience of learning a foreign language, which most students find helps consolidate their understanding of English grammar.
      The U.S. at night

      CODA  History is not a spectator sport. History should be engaged here, now. We started with David Christian's concept of Big History, but we should not neglect our own back yard, our own region, our "local history," to learn more about ourselves and others. Following is a framework for asking better questions of a region or metropolitan area that you are interested in.
      • Define a region. What are the distinctions between, say, the urban core and the rural periphery? Between civilization and nature? Between old and new? 
      • Landforms: Given the fundamentally opposing forces of tectonics vs. climate and gravity, why does this region's land look the way it does?
      • Why did people come here? Were different groups competing for the same resources? What were the groups' cultural norms as they affected each other and the region's natural resources?
      • Why did people stay here? (When did people begin settling permanently here? Who were they? Were there successive waves of different peoples? Why did they come when they did? What were the decisive resources -- economic, ecologic, geographic, political, social, aesthetic, spiritual -- that people valued, and what were the overlapping ecological resources they harnessed?)
      • What names did various people give to the things of this region?
      • When challenges mounted (Arnold Toynbee's notion), when decline threatened, how did they respond (again, Toynbee)? Did people fail, move away, or stay and reinvent themselves and their region?
      • What individuals made a difference to the region's fortunes? What were their leadership traits? What was their leadership style? (Great Man theory)
      • What groups made a difference to the region's fortunes? What was in their cultural outlook?
      • What threshold events (David Christian's Big History) changed the human estate in this region and when did they occur?
      • What constitutions, laws, and local, state, national, or international policies have made a difference to the region's fortunes? To what extent did larger markets and globalization shape the economic decisions in the region? 
      • What institutions made a difference to the region's fortunes?
      • What accidents of geography and history made a difference to the region's fortunes? 
      • Are there analogies that present telling similarities/differences between this region and another comparable region of the earth, and do such analogies help us think usefully about the future of the region?

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