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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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 256-page printed course guidebook
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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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A Brief History of the World is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 155.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent content--but challenging presentation Having enjoyed—and benefited from—a dozen previous Great Courses on the histories of different regions and countries around the world, I found the information presented in this course to be an excellent synthesis putting it all together. While I thought that a single course on “big history” (#8050)—covering the entire history of our planet, the evolution of life, everything encompassed by human civilization, and what may happen in the future--was a bit of a stretch, the present consideration of world history in terms of the parallel, chronological development of the world’s cultures from a comparative, integrative perspective was a lot easier to swallow, and led to insights and appreciation not possible from studying the histories of individual countries or cultures. That is, the content of this course is excellent. I especially appreciated the last two lectures, on gender in world history and on globalization, both of which remain completely relevant 13 years after the course was produced. That said, there is an important caveat. It took me weeks longer to complete this course than usual—I kept finding other things to do than watching the lectures—because of the way the material was presented. This is a matter not of content, or of the professor’s expertise, which is unquestioned, but of style. Professor Stearns does not use the time-honored classroom strategy of “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em”, to help the student grasp the essential concepts in of each lecture. The outline and structure for each presentation are not apparent as the lessons themselves unfold, and this holds true for the course booklet. The visuals do not include summarizing points, and they don’t really contribute much overall. The presenter speaks with great erudition, but in long, complex sentences that can make their content hard work to follow. Thus, it took me more conscious effort than usual to get as much as I could from each lecture. Overall, this is a very good course, presenting an important perspective on world history that is most helpful in a most challenging 21st Century. I don’t have a long daily commute, but this would be a good course to do via audio rather than video if I did.
Date published: 2020-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Average Rating, but not Really Average The chart indicates that course is only average, but an overall 3 star rating is not at all the reviewers choice. Only 15 reviewers awarded 3 stars, the lowest number in any category. This means that most everyone really liked the course or really did not. As an aside, I thought that this only happened for the courses on religion (especially if given by Dr. Ehrman). Reading the reviews, I tend to think that most, though not all, who gave low ratings, did not understand the thrust of the course. Many have complained that Professor Stearns spent a whole lecture defining “World History”, commenting that did not make any sense. For me it was necessary as I misconstrued what was meant by the term and needed an academic discussion in order to understand the discipline. After realizing that I was not going to be treated to a survey course of history all over the world for the last 5,000 years, but rather an approach where the similarities and differences of different civilizations during that period were compared and contrasted, along with the possible reasons for the similarities and differences, I was well pleased. I loved lecture 7 where the Han Dynasty was compared with the Roman Empire, giving me a very different perspective of both. And the following lecture on the Silk Road, that allowed me to realize the actual economic impact was far less important than I had previously thought. For me, the lectures focusing on earlier periods had more meat than the ones that were contemporaneous. On the other hand the very last lecture on Globalization, allowed me to think of civilization in a different manner than I had before. This is a very different approach to history (at least for me) and one that I found both instructive and fascinating. Professor Stearns is not a dynamic speaker and many reviewers have disliked his delivery. But I thought that he always spoke clearly and distinctly, not at all in a hurried manner and he was easy to understand. He made his points and they were easily understood, although I can well understand that some may disagree with him. The more so the very many things that he chose to leave out. Personally I’d liked a bit more focus on Central and South America, although I can’t really think which lectures should be eliminated in order to accomplish that. I took a video version, but I expect that an audio one would work well, at least for those with a reasonable amount of geography over the years. This brings up another point. I think that a reasonable background in history would be extremely helpful, if not essential in getting benefit from this course. But otherwise this is well worth anyone’s time.
Date published: 2020-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Frustrating but good overall I found this professor's delivery difficult to get accustomed to. It took the first 2 or 3 lectures before I became comfortable with him. The material was fascinating from the start, however, and that is what kept me going at first. Now I'm comfortable with Dr. Stearns, but I still don't find that he measures up to some of your others, such as John McWorter or Bart Ehrman. By the way, it has always been clear that Dr. Stearns loves his material and knows it thoroughly. A suggestion for improvement for this course and all the others I've taken so far: When a visual aid, such as a map, a chart, a timeline, or something else is displayed, it needs to be left up for a much longer time. It should be up at least as long as the lecturer is discussing the material in it. Sometimes I can't even finish reading the text on a visual before it disappears. Very frustrating! There's no need to rush back to showing the lecturer. We already know what he/she looks like. There is value in seeing a speaker's gestures and facial expressions, but only up to a point. (I've also had this feeling when watching TED talks and other lecture-based material on YouTube.) Overall, I'm enjoying this course and learning many new things from it, and I'm glad I purchased it. It is well worth what I paid. I just can't give it a top rating.
Date published: 2019-12-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit of a let down On the positive side: I commend the attempt to look at world history in a unified and holistic way. The professor’s presentation style was adequate, but certainly not compelling nor memorable. There was definitely information provided that was worthwhile to know. On the other hand, in places this course was disjointed and seemingly unorganized and unfocused. I find some Teaching Company video courses to be binge-watch worthy. This was not one of them. There seemed to be quite a bit of jumping around between topics, which affected the clarity and focus of the presentation, and made it difficult for me, the viewer, to really enjoy or benefit from. In my opinion, the Teaching Company provides far better choices in the “Big History” context.
Date published: 2019-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Overview of Great Civilizations A better title for this series might be "Great Civilizations: Themes and Comparisons". This is NOT an introductory course to world history; the viewer needs to have a good grasp of world history in general in order to fully appreciate the themes and comparisons that Professor Stearns draws. That said, many of the points made during the lectures reflect more recent discoveries regarding world history. Turns out the Dark Ages weren't so dark after all! If you last studied world history forty years ago, this course will help bring you up to date with current thinking.
Date published: 2019-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the World the lecturer is excellent -- knows his subject and knows how to teach it. It certainly enlarges my understanding of the past as well as the present.
Date published: 2019-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best I strongly recommend this course. It filled in some gaps in my knowledge. It clarified and brought into focus the overarching themes of World History. Above all, it added a dimension to my understanding of our world. May it do the same for others.
Date published: 2019-04-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting I have not had the opportunity to listen to all of the modules but so far it has been interesting
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great comparisons I am about half way through this course and am really impressed The professor does a really great job of making comparisons between civilizations and empires at the times they existed in areas such as religion politics ethics art culture trade travel and scientific innovation
Date published: 2018-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from STUNNING BREADTH, DEPTH, DETAIL, LEARNED EXPOSITIO See the title. And kudos to the professor, who while having at least three full lifetimes of learning to know what he knows and can reflect on, is carefully considerate of the audience. This is truly "a piece of work."
Date published: 2018-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from World History Highlights I have only watched 10 of 36 lectures so far. I am really enjoying this series so far. It's exactly what I was looking for in order to have an overall general knowledge of world history. Professor Stearns succeeds in making history interesting.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Different Type of History Course I had alot of reservations about this course after seeing one of the lowest average review ratings for any of the Great Courses. But a course encompassing all of world history was something that intrigued me enough to give it a shot (even if going in I knew it wouldn't be able to go into much detail). I am glad I didn't let the negative reviews stop me. I can certainly see the shortcomings that would prompt one to provide a poor review but on the whole I did not think this was a bad course at all and certainly not deserving of a 3.3 average rating. I thought it offered an innovative approach to studying world history. Instead of discussing one civilization in one full lecture followed by the next civilization in the next lecture (typical of other history courses in general and Great Courses in particular) this course's approach truly involved a synchronistic comparison of multiple civilizations or religions that were contemporaries of one another....all in the same lecture. I thought this was one of the main (only) negatives of one of my all-time favorite courses: "History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective". It was excellent in covering any given specific empire but often did not provide perspective of what else was going on in the world at that time (contemporary empires would be discussed in the next lecture but the full picture of world affairs at a specific time was lost). This approach allows one to truly get a history of social interactions, connectedness, conflicts, and trade/economies in humanity's time on earth. He focuses discussion on political, economic, cultural, and social trends in these defined world history periods: o Classical period (1000 BC to 500 AD) o Post Classical period (500-1450) o Early Modern period (1450-1750) o The Long Century (1750-1914) o The Contemporary Period (1914-present) Highlights for me included lecture 9 on the collapse of the classical empires and lecture 14 on Japan, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe imitating more developed societies in the post classical period. While I give the approach and identification of general themes an A, unfortunately, the delivery leaves alot to be desired and I think this is where the poor reviews come in. While Professor Stearns certainly brings some interesting discussions to the table, the fact of the matter is his teaching style is simply not very engaging or full of much personality which means when there are lectures that do not involve a topic that is interesting to me, it is hard for him to keep me engaged or draw me in. I hate judging a professor by whether he/she makes things interesting or not but the reality is this stuff matters in assessing my feelings on a course. Learning is the mission here but so is a desire to be entertained in a way so as to make an 18 hour journey worth my time. He just doesn't bring things to life. Professor Stearns goes out of his way to talk up non-western civilizations and talk down western civilizations especially in the early going. While I understand a World History approach is not supposed to be slanted towards western civilization specifically, he goes overboard resulting in the pendulum swinging way too far the other way. He especially seems to consider ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and western Europe as inferior in just about every way to China or India to the point it seems to pain him to say anything good about them or when he does he qualifies it such as calling it “dumb luck” or never failing to remind us that the west "stole" certain innovations from China and used them for their own purposes---yet there is no acknowledging their adaptiveness. In trying to provide a balanced view he does the opposite and one is left wondering when a balanced view of the west will be provided. How many times does he have to remind us this is not a western civilization course? We get it. We're adults. Tell us once. We don't need the qualification/warning multiple times. I think we can appreciate a lecture or discussion without him needing to remind us time and time again that there are other parts of the world than just the west. He obviously uses the word “obviously” so many obvious times, even when the point he is making is not necessarily obvious, that I am obviously annoyed! There are better history courses out there: "Big History" excels in discussing world history pre-agriculture and "History of the Ancient World" will provide much more details of civilizations/bring things to life but for what this course sets out to do (identify greater historical trends across time periods by comparing contemporary civilizations) I have to admit it does indeed succeed and is a very solid, good course.
Date published: 2018-08-24
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
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