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Foundations of Western Civilization II: A History of the Modern Western World

Foundations of Western Civilization II: A History of the Modern Western World

Professor Robert Bucholz D.Phil.
Loyola University Chicago
Course No.  8700
Course No.  8700
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Course Overview

About This Course

48 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Starting with the Renaissance, the culture of the West exploded. Over the next 600 years, rapid innovations in philosophy, technology, economics, military affairs, and politics allowed what once had been a cultural backwater left by the collapse of the Roman Empire to dominate the world.

But how—and why—did this happen?

  • How did the decentralized agrarian principalities of medieval Europe remake themselves into great industrial nation-states?
  • How and why did absolutism rise and then yield to democratic liberalism?
  • How did Western science and technology create the first industrialized economics and reduce the power of superstition and disease?
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Starting with the Renaissance, the culture of the West exploded. Over the next 600 years, rapid innovations in philosophy, technology, economics, military affairs, and politics allowed what once had been a cultural backwater left by the collapse of the Roman Empire to dominate the world.

But how—and why—did this happen?

  • How did the decentralized agrarian principalities of medieval Europe remake themselves into great industrial nation-states?
  • How and why did absolutism rise and then yield to democratic liberalism?
  • How did Western science and technology create the first industrialized economics and reduce the power of superstition and disease?
  • How did these centuries create the framework for the escalation of revolutions and the frequent wars between civilizations?
  • Why was colonization—either the conquest of indigenous populations or the transplantation of societies to new territories—such a prevalent enterprise, and how did it fall apart?
  • Why did Europe produce two great antagonist systems: capitalism and Communism?
  • Most importantly: How did we get to where we are in the 21st century?

Foundations of Western Civilization II: A History of the Modern Western World explores these and other riveting questions. In 48 lectures, award-winning Professor Robert Bucholz of Loyola University of Chicago teaches not only the history of Western civilization but also the meaning of civilization itself.

Offering profound rewards to everyone, this course is

  • a grand narrative of the past five centuries;
  • a coherent context for the period's events and trends; and
  • an analysis of what these five centuries have bequeathed to us.

How Was Our World Shaped?

The story of the West detailed in Foundations of Western Civilization II is the road map that tells you where we came from and what challenges we have created for ourselves in the journey ahead.

For all its diversity, modern American society—in particular its assumptions and forms of expression—is very much a product of the last 500 years of European history and culture. Our system of government, our economic structures, our science and technology, and much of our literature, art, and music are based on or react to European models forged in the crucible of modern Western history.

The history of Europe, moreover, is not just the story of "kings and queens, or their ministers, or their relations with diets, parliaments, or estates," according to Professor Bucholz. "It is also the story of every man, woman, and child who lived, loved, fought, and died in Europe during the period covered by our course," he says. "The story must be told from the bottom up as well as from the top down."

An Extraordinary, Comprehensive View

This extraordinary and comprehensive view of history explores the ideas, events, and characters that modeled Western political, social, religious, intellectual, cultural, scientific, technological, and economic history during the tumultuous period between the 16th and 20th centuries.

Your journey begins with a close look at the backgrounds to the modern Western world and an exploration of how Western Europe transitioned from a medieval mindset to the modern path that would take it through the next 600 years. In addition to looking at the critical role played by factors like climate, topography, and natural resources, you chart the six developments that destroyed the old medieval worldview:

  • the development of Renaissance Humanism
  • the rise of centrally governed nation-states
  • the discovery of the New World
  • the creation of the printing press
  • the Protestant Reformation and its subsequent religious wars
  • the rational and scientific revolutions

From there, Foundations of Western Civilization II plunges into the progress of Western European history. You immerse yourself in the crises of the 17th century, the development of absolutism and constitutionalism, the whirlwind of revolutionary fervor that consumed the West during the 18th century (specifically the American and French revolutions), and the subsequent spread of liberal ideals.

As you emerge into the 19th century, you understand the critical impact of various nationalist movements in Western history, as exemplified in the dramatic stories of the unification of Italy in 1861 and that of Germany in 1871. Nationalism also paved the way for increased tensions in and among nations, and carries us into the violent turmoil of the 20th century and shocking events like the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and Nazism, the two world wars, the Russian Revolution, and the rise (and fall) of the Soviet Union—all events that would forever alter the course of Western history.

Throughout this historical survey, you get a larger understanding of the political, social, and cultural history of Europe. In addition, you explore the ramifications of these and other events on the rest of the world, including the United States.

Different from other surveys of Western civilization, Foundations of Western Civilization II puts the history of the West into a cultural context as well, with looks into amazing works of art and culture that range from the King James Bible and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling to Impressionist paintings and Modernist literature like James Joyce's Ulysses.

Venture Inside and Outside the Corridors of Power

Throughout the course, Professor Bucholz pauses at many points along the way to show how Western civilization was shaped by the low as well as the mighty, the practical as well as the artistic. As you would expect from a survey of Western history, those at the seat of power—whether through birth, election, or revolution—take their turn at center stage, including

  • Louis XIV: Known as the Sun King, his reign was a constant demonstration of what Professor Bucholz calls "Louis XIV's Five Rules of Absolutism," with the king always being godlike, in control, wealthy, able to enforce religious conformity, and in possession of an army.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: The brilliant battlefield tactician and magnetic leader whose dreams of unifying Europe through military conquest were foiled, his values of liberalism and nationalism nevertheless spread throughout Europe.
  • Otto von Bismarck: A meticulous diplomat and the architect of German unification, his carefully derived system of interlocking alliances—designed to maintain Europe's balance of power and prevent war—could not survive the swaggering ambitions of the Kaiser who fired him.
  • Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: A fiery leader, he spent much of his youth imprisoned or exiled but returned to Russia to lead a revolution, topple a government, and lay the foundation for decades of Soviet Communism.
  • Winston Churchill: An author, soldier, and statesman, he emerged from the political wilderness to become Britain's inspirational prime minister during the darkest days of World War II.

But those who had their hands on the clay as our civilization was shaped came from outside the corridors of power as well, including

  • theologians like Martin Luther, an Augustinian priest and professor of theology whose 95 Theses opposing the sale of indulgences by the Church led to the launch of the Reformation when he nailed them to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg
  • Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, whose greatest works revealed new ways to see the individual through their portrayal of real people with real histories and feelings
  • Enlightenment thinkers like Charles Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot, the energetic thinkers known as "philosophes" who built on the work of earlier philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
  • Musicians like Beethoven, who redefined musical styles and produced iconic works that we still cherish today

An Essential Toolkit

Oxford-educated, Professor Bucholz has frequently taught a comprehensive Western civilization survey course at Loyola. He has received numerous awards for his teaching, including the Sujack Award for Teaching Excellence (the highest such award presented by the Loyola College of Arts and Sciences) and, twice, the Honors Program Faculty Member of the Year Award. Among his published books are The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture and Early Modern England, 1485–1714: A Narrative History (with Newton Key).

Taught by an expert historian, Foundations of Western Civilization II is essential to your understanding of the larger depth and breadth of this unprecedented period in world history. In Professor Bucholz's words, the course is "a toolkit for any citizen of the West, a survival kit for any citizen of the world. It is essential equipment for those of us who wish to become civilized and remain so."

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48 Lectures
  • 1
    The Importance of the West
    This lecture is an overview of the past 500 years of European history and culture—the system of government, economic structures, science and technology, and much of the literature, art, and music. x
  • 2
    Geography Is Destiny
    We look at how the physical realities of Europe and the Atlantic world—its geography and climate—shaped its destiny by affecting patterns of population, immigration, diplomacy, war, and political and cultural divisions. x
  • 3
    Culture Is Destiny
    The "Great Chain of Being" assumed an ordered, hierarchical universe in which humans—like angels, animals, plants, and even stones—were placed in a particular rank by God. As Europe emerges from the Middle Ages, that concept is challenged and strained by forces in politics, society, religion, and culture. x
  • 4
    Renaissance Humanism—1350–1650
    A revived interest in the literary and historical works of classical Greece and Rome unleashes new ideas about the qualifications of a gentleman, the role of women, and the expectations of a prince—with a resulting emphasis on textual accuracy, literacy, education, and the human and practical. x
  • 5
    Renaissance Princes—1450–1600
    The Humanist emphasis dovetails with the rise of a new kind of ruler, with expanding powers in every area of life and seeking to pay for their ambitions by claiming trade routes to the Far East and the Americas. x
  • 6
    The New World & the Old—1400–1650
    The exploration and exploitation of Africa and Asia by the Portuguese, and of the Americas by first the Spanish, then the French and English, change the economies, cultures, and political makeup of these regions forever. x
  • 7
    The Protestant Reformation—1500–22
    The rise of literacy and the development of the printing press make possible the dissemination of powerful new ideas—particularly those of Augustinian priest and reformer Martin Luther. x
  • 8
    The Wars of Religion—1523–1648
    The Reformation splits Europe into opposing camps, producing a series of bloodbaths culminating in the Thirty Years' War, the near-bankruptcy of Spain, and the eventual conviction that perhaps religious matters are best settled peacefully. x
  • 9
    Rational & Scientific Revolutions—1450–1650
    Beginning with Copernicus in the 15th century, European thinkers such as Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, and Newton question old views on how the world works, pioneering the Scientific Method. x
  • 10
    French Absolutism—1589–1715
    Following the disasters of the Wars of Religion, the monarchies of Europe experience a crisis of authority. The French response—ultimately perfected by Louis XIV—of an absolutism that makes the king a virtual god on Earth becomes an object of envy and imitation for nearly every monarchy on the continent. x
  • 11
    English Constitutionalism—1603–49
    The Stuart monarchs of England struggle with Parliament and their own foibles and extravagance. The resulting English Civil Wars culminate in the trial and execution of King Charles I in 1649. x
  • 12
    English Constitutionalism—1649–89
    After the execution of Charles I, England experiments with a republic, a protectorate, and even, once again, a semi-absolutist monarchy, before the Glorious Revolution sets an example of an alternative, more democratic, form of government for Europe and the Americas. x
  • 13
    War, Trade, Empire—1688–1702
    The Revolution of 1688-89 precipitates a series of general European wars pitting the French against the British and Dutch for mastery in Europe and control of trade with colonies in America and Asia. x
  • 14
    War, Trade, Empire—1702–14
    Building on its military success—powered by innovative deficit financing—Britain becomes the most prosperous trading nation in Europe, with much of the foundation of that prosperity built on the misery of Africans forced into the Triangular Atlantic trade in sugar, tobacco, and African slaves. x
  • 15
    War, Trade, Empire—1714–63
    Most of Europe, and France in particular, emerges from two decades of warfare exhausted financially and militarily, but the peace is temporary. A new round of conflicts leaves Britain the undisputed master of the Canadian and Eastern seaboards of North America. x
  • 16
    Life Under the Ancien Régime—1689–1789
    Thanks to commercial and financial revolutions, the middling orders of merchants and professionals are growing in numbers, wealth, and political savvy—and will be key to the coming revolution in European social and economic relations. x
  • 17
    Enlightenment & Despotism
    European thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Rousseau expand the ideas of Locke and others in a movement that comes to be known as the Enlightenment. When even enlightened monarchs fail to change their societies, some Europeans begin to consider an alternative: revolution. x
  • 18
    The American Revolution
    The American Revolution becomes a fight over Enlightenment ideas. The new republic and its constitution represent the first comprehensive attempt to put those ideas into practice and become a model and inspiration to Europeans who want reform. x
  • 19
    The French Revolution—1789–92
    Nearly bankrupted by its participation in the American Revolution, and unable to achieve reform under its existing system, France becomes a constitutional monarchy, with aristocratic privilege abolished and a Declaration of the Rights of Man set forth. But will Louis XVI accept his reduced role? x
  • 20
    The French Revolution—1792–1803
    As the king—urged on by monarchs elsewhere—refuses that new role, the Revolution turns violent, unleashing a Reign of Terror that eventually brings about war with virtually every other monarchy in Europe, a new nationalism, and the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. x
  • 21
    The Napoleonic Empire—1803-15
    Despite a succession of brilliant victories, Napoleon's efforts to conquer Britain and force the nations of Europe into his system meet with eventual defeat. Nevertheless, the sense of nationalism spread by France has changed the political climate, as the Congress of Vienna learns in attempting to restore the Bourbon monarchy. x
  • 22
    Beginnings of Industrialization—1760–1850
    While several factors make Europe the logical place for industrialization to begin, it is Britain's advantages—financial, political, and social—that makes it the best-suited country to exploit those conditions. The result is a host of brilliant inventors, financiers, and managers who bring about the first Industrial Revolution. x
  • 23
    Consequences of Industrialization—1760–1850
    The consequences of the first Industrial Revolution do more to create today's world than any other development studied in this course. But its innovations have a dark side that draws multiple responses from European intellectuals—which we examine in the next three lectures. x
  • 24
    The Liberal Response—1776–1861
    The appalling conditions of life and work for the working class produce a series of intellectual and political reactions in Western Europe, with the best routes to reform the subject of wide-ranging debate among liberal thinkers. x
  • 25
    The Romantic Response—1789–1870
    In the face of half-hearted or partial solutions to the problems of the Industrial Revolution, Romantic writers such as Wordsworth, Blake, and Shelley urge revolution, forever altering how Europeans and, later, Americans, perceive the world. x
  • 26
    The Socialist Response—1813–1905
    The urgings of early Socialists for voluntarily sharing wealth eventually give way to the demands of Marx and Engels for more radical action. Though Marx's critique is influential, several factors prevent industrial Europe from ever experiencing the revolution for which he calls. x
  • 27
    Descent of Man; Rise of Woman—1830–90
    Industrialization is the material product of an age of scientific advance. But science, with its emphasis on empirical evidence, reason, and experimentation, also revolutionizes how Europeans think, as one after another, fundamental beliefs and traditions are challenged. x
  • 28
    Nationalism—1815–48
    The Industrial Revolution is primarily a northern and western European phenomenon. Elsewhere, the big issue is nationalism, and the failure of the Congress of Vienna to take nationalism and liberalism into account leads to revolutions across Europe throughout the next 30 years. x
  • 29
    Nationalism—1848–71
    Despite the rise of nationalism on the continent, the balance of European power remains stable. It is not until the unification of Germany at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 that this fragile balance is affected for generations to come. x
  • 30
    Imperial Rivalry—1870–1914
    The European powers, as well as the United States, seek new empires overseas. The resulting competition for colonies breeds conflict between nations that otherwise have no reason to fight, a factor that in the long run contributes to World War I. x
  • 31
    Industrial Rivalry—1870–1914
    The second Industrial Revolution creates, for most people, a cornucopia of opportunities and new products. Internationally, two new industrial giants arise to challenge Great Britain, and tensions with one help to frame World War I. x
  • 32
    The Alliance System—1872–1914
    A series of interlocking treaties devised by Otto von Bismarck to ease conditions in the Balkans prevents nationalistic and economic pressures from exploding into full-scale European war, but new tensions eventually grow to overwhelm it. x
  • 33
    Decadence & Malaise—circa 1900
    The start of the Great War is greeted by cheering crowds and floods of volunteering men all over Europe. For some the reasons involve nationalism and patriotism; for others it's a chance to flee a stagnant economy or find answers for a society and culture in flux. x
  • 34
    The Great War Begins—1914–16
    The rapid mobilization of Russia and the determined resistance of France ruin Germany's plans for quick victory. The new inventions of the second Industrial Revolution give the defensive side all the advantages, and the armies of Europe are locked into a bloody stalemate of trench warfare. x
  • 35
    Breaking the Deadlock—1915–17
    Both sides try in vain to break the deadlock. Germany's sinking of merchant ships inevitably draws America into the war. In 1917, the Germans play another card as they attempt to foment revolution in Russia. x
  • 36
    The Russian Revolution—1917–22
    The most backward and repressive nation in Europe, terribly overmatched in the war, experiences the overthrow of both its czar and the republican government that succeeds him before suing for peace with Germany and establishing the world's first Communist government. x
  • 37
    The End of the War—1917–22
    Its final effort to win the war thwarted, and facing food and fuel shortages, Germany finally agrees to an armistice. The ensuing peace conference produces a treaty that will weaken the German economy and breed tremendous resentment. x
  • 38
    Recovery & Depression in the West—1919–36
    The world economy only slowly recovers from the Great War. America emerges as both Europe's creditor and the world's wealthiest nation, with the collapse of the stock market having a disastrous ripple effect. x
  • 39
    Totalitarian Russia—1918–39
    Lenin's early experiments with forced collectivization at home and revolution abroad are disastrous for the Soviet Union's domestic and foreign policy and even worse for its people. When Lenin dies, a vicious power struggle results in the rise of Josef Stalin. x
  • 40
    Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany—1922–36
    The disillusionment in Europe with democracy and, later, capitalism following the Great War and the Great Depression make alternatives seem reasonable. Mussolini and Hitler seize power and create states that boast full employment—at a price. x
  • 41
    The Holocaust—1933–45
    The Nazi regime embarks on the extermination of Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" in Europe. The lecture concludes with a meditation on the meaning of this crime and its implications for the concept of Western civilization. x
  • 42
    The Failure of Diplomacy—1935–39
    In both the Far East and Europe, aggression brings the world closer to war. Following its earlier invasion of Manchuria with an invasion of the rest of northern China in 1937, Japan has joined the Axis powers, and Hitler marches a rearmed Germany into the Rhineland, Austria, and then Czechoslovakia. x
  • 43
    World War II—1939–42
    This first lecture on World War II begins with Hitler's Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland and continues until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States. x
  • 44
    World War II—1942-45
    From 1942 on, the sheer size of the Soviet Union and its army, combined with the industrial might of the United States, guarantee an Allied victory—but the cost will be very high. x
  • 45
    American Hegemony, Soviet Challenge—1945–75
    The two undisputed superpowers threaten each other with nuclear arsenals and fight proxy wars for global dominance. Americans use their leadership and wealth to establish democracies in Germany and Italy and to restore Western European economies through the Marshall Plan. This lecture doesn't address the end of the Cold War. x
  • 46
    Rebuilding Europe—1945–85
    The great nations of Europe are forced to re-evaluate their positions. Gradually, often reluctantly, and sometimes violently, they divest themselves of overseas colonies, accommodate themselves to a precarious existence between the superpowers, and concentrate on rebuilding their economies. x
  • 47
    The New Europe—1985–2001
    After the fall of the Soviet Union, the nations of Europe form a European Union with an aim to reshape the politics and economics of the region and the world, even as it deals with many new challenges. x
  • 48
    The Meaning of Western Civilization
    At the dawn of the 21st century, the European legacy of democracy, capitalism, and relative freedom for the individual is challenged by internal and external movements, including the rise of religious fundamentalism, international terrorism, tensions over immigration, and integration into a global economy. Will European ideals survive? x

Lecture Titles

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Robert Bucholz
D.Phil. Robert Bucholz
Loyola University Chicago

Dr. Robert Bucholz is Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago, where he has taught since 1988. He earned his B.A. in History from Cornell University and his D.Phil. in Modern History from Oxford University. Before joining the faculty at Loyola University, Professor Bucholz taught at numerous universities, including Cornell University; California State University, Long Beach; and Loyola, Marymount University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Among Professor Bucholz's numerous teaching awards are the Sujack Award for Teaching Excellence, the highest such award presented by the Loyola College of Arts and Sciences. On two occasions, he received the Honors Program Faculty Member of the Year Award. At Loyola University, Professor Bucholz teaches courses on Early Modern London, Early Modern England, and English Social History. He is the author or coauthor of books on English history, including Early Modern England: A Narrative History and The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture. Professor Bucholz is also the project director of the Database of Court Officers, which contains the career facts of every person who served in the British royal household from the Restoration to the death of Queen Victoria.

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Reviews

Rated 4.7 out of 5 by 93 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by A valuable refresher course Back in the old days, it was not uncommon for schools to offer courses in "Western Civ,” but in recent years it has become less popular to require a course so Eurocentric in its focus. For me, this was a refresher course in things I learned years ago, but as with all Great Courses, there are always some new ideas or new perspectives to consider. I would highly recommend listening to this course in the car with your teenage children, who are not likely to learn a lot of this material in their high school classes. The Prof is careful not to make value judgments about other civilizations, but he also does not shy away from acknowledging the influence that European and American civilization have had on the world. Western philosophers, theologians, statesmen, and artists are all given their time in the spotlight, tied in with the major events which have shaped the modern world. I used the audio version of this course, which was more convenient, and was sufficient for me as a student. Because of changes in my listening schedule, it took me over two months to finish this 48-chapter course, but each chapter was engaging and informative. July 27, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by interesting but mixed I loved Prof. Bucholz' TC course on English history and find him, here as well as there, to be an articulate and entertaining lecturers. I enjoyed this course and learned a lot, rating it a 4. But that's a combination of the first 36 lectures largely being 5s and the last 12 largely 3s. Overall I would have found this course a solid overall 5 if it had been 6 to 12 lectures shorter -- it could have been edited more ruthlessly. The title speaks about a history of the modern world and the foundations of Western civilization, so it is intended to be more than a pure history course. Prof. Bucholz weaves in a great many themes of philosophy and culture, which I think is proper given the dual goals of the course. I found the discussion in the early lectures, for example, of the 'great chain of being' quite useful in understanding the huge transition from the Medieval world to the modern world. But later discussions of philosophy, as in #25, #26, and #33, were cursory and not very informative. For example, Prof. Bucholz mentions in lecture #33 numerous intellectuals, but unless you already know about them and their ideas, you'd just come away from this lecture with a largely meaningless list of names. I learned an immense amount in the first 24 lectures in particular. I found the last 12 weaker, as they came across largely as a 'current events' summary without a lot of perspective. There's also a certain amount of academic moaning about Western civilization and its shortcomings, which is a valid topic for discussion but which came across as weak. But overall I enjoyed the course and recommend it to anyone with an interest in the last 500 years of Western history. August 25, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Would Be Even Better Without PC Opinions I have listened to this course three times. It is a great course for putting the history of western civilization in perspective. However, Professor Bucholz frequently inserts his personal opinions into his lectures; such as describing the cold war as a trivial dispute over "ideology"; ignoring the widely held western view that communism was not only an abysmal failure but also a totalitarianism on par with the Nazis. I appreciate that modern history has many sensitive areas; all the more reason to keep opinions out of the lectures. I own many Great Courses history titles and Professor Bucholz is the only teacher who displayed his biases. July 13, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Edifying review of modern history Having taken a BA in History as my pre-med degree, I was ready for a refresher course many years later. I was fortunate to find this gifted professor who brought a very complicated story alive. His final summation in Lecture 48 was insightful and inspiring. Thanks, Dr.. Bucholz. May 13, 2014
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