A Brief History of the World

Course No. 8080
Professor Peter N. Stearns, Ph.D.
George Mason University
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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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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
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  • 256-page printed course guidebook
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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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Reviews

A Brief History of the World is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 142.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I found this course to be too general, not specific enough. Dealt with broad view of history such as beginning of agriculture or development of three major cultures. Gives no reasons for these developments. Also, tended to put events in terms of today's values such as gender equality for which there is no proof that these values were even considered in the past.
Date published: 2018-08-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Obviously..........this is a horrible course I thought it would be a good idea to brush up on my World History.................not with this course. The professor says "obviously about every third sentence, which drove me a bit nuts. Besides that, it is too PC for me. Early in the course, he gives a lecture on "Gender Inequality" in the Ancient World..........Yikes1...Reall6?
Date published: 2018-07-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It's obvious! Obviously this is a great course! This is a very well-presented survey course on World History. It really helped my place my beloved Western History in context. I only give this 4 out of 5 because Professor Stearns uses the words "obvious" and "obviously" so much that it's distracting. Recommended as an introduction to the expanding field of World History.
Date published: 2018-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Nothing of Interest As a veteran of many many Great Courses courses I can say this was the worst. As much as I love history this course presented absolutely nothing of interest. CD after CD nothing. I stuck with it. I had hope it would improve. It didn't. I hate to be critical not only of the course but also the lecturer. His presentation is just terrible. The word "obviously" is used once every minute. Hour after hour. If that does not drive a person out of their mind I don't know what would. By the way if everything is so obvious why say it at all?
Date published: 2018-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New Perspectives Informative, providing interesting new ideas and issues. Well-researched and extremely well-presented.
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Great Courses I have ever listened to. I have been very happy with Great Courses in general which is all the more surprising how this could be so bad. The professor spends almost an hour discussing defending world history as important. Um, okay? I bought the course, I think I know it's important. And it's "world history"? I listened to as much as I could, but he constantly interrupted himself with filler words so it was almost unlistenable. Very little content and much stopping, starting, and not saying much of anything at all. Avoid. Actually, I'm surprised Great Courses even continues to offer this as it brings down the quality of the entire operation.
Date published: 2017-11-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from both too long and too short This is the very first Great Course that I didn't complete. The instructor was too subjective and tended to gloss over subject matter he wasn't comfortable with. In terms of presentation it was obvious that he had little enthusiasm for this project...or he's just plain too droll.
Date published: 2017-09-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good starter course As many reviews warned, this is an old style lecture course with few slides and little emotion. But I am finding it (watched only one forth of it) very educational and interesting. The lecturer explains many of the problems, pitfalls and concerns with a course on World History; everyone has to cut much out and they all will have some prejudice.
Date published: 2017-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This is academic World History I have felt badly as I've seen the mediocre reviews that this course received, because I was one of the original reviewers of the preview lectures and I gave it high marks. (I've never been asked to do this again, which may be significant!) Peter Sterns is one of the major figures in World History as an academic discipline. So, as a reviewer above says, this is rather like the content of a college World History class or an AP (that's advanced placement) high school class. At this price it's a super bargain!
Date published: 2017-08-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK but dated In the last lecture Professor Stearns reminds us, in so many words, that we understand the present through a better grasp of history. I'd say that, conversely, our understanding of history depends greatly upon the lens through which we view it (i.e., the present). While this course is interesting, it is dated -- the past ten years give us a very different lens to through which we view the past. Also, a more apt title for this course would be "A Cursory History of the World." Better use of graphics for the video version of this course could help, too.
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You have to stay sharp to keep up with him. Professor Stearns speaks fast and with great concision. A torrent of information flows from his mouth. Best for me, it seems almost entirely extemporaneous... he seldom looks at notes and I don't believe he relies on a teleprompter (my kind of lecturer). I think what I found novel about this course was that my understanding of what "world history" is was incomplete at best. Professor Stearns turns us on to the what I imagine is more of a graduate level formulation of the topic, one that encompasses large geographic domains and long periods of time. Contrary to another reviewer, he does name-drop many of the big figures in history but agreeing with the same reviewer in part, he is not trying to dwell on specific events such as great battles. WARNING: I can see how some people dislike Stearns lecture style. I have watched at least 100 courses now and found this course the one the require the most vigilant attention. For me, rather than dislike his style, I marvel at it. He is in complete command of his thoughts and words.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced starting point This is a good starting point for someone who didn't have time to take history in college and is interested in a balanced view on which to base further detailed study.
Date published: 2017-06-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from good info, not so good delivery I found the instructor's speech patterns unpleasant.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic journey I just purchased it and am overjoyed with it. Better than described.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring, didn't learn anything interesting Not a good start to the great coarses. Presentation is hard to follow, not interesting and learned very little. Need more in depth. I'll try one more coarse before quitting. Any suggestions?
Date published: 2016-12-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well, my nickname is "Bookish" I loved this course, but I tend to love traditional lecture-type education and erudition, in general. Topics are broad and wide, and Stearns has interesting commentary and threads that weave throughout. If you have attention-deficit problems, you might not like it.
Date published: 2016-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Content great - presentation annoying On the obviously positive side of things, this was an obviously outstanding course in terms of the information obviously generated by the obvious professor. I gained much obvious information that I supposed I should have known since so much of it was obviously obvious. Although I had a rudimentary obvious knowledge of Western civilization there were many obvious gaps of obvious knowledge in Asian and African knowledge. I now gained a wealth of obvious information that was truly fascinating by a professor obviously in love with the obvious topic. On the challenging side, he seemed to like the words “obvious” and “obviously” as much as his topic. I never talked back so much to any of the professors Every time he used them (hint: hundreds), I screamed, “Why!?!. Why is it so obvious?!? If it is so obvious, why are you teaching it?” The course could have obviously been cut down to 30 lectures if all the obvious statements had obviously been eliminated. Due to the obvious content that was not so obviously obvious, it was worth getting through this course, but I would not listen to any more by this professor as every time he used that obvious word, my head hurt and I couldn’t “hear” him for the next three minutes, since I was obviously talking to him. The graphics that TGC used were obviously good, but the obvious highlight was how few there obviously were. This course is now old and the new courses are hundreds times better in this respect, but at the time of this course, it is a shame that much, much more wasn’t obviously added. So many obviously missed opportunities.
Date published: 2016-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brief History of the World This is by far the finest Great Course we've taken, and we've taken several. Dr. Stearns puts history into perfectly clear perspective, and delivers his lectures clearly and convincingly. The course is well-organized and covers a broad part of the world in clear terms. Having taken many history courses in college, we find this one a wonderful review and update of what we learned 50 years ago -- as well as a challenge to old concepts! His delivery is understated yet compelling.
Date published: 2016-08-10
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
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