A Brief History of the World

Course No. 8080
Professor Peter N. Stearns, Ph.D.
George Mason University
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Course No. 8080
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Course Overview

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 Enlightenment—the 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 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 civilization.

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

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.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 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 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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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    What and Why Is World History?
    Over the past 20 years, world history has been gaining ground as a way to understand the human experience. In this opening lecture, we review the basic tenets of this discipline and outline its main subjects of inquiry: comparison of civilizations, contacts among societies, and the large-scale forces that shape these interactions. x
  • 2
    The Neolithic Revolution
    The rise of agriculture was one of the great changes in the human experience. This lecture explores the causes and ramifications of this remarkable breakthrough, as well as other forces that influenced the early development of civilization. x
  • 3
    What Is a Civilization?
    After agriculture, the next step in world history involves the emergence of civilization as a form of human organization. This lecture reviews the key technological, cultural, and political innovations that accompanied the development of civilizations in regions as diverse as Central America, Asia, and the Middle East. x
  • 4
    The Classical Period in World History
    The period from 1000 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. saw the development of a few great civilizations located in China, the Med­iterranean region, and India. These cultures expanded on the innovations of earlier River Valley civilizations, but also forged some new elements that would persist throughout world history. x
  • 5
    Cultural Change in the Classical Period
    Creating large and durable cultur­al systems was one of the hallmarks of Classical civilizations. This lecture ex­am­ines some of the most influential and enduring examples, including religious systems—Confucianism, Daoism, Hin­duism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity—as well as philosophy and art in the Mediterranean. x
  • 6
    Social Inequalities in Classical Societies
    Although each of the Classical civilizations developed distinct social systems, what they had in common was a general belief that social inequality in class and gender was not only inevitable, it was desirable and necessary to ensure the stability of society. x
  • 7
    The Roman Empire and Han China
    While the Roman Empire is more familiar to most Western students than Han China, these two societies, for a span of several centuries, were remarkably similar in some basic achievements. Those similarities give us an opportunity to look closely at how Classical societies operated in comparable contexts. x
  • 8
    The Silk Road; Classical Period Contacts
    The classical period is defined not only by regional history but also by patterns of connections among large regions. This lecture examines the two main conduits for contact, the Silk Road trade route to Asia, and the trade nexus centered on India. x
  • 9
    The Decline of the Classical Civilizations
    This lecture explores the contributing factors that led to the fall, within a short time span, of several major Classical societies: the Roman Empire, the Han Dynasty in China, and the Gupta Empire in India. x
  • 10
    The Post-Classical Period, 500–1450
    The Postclassical Period has been a subject of debate among scholars of world history. The traditional view of this era as "The Middle Ages" assumes a European focus and ignores the striking vitality of the era. This lecture explores a more useful definition of the period, which focused on the spread of world religions and the emergence of a world network. x
  • 11
    World Religions and Their Consequences
    The Postclassical period saw the crucial geographical expansion of Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the origins and expansion of Islam. This lecture takes a look at the causes for this expansion and its effects, both for world societies and for the various belief systems. x
  • 12
    The Impact of Islam
    While the spread of Islam fits within patterns of expanding world religions, Islam and the Arab society involved with it clearly gained particular importance and a position of power during the Postclassical period. x
  • 13
    Postclassical Trade and Contacts
    The increase of interregional trade in the Postclassical centuries brought many changes, including innovations in shipping technology and mapping, new opportunities for venturesome travelers, the development of missionary activity, and the exchange of new technologies. x
  • 14
    Postclassical Patterns of Imitation
    Japan, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe offer examples of relatively young societies that copied key aspects of culture, technology, and social structure from neighboring societies. x
  • 15
    Western Civilization in World Context
    This lecture explores the questions raised by traditional concepts of Western civilization. Is there a straight line of influence from the early high civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Western tradition? What are the distinctive features of Western civilization, and when do they appear? x
  • 16
    The Mongol Years
    World history between the early 13th and the mid-14th century was dominated by the conquests of the Mongols. Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty conquerors, world history has rehabilitated the Mongols and brought to light their tolerant—even enlightened—policies of rule. x
  • 17
    Civilizations in the Americas and in Africa
    Because of its isolation, the New World does not fully fit the larger patterns of the period and, because of later cultural devastation, the heritage of these civilizations had limited impact. African kingdoms, on the other hand, were deeply connected to the large world network of the time. x
  • 18
    The World in 1450
    A number of crucial changes, including explorations by European down the African coast, explorations by China, and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, set the stage for the next period in world history. x
  • 19
    The Early Modern Period, 1450–1750
    For the first time, international trade encompassed the entire globe, including new contacts with the Americas, Pacific Oceania, and Australia. Results included the emergence of Europe's overseas colonies and the rise of several large "Gunpowder Empires" in Asia. x
  • 20
    The World Economy, 1450–1750
    During this period, world trade in­creased and became literally global as the West took an increasingly dominant role in ex­plo­ration and conquest. This lecture uses sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein's theories of core and peripheral societies to understand these developments. x
  • 21
    Transformations in Western Europe
    This lecture examines pivotal changes that occurred in Western civilization during the postmodern period, and focuses on the features that had the most impact: growing commercialization, the emergence of the nation state, and the rise of new cultural products such as scientific thought and activity. x
  • 22
    The Rise of Russia
    Early modern Russia is a special case in world history. The dilemma of its status—independent civilization or part of ­Europe—is continually debated, and be­cause of its durability and influence in Mid­dle Eastern, Asian, and European societies, it warrants special attention. x
  • 23
    Asian Empires and a Shogunate
    This lecture reviews major changes during the early modern period in Asian societies including the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires, the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, and Japan. x
  • 24
    The Long 19th Century
    European domination through growing military and manufacturing power advances the industrial revolution and increased levels of international connection, which might be called the first stage of contemporary globalization. x
  • 25
    Abolition of Slavery and Serfdom
    Formal systems of coercive labor were largely abolished around the world during the Long 19th Century, giving way to new humanitarian thinking. Other factors, including changes in world demography and migration, also affect this global shift. x
  • 26
    Modernization and Nationalisms
    This lecture examines the emergence of two trends that will continue to influence world history: modernization and nationalism. These trends result from growing political and economic rifts among societies. x
  • 27
    Formation of Latin American Civilization
    Crucial developments in Latin America in the 19th century included many nations establishing independence and the political problems that followed, and the blossoming of a distinctly Latin American culture. x
  • 28
    China and Japan—19th-Century Pressures
    China and Japan shared many characteristics, yet their reactions to new Western pressure and the dynamics of the world economy were strikingly different, setting up two separate East Asian models whose impact is still strong today. x
  • 29
    The 20th–21st Centuries as a New Period
    Enormous changes transpire over the 20th century. World wars dilute Western dominance and Pacific Rim nations gain economic power. Political change occurs as well—monarchies topple and are replaced by new forms of rule. x
  • 30
    The World Economy—Change and Continuity
    Many economic themes of earlier per­i­ods continue in the 20th century—in­cluding unequal relationships in world trade—but changes occurred as well, such as the emphasis on high-tech, service, and entertainment products in dominant economies. x
  • 31
    An Age of Revolutions
    The 20th century saw an unprecedented number of political and social revolutions. This lecture reviews this trend for revolution as it occurred in Russia, China, Mexico, Iran, and elsewhere. x
  • 32
    The United States in World History
    Was the 20th century "The American Century," as some pundits claim? Is the United States a civilization all its own—or is it part of Western civilization? This lecture explores issues that arise when the United States is seen in the context of world history. x
  • 33
    Contemporary Democracy
    Traditional political forms—monarchy, empire, colony—decline in the 20th century as democracy spreads from its base in Western Europe, the United States, and Australia. Despite this spread, many societies resist or adapt democratic models of government. x
  • 34
    Contemporary Cultural Change
    The contemporary period has seen sweeping changes in peoples' belief systems with the rise of new ideologies: nationalism, Marxism, consumerism and science. Traditional religions have also gained believers, as seen in spread of Christian and Muslim fundamentalism. x
  • 35
    Gender in Contemporary World History
    There have been far-reaching changes in gender relations and conditions for women, with many reforms supported by nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. There are also, however, many forces eager to maintain traditional gender roles. x
  • 36
    Globalization and World History
    The most exciting development in social science in the 1990s was the concept of globalization, which focuses on the intensification of contacts among societies in the world. This wide-ranging summary of the course places the concept of globalization in a historical context and speculates on the future of this trend. x

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Your professor

Peter N. Stearns

About Your Professor

Peter N. Stearns, Ph.D.
George Mason University
Dr. Peter N. Stearns is Provost and Professor of History at George Mason University. He earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude, master's degree, and doctorate in history from Harvard University. Professor Stearns has written widely on world history, including two popular textbooks. Other books include The Industrial Revolution in World History, Gender in World History, Consumerism in World History, Western Civilization...
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A Brief History of the World is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 155.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introduction A good introduction to world history. Prof. Stearns does an especially nice job of outlining the issues which confront a world history perspective, but it seems sometimes at the price of the history itself. Indeed, one of his warnings was that the more complex histories (notably China and the near East) do tend to get glossed over. He quite reasonably avoids the rather minor role that western Europe plays in world history before the late middle age or the modern age, and also avoids the pitfall of talking about "progress."
Date published: 2016-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worldly Historians: Mapping Time and Space Take an intellectual and artistic leap with “A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WORLD” by Professor Peter Stearns: From the Neolithic revolution and the early river valley societies (8000 _ 1000 BCE) focused on early hunting-gathering and the rise of agricultural societies, through the CLASSICAL civilizations of China, India, Persia, and the Mediterranean (1000 BCE _ 500 CE) dominated by geo-political expansion and cultural integration of empires, to the CONTEMPORARY era (20th _ 21st century) emphasizing major changes from world wars, the Depression, the Cold War, the relative decline of Western world dominance, the intensification and secularization of social life with the simultaneous rise of religious fundamentalism, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism. Travel the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas, Australia, and Pacific Oceania from the POSTCLASSICAL period (500 _ 1450 CE) with the spread of world religions, Renaissance and Islamic dynamism, conflicts over state-church-empire powers, and rising commerce of world exchanges, through the EARLY MODERN era (1450 _ 1750) centered on an intensification of global trade, rise of Western Europe and colonial empires, and major reformations in ideas and institutions, toward the LONG 19th century (1750 _ 1914) of European imperialism, the revolution in societies, and the modernization of industrial factories and work. These periods explore various themes concerning: political ideologies (aristocracy, monarchy, & democracy), cultural values (consumerism, science, & toleration), the spread of world religions (Christianity, Islam, & Buddhism), alternative secular ideologies (Marxism, nationalism, & fascism), social formations (slavery, serfdom, & wage-labor), liberal revolutionary ideas (wars of independence, age of revolutions, and patriarchal gender politics). These periods also approach world history as separate but related groups of: COMPARATIVE CIVILIZATIONS and group identities, cultural EXCHANGES and political tensions, accompanied with wider world imitation, rising inequalities, social migrations, military technologies, urbanization, and epidemiological diseases -- all GRAND FORCES of change and continuity. With various degrees of acceptance, tension, and rejection to ideas and practices both within and between regions are included: political integration & empire decline, local-regional & global identities, core & peripheral trading patterns, industrial & agricultural societies, past traditional faiths & scientific knowledge, European domination & Atlantic revolutions, international capital & social revolution, comparative religions / ultimate truth, regional & global reaches of an emerging WORLD IDENTITY with institutional global networks, connective technologies, trans-national organizations, and international engineering projects which are analyzed, compared, and contrasted. The professor offers the HISTORICAL IMAGINATION a scholarly mix of empirical facts, critical observations, and supplemental thematic issues surrounding these civilizations and their transactions noting dominant themes and broad forces within & between historical periods. The resulting historical portraits are inferences that map the construction of an objective global history. With CONCEPTS and METHODS that may seem controversial, Western and Eastern cultural trajectories are placed in a world context -- but without enhancing or diminishing their respective unique histories. The academic DISCIPLINE of WORLD HISTORY offered compares and contrasts the conventional WESTERN TRADITION of teaching world history by offering comparative systems of religious, political, and societal values and rituals -- but without inflating or deflating their respective contributions. Without bashing the West, but avoiding the West and the rest approach, a balanced and well researched academic discipline of unbiased generalizations are offered which shreds needed light on modern debates concerning controversial topics and events that daily color global media outlets which condition world opinions by exposing and filtering facts remaining somewhere between the truth, ideology, and the absurdity of the reporting. In my opinion, participating in these series of lectures provides a conceptual context for understanding modern GLOBALIZATION processes: its dynamic forces, debated trajectories, and uncertain directions. While the contemporary historical wheel is still in spin and open-ended, the following QUESTIONS raised in these lectures are worth reflecting upon: 1> Is there a NEW LOGOS arising out of world globalization which include consumerism, faith in science, and cultural tolerance -- the characteristics of a GLOBAL HUMANISTIC ETHIC? Or will civilizations forever clash between local-regional and global dimensions to remain faithful to their real or perceived truths – the characteristics of unique CULTURAL IDENTITIES? Or are there objective laws of history that all social formations must ultimately follow? 2> Are current Western-Eastern globalization processes in transportation, communications, trade, education, medicine, etc., objectively healthy and leading to the highest HISTORICAL IDEALS of HUMANKIND? Or is it just CLASS CONFLICTS projected onto a global stage in the various masks and guises of religious truth, cultural superiority, and material acquisitions which will always remain in CONTINUAL TENSION? Or is the future determined by present circumstance as the present is conditioned by past history? 3> Let the Professor‘s own words add additional reflections which seem to SPLIT THE ATOM of World History: “Civilization…involves a mixture of advantages and disadvantages…by writing rules and laws, formalize the inequality between men and women…between the upper classes and the lower classes…extend the capacity for warfare beyond that found in hunting-and-gathering and agricultural societies…” 4> Does world history seem to be a well researched footnote to these observations? Does warfare increase with the development of civilization? Is this Freud’s ‘Civilization and its discontents’ without historical ideals or is it social realism? Are we approaching the last of the global iterations planted in the postclassical period 1000 CE -- what worldly visions -- from utopia to apocalypse -- are being sketched in the mind’s eye? The professor deals with these contradictory issues from a GLOBAL HISTORICAL PARADIGM that offers the best solution toward an UNDERSTANDING of these problems and likely FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS. From a reading of the course reviews both pro and con, some historical exposure is recommended concerning: comparative cultural issues, social science methodology, and awareness of major political events of the periods for a fuller grasp of these lectures. Again, not required but recommended from reading the previous reviews concerning empty abstractions and the like. Note: This course is grossly underrated and offers much insight into the complexities of change and continuity confronting a global modernity. *** Very highly recommended to historians, philosophers of history, and students of the contemporary scene ***
Date published: 2016-07-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Mistitled. Least favorite so far This course is mistitled. It should be called "Introduction to the academic field of World History." This lecture series is not a brief history of the world, but rather a long introduction to World History as a study itself. This is my least favorite lecture series so far, out of the six I have listened to.
Date published: 2016-07-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Terrible The professor didn't actually cover much history. Almost the entirety of each lecture consists of historiography. And even evaluated on that basis, it is boring historiography. He'll discuss (for example) the caveats we have to consider before employing the concept of "civilization" and not being satisfied with boring me to death with 15 minutes of hat, he'll end the lecture with a bullet summary of the ideas he just discussed. I didn't learn any history.
Date published: 2016-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Met my expectations For me, the course accomplished what it set out to do --- provide a "brief" history --- an overview --- so I didn't expect a lot of details. The visuals and the course booklet were helpful in guiding me along. Homeschooling's comment says it much better than I can: "If you'd like a broad overview of historical developments and processes, with some specific case details, and want to learn about the connections between societies across time and space, then you're in the right place." Professor Stearns’ presentation of such a vast subject was well organized and clearly presented ---- objectively. I appreciated his looking into the camera and keeping eye contact so I felt he was talking with me. Although some people might not think he was animated enough, I appreciated his careful choice of words for an even-paced, articulate presentation. I also appreciated his fluency without speech hesitatations /disfluencies. This is a distraction for me in a lecture I’m currently listening to. In addition, he rarely consulted his notes. All these allowed me to focus on and follow what he was saying. I learned a lot and now know what aspect of world history I'd like to further explore.
Date published: 2016-04-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Audio Review - Not Much History was Taught This course was one that was difficult to follow and enjoy. Professor Stearns is passionate about the subject but the course for me jumped around so much and provided so little substance that I felt it a chore to listen to at times. After each lecture, I had a hard time recalling what the major point was. The presentations would compare groups of people or topics with one another at such a high level that it seemed meaningless. Part of the problem is the title of the course is misleading. In no way did this feel like a history of the world. In most lectures, it was a more of a comparison and contrast of topics from a period in history. However, to say for example that 6 religions had these 3 things in common and these 3 things not in common, left me with little knowledge of the actual history of those religions. Moreover, one minute later, the common things were forgotten because so little was presented to make it stick, or it was so broad that it felt worthless. As a side note, the professor used several words, most notability the word obviously over and over. If something is so obvious, then why do you need to discuss it? However and amazingly, he used the word between 10-30 times each lecture. It was so obvious that I started to count each time it was said. That alone shows you how interesting the content was at times. Then I started to calculate how much time in the entire lecture was the word used, which I suspect was maybe 20 minutes of the 1080 minutes of the entire course . Finally, I got mad that no one at the Teaching Company during the taping of the course mentioned to the professor that he was using an obvious word so obviously often.
Date published: 2016-03-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A commentary, not a History. This is not what I would call a History of the World. I was looking for something that would compare what was happening, for example, in Asia at the same time as the Stone Circles were being built in Western Europe, or what else was happening in the rest of the world in 1066. But Prof. Stearns seems to assume that the student is already familiar with all the periods and events of World History and rather than explaining them, he launches into a series of general commentaries about each of them. He gives context without the hard facts and dates which would enable the student to hook in to the period. Maybe it was just too advanced for me - but it's the only course I've bought so far which I regret buying. Only recommended for very advanced students of World History who want to hear Prof. Stearns' opinions about it.
Date published: 2015-08-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Misleading title This course is supposed to be about the history of the world, but it fails to present anything even close to that. It virtually ignores anything that happened before what the presenter calls the classical period. From then on the presentation is so broad as to be meaningless. Most European and nearly all American history is ignored or disparaged in a politically correct fashion. The presenter uses the word, 'obviously', excessively. The content is shallow and incomplete while the presentation is weak and ineffective.
Date published: 2015-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Content The content of this course is unique and presented in a clear, understandable and engaging manner. Professor Stearns has obviously garnered considerable perspective and insight over many dedicated years of brilliant work and study in his field. I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of this invaluable knowledge and perspective. He presents the course from the perspective of a social historian. His knowledge of his field and his objectivity are both elucidating and enriching. Rarely does one encounter such informative, unbiased academic maturity. I have purchased over 50 teaching company courses. None are better than this one. It is a great course for any "citizen of the world".
Date published: 2015-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Resource for AP World History As I read these reviews, it's clear to me that this course has been caught in the crossfire of the so-called culture wars and may also disappoint those seeking more drama and color when they use "world history" as a search term. Because expectations definitely drive satisfaction, it's worth reading both the negative and positive comments. Understand the niche that this course fills, and then you'll know whether it's for you. If you are looking for a western civ course, this is a different thing. If you are looking for king lists and battle tactics, this is a different thing. If you'd like a tightly focused storyline, with beginnings leading directly to ends, told from a singular point of view -- this is a different thing. If you're an action and adventure fan, who loves History Channel epics and lush costuming, this is a different thing. If you want a history narrative that springs from an explicitly US patriotic or Christian worldview, this is a different thing. You may love all of those things -- which this course isn't about -- and still enjoy it! If you'd like a broad overview of historical developments and processes, with some specific case details, and want to learn about the connections between societies across time and space, then you're in the right place. If the choices we make in telling history are interesting to you, and you'd like to learn a bit more about "historiography," you're in the right place. If the intersections of environment, politics, economics, religion, social class and other factors are fascinating to you -- and if you can set aside particular ideologies for a moment -- you might enjoy considering how historical developments may have rigged and re-rigged human power arrangements in many different times and places. On the other hand, if you are made uncomfortable or angry (or bored) by historical arguments that consider how some processes may have led to greater or lesser equality, say, among ethnic groups, genders, and generations, then skip this. And give Dr. Stearns a break. As for the entertainment angle, if you have some patience with lectures that were not shot with six cameras, edited with swelling music tracks, and excised of each "um" and "er" and tiny verbal stumble, I expect you will enjoy these lectures very much. There are no explosions. I have found Dr. Stearns' lectures extremely useful as resources for AP World History. Makes sense; after all, he is one of the academics who launched the approach. Together with a good spine textbook and lots of diverse primary sources for practicing analysis, his lectures help outline this particular course nicely. I recommend selecting those lectures that fit your syllabus best. They are very helpful in introducing concepts, content, and giving students practice in skills such as taking Cornell notes. Take western civ, too. It's a great course. But a different thing.
Date published: 2015-03-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good First Half, Second Half Slips Other reviewers have observed that there's no way to pack even a reasonable amount of world history into just 36 lectures. However, I agree that this isn't really a history course - it's really a comparative history course. I felt this course did a very good job pointing out the differences and similarities in the various civilizations and their developments up through the first 18 lectures or so. After that, when Stearns arrives at the portions of history following the discovery of America, the comparisons become less clear. In addition, the history of the last 200 years was far too compressed to convey much learning. That being said, this is definitely more of a survey course than an in-depth course. I'd say the first half deserved 4 stars but the second half only 2. Unlike other reviewers, I did not get the feeling that this was anti-western. While the focus may have been a bit more on the whole world than on the west, I welcomed that because I am much more familiar with western civilization than with other parts of the world. In addition, Stearns offers ideas which attempt to explain why some areas of the world prosper, others maintain, and yet others slip behind. I feel these ideas are a valuable addition to my knowledge. Such ideas only make sense in a survey course like this rather than in a course concentrating on one area. I have not seen these ideas presented in any of the other history courses I've watched to date. I recommend this course with the qualification that you only want one world history course and you don't want to buy Alredete's course. The Aldrete course takes a fairly similar approach of comparative history. However, the Aldrete course is longer (48 lectures) and covers less time (ends with Charlemagne). That is, Aldrete covers in 48 lectures what Stearns covers in about 12. As a result, there's also much more history in that course. I definitely benefited from watching the Stearns DVDs and there are nuggets he discusses that are not addressed by Aldrete. However, if you are only going to buy one world history course, I'd recommend Aldrete's course.
Date published: 2015-01-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Big Disappointment I've purchased twenty-five courses from The Teaching Company, half of them history courses, and this was the first course that has been an absolute disappointment. Professor Stearns is obviously an expert in his field, but this course is far from a short history of the world. Perhaps a title of "Societal and Cultural Impacts of Major World Civilizations" would be an honest title. Professor Stearns totally misses the point of what most people want out of a history course. They want HISTORY. The lectures of this course would be a big hit at a symposium for history professors, I am sure; but they fall flat as part of what should be an enjoyable, informative course. I've listened to the entire course, and I do not now know anything about world history that I didn't know before listening to the course. I consider the money spent on this course to be absolutely wasted.
Date published: 2014-11-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Revisionism presented as history. I had to listen to this course twice just to be sure I gave it a fair hearing. Awful and atrocious are good adjectives. Presenting one's opinion as objective fact, is not what I am used to from The Teaching Company. One does not have to place the USA in the center of things, but only comparable example I can give of Stearn's ranking of the United States, is the demotion of Pluto from a full planet to a minor one. Unfortunately, the University agenda in 2014 is political correctness, not truth.
Date published: 2014-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Overview of World History Professor Stearns does an exceptional job providing a broad overview of world history, a difficult task considering the vast scope of his subject matter. He carefully articulates and repeats the main points of his lectures, and, in addition, often suggests alternate interpretations of causes, facts and events. The complaints of a few of his reviewers seem to be based on a narrow, ethnocentric worldview (in my opinion}, the very sort of thing that Professor Stearns’ lectures are designed to challenge. A worldview based on cultural, religious, or nationalistic prejudice is an impediment to a realistic understanding of the world, and many of the world’s problems, it seems to me, are a consequence of such ignorance and misunderstanding about other cultures and people. I believe that Professor Stearns’ perspective of world history is a fiting antidote to that.
Date published: 2014-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best History Class ever I have a Ph.D., and have sat through several history classes at 2 top universities. This was the best history class I have taken, ever. I wish this was offered in my undergraduate years. This class explains how things fit together, a great background if you travel or if you enjoy talking to people from different countries or want a general background to understand current events. A fabulous class.
Date published: 2014-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized and informative This is the best course among TGC offerings on history from ancient Greece to modern Europe.
Date published: 2013-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Narrative Timeline I have about 30 Great Courses and have borrowed others from the library. A Brief History of the World maintained my interest and remains a favorite. I have been interested in charted timelines in books and other resources, trying to get a whole picture of various civilizations in different times and places to get a whole picture of their relationship to one another. This effort was always disappointing until I took this course. Think of "A Brief History of the World" as a narrative timeline. It is a framework for other history courses and a way of thinking about history. I recommend taking this course before taking more specialized courses.
Date published: 2013-05-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Find a better course... This course attempts to present a brief history of the world. I would argue that it does so unsuccessfully. First of all, and the biggest flaw in the course is that it's boring. Having taken dozens of TC courses on history, I'm not saying this because I don't like history. This professor is just boring. Further, the prof. takes great pains to emphasize how backward the west was during the post-classical era, and how far ahead in science the rest of the world was. But when the west finally got ahead, he emphasizes how brief the period of western leadership was. The course seems more interested in devaluing the west than in telling the whole story. Further, the prof's claims that the west's achievements were nothing special is completely gutted in books like Human Accomplishment by Charles Murray, who breaks down the numbers and shows how people like our instructor need to come to terms with how a disproportionate amount of human achievement came from the west since about 1450. The professor also approvingly quotes communist Eric Hobsbawm. Hobsbawm had said some awful things, as awful as any said by any Nazi sympathizer. I'm not paying good money to hear from Hobsbawm. Incidentally, when discussing science, capitalism or other concepts he never bothers to define these terms as he understands them. It can be argued, and argued strongly, that science did not exist until the post-classical era and only in the west until recently. Seeing the prof's interest in denigrating the west, I wonder if his omission to define science was to avoid crediting the west. Look elsewhere for a history of the world.
Date published: 2013-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Good, The Bad: time to re-do? DVD REVIEW: This course is truly divisive! Reviewers love it or hate it, very few are in the middle ground. The title covers an enormous amount of time and information, thus the course has to be very selective within 18 hours. The first lecture is a dry, drawn-out intro; ideally the preface should have run no more than ten minutes, then the actual course material could easily have started in lecture one also (the neolithic revolution is lecture 2). One lecture is dedicated to the rise of Islam, but there is no lecture on the rise of Christianity, rather odd. The course provides a strong sound basic understanding of how civilisations (including religions) developed around the world ~~ this can be a critical springboard for further, specialised study. The material presented is important and compelling, but the professor's presentation is so dull & dreary that it is hard to stay alert and on target while listening to/watching him. Some of his pauses made me think he'd lost his train of thought. There are minimal graphics in this course, e.g. some maps. The insertion of many more graphics, pictures, and even video clips could help to boost the viewer's attention; as it is, we spend almost all our time looking at the professor behind the lectern, static. It might help to make notes during the lectures. The guidebook is excellent, btw. I believe this extremely learned, acknowledged and highly distinguished professor to be far, far more suited to writing books, than lecturing. This is a Great Courses' venture that I both love and hate! Recorded in 2007 when, from what I can determine in my researching his background, Dr Stearns was 72 years old. Recommended, with several reservations and cautions! Should be revised and re-issued I think.
Date published: 2013-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Global Thinking About World History This is a step-by-step analysis of how several major civilizations developed through the ages, drawing parallels across cultures and giving reasons for the divergence of one from the other at critical points to pass down unique traits that subsequently altered outcomes. Not only does this course challenge you to think about the world and its history in a different, more global way, but Professor Stearns shows how prevailing erroneous or Western Civilization-centric thoughts and conclusions have enticed Americans into a narrower view of the world. He is careful to point out how his opinions differ from other historians. Giving several viewpoints when divergence amongst scholars yields various explanations to developments or reasons behind those developments.
Date published: 2013-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent! I found that course very informative and pleasant to listen to. I am a bit disappointed with some of the reviewers who don't understand the concept of world history. The choice of material covered has nothing to do with anti western bias. It is an effort to counterbalance some of the most ridiculous ideas taught in history today. Ex: the Roman empire controlled the whole world! They didn't! The Han empire in China was roughly the same size with a comparable population and their achievements were sometimes greater.Production technology as opposed to reliance on slavery is a good example. The Gupta empire in India, the Persian empire in present day Iran are examples of extremely powerful societies and their impact is not to be underestimated. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in broadening their knowledge and world view. Thank you Pr Stearns!
Date published: 2012-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! Presenter's speech is crystal clear, melodic, and interesting. Content is informative, well organized, and engaging. --B. T-M. P.S., Why only one contribution by this fine, renowned professor? I would like very much to hear his "History of Gender" presentation, which is in book form.
Date published: 2012-09-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Course Offered By TGC! I got this course from my father and would never have ordered another if it had not been for a couple of courses that were offered drastically reduced through the newspaper. My father did not like this course either but had said he ordered other courses through TGC that were good. There were four main things that make this course so bad. It was excruciatingly boring!!! That can not be underemphasized! It took about three months to watch it. I forced myself to watch it to be able to give it a fair review. Second, he left out major portions of history. In the first lecture, he says he is not going to cover North America. How can you talk about "world" history and leave out a chunk of the world.? He says he is not going to cover the renaissance because "there is not enough time." Yet he spends many lectures talking about nothing. He spends a whole lecture on Islam but none on Christianity except to bash it occasionally. Third, like the last reviewer stated, he is anti-West and anti-Christian. I understand that many professors have a liberal leaning and I can get past a liberal bias if I get something out of the lectures. Finally and most importantly, I learned nothing. I was wanting to get more lecures on history because that is one of my weaker areas, but after 36 lectures I don't really know any more. He would talk about what he was going to talk about or talk about concepts but very little about events, people, etc. I kept thinking after each lecture, "I could have said what he said in one or two sentences!" For someone with a limited knowledge of history to not learn from a history class is a pretty sad thing. I am gald I did not buy this. If I had I would return it for a refund. After having talked to some of the erudite and helpful phone reps at TGC, and after having read other reviews, there are great history courses offered through TGC, and I plan to order some in the future. Save your time and money...don't get this course!
Date published: 2012-06-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing From a layman's viewpoint, I found this course disappointing. I'm sure world history has changed since I studied it. But to me, the perspective of this course is not history. I would retitle this course as something other than world history. The professor sometimes spends more time explaining why a certain subject was chosen than actually talking about the subject. And, the subjects chosen are okay, but many events that I would consider important to world history were barely mentioned. Namely, where is World War I and World War II? Also, I detected a certain anti-west or anti-US sentiment. For example, during a discussion of the US, he specifically criticizes Christianity for being non-accepting of other religions. There was no mention of other religions' intolerance. Try practicing Christianity in the Middle East. It seems this course is ultimate "political correctness".
Date published: 2012-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Outstanding and Refreshing This is a truly wonderful series of lectures in "World History". I have put those words in speech marks for a very good reason. There appears to be a lot of confusion and/or unmet expectations from reviewers. I suggest that it is vital to understand what this course is offering; I suggest it is more aptly re-titled as "World History" or "An Introduction of World History" The reason is that "world history" is a term used in a technical sense by scholars in the field. It is NOT meant to convery a course that covers all the details of the history of the world. That would occupy dozens of volumes even in a very brief overview. Rather "world history" is a relatively recent approach in history which seeks to analyse human civilisation since the advent of agriculture (the neolithic age) and especially since the rise of the first major civilisations ie the past 5000years or so. The analysis is conducted to look for broad patterns and themes that explain the main sweep or shape of history in a particular period since this time ie the classical or postclassical periods. The Professor does explain this in the opening lecture which is a superb overview of the development of the discipline of world history. Why study this? In my view because it makes us all (and I am obviously someone living in "the West")better understand that we are connected as humanity and that all societies and civilisations share very fundamental characteristics in their creation and development. I think "world history" is a refreshing antidote to hubris; some of us may think that right now in 2012 we in the West are "superior" to other models of society and in terms of our resources(less compelling an argument than it was pre credit crunch in 2008)and "world history" shows that at various points in the last 5000 years or so other societies have claimed the same value based superiority. 1000 years ago the leading societies in terms of economic strength and scientific achievement were certainly not those in Western Europe or the Americas; they might have been the Islamic, Chinese and Indian societies. A 1000 years prior to that the Romans and the Han Empire in China were pre-eminent. We all seem by Providence to be given our time in the sun. Nothing lasts forever. These are some of the sobering lessons from this wonderful course. Another key lesson is that change, fundamental change, takes considerable time to happen; slavery has only recently (the last 200 years)been eliminated from the world at least in legislative terms. Gender empowerment for women has only really begun to take tangible form over the last 100 years and democracy(in the sense of a majority of adults being able to participate politically in elections)is even more recent. Over a 5000+years span since "civilisation" began these are very recent phenomenon. They are to be defended and valued as developments of course but we should not be fooled into thinking that those societies that have yet to equally implement these developments (ie gender and democracy)are therefore inferior; for "we" only did so very recently, from a world history perspective, and not without tremendous resistance and argument- see the US Civil War and of course the vehemance of debate in legislatures in England arguing passionately against extending the vote to women. I thoroughly recommend this tremendous series of lectures- truly a great course.
Date published: 2012-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good overview I think there's a lot of unfair criticism of this course. I actually enjoyed it a lot. It's not a comprehensive history of the world and doesn't pretend to be, but gives a nice, functional overview. The professor takes a few lectures to get used to the cameras, but once he hits his stride, it makes for an enjoyable and interesting series of lectures that for me, dropped a lot of historical facts in the right slots. Worth the money for anyone who wants a an overview of history that doesn't focus on the West as the point and pinnacle of it all.
Date published: 2012-06-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Opinions, yes! Facts, few. If you ever studied history, you will learn little from this course. While history is a long series of events, this course contains summaries, suppositions, and the professor's opinions and conclusions, but few events. Worse, he has some strange, and even negative ideas about the role of Western Civilization in world history. As for the U.S., it may as well not have existed, except in a negative context. The DVD presentation is another waste, as it consists almost entirely of the professor standing behind, and holding on to, the lectern. The maps and illustrations are few and far between, despite a topic that begs for them. This course is far below what I expect, and have seen, from "The Great Courses". Save your time and money.
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A perfectly titled course. No need to include "and incomplete" as well--one can't expect to completely cover 5000 years or so of world history in just 18 hours of lectures. Professor Stearns explains why he has structured the course the way he has, and it makes sense to me. The course is almost "A Brief History of the World Except for Western Civilization," but not quite. There is some effort taken to fit western history into the mosaic of world history he offers. However, I do think there may have been a little too much of Western Civ removed from the course, simply because the connections didn't seem to be made except in the sense of connections to and impact on other civilizations. Given his audience, perhaps only one lecture on "The US in World History" seems a bit scant, but overall I give the course a lot of leeway in that respect. There were many paths it could have taken, and the ones chosen served the purpose intended. Those of us who want more detailed information on certain regions, countries, and periods can find plenty of sources for further study, and thanks to this course, we should have even more history we want to research. I liked Prof. Stearns' demeanor and delivery in the DVD version of the course. He is very direct, and he's also obviously very interested in his subject and in passing on the information to us. I also consider this to be a valuable course. As a survey, it delivers a lot of big ideas about a lot of big topics, but there were tidbits of smaller ideas and specific facts, almost trivia, about various historic characters, events and issues, which added a little life to the subject. It seemed to me that a certain amount of analytical content started to be emphasized in the final six lectures or so, which I appreciated. The final 3 minutes of the 36th lectures was an excellent, meaningful wrap-up, highlighting the tensions between globalization and civilization and what they may mean for the future.
Date published: 2012-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey on WORLD history I thought this was an excellent course and am somewhat dumbfounded by some of the comments. This is not intended to be a summation of the detailed histories of the various civilizations. Rather, it is pointing out the common and contrasting themes among the various civilizations and times. With only 18 hours covering the entire world from prehistoric to present day, expectations should be for a survey course. There are many excellent history courses TTC offers and after listening to this course, there are some that I would like to explore in greater detail. If you view this course as providing the context and highlights, then you are on the right track. I am fairly anti-PC myself, but I don't understand the complaints about Professor Stearns being PC and anti-European. He is opposed to presenting the traditional Western Civ approach as world history rather than western history. He does complain some that there is a tendency to go back from modern western society to early civilizations, and then turn around and follow the path forward in time with a feeling of inevitability of the progression. I found it helpful to see where other civilizations made the same sorts of progressions, but also where other civilizations preceded differently.
Date published: 2012-02-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This was just far too PC for my tastes. I don't need to be reminded every few minutes that traditional European histories are evil incarnate. Also, broad-based world histories need to be taught with a unifying theme, or they risk devolving into this kind of confused and spotty approach.
Date published: 2011-12-21
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