Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age

Course No. 820
Professor Thomas Childers, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 820
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Course Overview

Consider the events explored, explained, and connected by this course.

Three lifetimes ago, Europe was a farming society ruled by families of monarchs:

  • In one life, England became an industrial power; thousands were guillotined in France; Napoleon's Empire rose and fell; and revolution swept Europe.
  • In one more lifetime, Italy and Germany were created from a collection of city-states; European powers conquered Africa; and millions died in a Great War.
  • And in a third lifetime, the world plunged into economic depression, global war, and genocide; Europe abandoned its African colonies; the Soviet Union rose and fell; and the same powers that had bled each other for hundreds of years created a Common Market and unified currency.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction—Europe in the "Modern Age"
    Historians often see the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution as ushering in "the modern age." These two revolutions effected an epochal break in Western history, altering the economic, social, and political landscape of Europe in ways that can be traced over the succeeding centuries. x
  • 2
    Social and Political Life Under the Ancien Regime
    Here is an account of the cultural practices, social structure, and political institutions of the order that was to be swept away by the Age of Revolution. Special attention is paid to the positions of various classes, and to the various forms that the monarchical state had assumed by the eve of the French Revolution. x
  • 3
    Intellectual and Cultural Life—The Challenge of the Enlightenment
    What were the main ideas of the late 18th-century Enlightenment? Who were its leading figures? How did this movement of thought challenge Europe's old order? Also examined is the basis of the Enlightenment in the Atlantic societies of Britain and France. x
  • 4
    The Origins of the French Revolution
    Both long- and short-term conditions contributed to the crisis of the French monarchy and the Revolution of 1789. The two sets are analyzed, with special focus on the dilemmas of French absolutism and the social bases of political unrest. x
  • 5
    The Outbreak of the Revolution and the Monarchist Response
    Between the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the creation of the constitutional monarchy in 1792 came the Great Fear, the Tennis Court Oath, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the breakup of the revolutionary coalition, and a number of threats to the Revolution at home and abroad. x
  • 6
    The Terror and Its Aftermath
    The "Second Revolution" of 1792 was followed by the Terror of 1793–94, with Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety at its head. How did the Revolution take this extremist turn? What was the Terror like, and what were its immediate toll and lasting impact? x
  • 7
    The Rise of Napoleon—Heir of the Revolution or New Form of Tyranny?
    Out of the period of the Directory (1795–99) came an ambitious young general named Napoleon Bonaparte. What lay behind his dramatic rise to power and his creation of the Empire out of elements both revolutionary and authoritarian? Was he, as he claimed, the legitimate heir of the Revolution's ideals? x
  • 8
    Napoleonic Europe—An Epoch of War
    The Napoleonic state—Europe's largest empire since Roman days—had a brief but violent career from 1800 to 1815. It posed severe ideological and geopolitical challenges to the monarchies, confronting them in a series of wars that set the continent aflame until Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. x
  • 9
    The Restoration and Reactionary Conservatism
    At the close of the Napoleonic Wars, the victorious legitimist powers met at the Congress of Vienna. There, led by the Austrian chief minister Klemens Metternich, they tried to create a Concert of Europe that would check the rise of revolutionary forces anywhere on the continent. x
  • 10
    The Challenge of Liberal Nationalism
    A leading threat to the restored monarchies of Europe was the conjunction of liberalism and nationalism that arose in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. From 1815 to 1848, Metternich and other legitimist leaders would struggle to suppress nationalism wherever it raised its head. x
  • 11
    Liberal Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution—The English Experience
    The focus shifts from politics to the momentous economic changes that would transform overwhelmingly agrarian Europe into an industrial colossus by the end of the 19th century. England takes center stage as the Industrial Revolution is defined and its component parts are analyzed, with the focus on the questions of why it began where and when it did. x
  • 12
    The Social Impact of the Industrial Revolution
    Industrialization had dramatic social implications, not least in the rise of a new class of aggressive industrial and commercial entrepreneurs. With burgeoning factories and growing cities came also a large working class whose difficult living and working conditions led to the first stirrings of a labor movement. x
  • 13
    The Revolution in France
    The first Europe-wide revolution of the modern age began in France in February 1848. In this first of three lectures on the events of that critical year, France is the focus. There, both the revolutionary forces and their conservative opponents were split into factions. By December, Louis Napoleon had come to power through elections and set about turning the Second Republic into a new kind of modern conservative regime. x
  • 14
    Revolution in Central Europe
    In the German- and Italian-speaking lands, the revolutionaries of 1848 faced the challenge not only of erecting constitutional polities, but of forging politically unified nation-states. A recounting of the political dramas that unfolded in this region is accompanied by a look at the reasons why revolution failed there. x
  • 15
    The Political Implications of the Revolution
    What did the revolutionary events accomplish, and what lessons could be drawn from this year marked by upheaval on a continental scale? Revolutionary governments that rode to power on a wave of liberal fervor were swept out again after less than 12 months. Yet the spirit of liberal nationalism would not go away, even as the most astute conservatives were learning how they could use nationalism for their own purposes. x
  • 16
    The Unification of Germany
    No conservative leader was more skillful at co-opting nationalism than Prince Otto von Bismarck, chief minister of Prussia beginning in 1858. He used a combination of liberal economic policy, popular nationalism, astute diplomatic maneuvering, and sheer military might to pursue his goals, securing the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership in 1871. x
  • 17
    The Unification of Italy
    Under Count Cavour, chief minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, Italy, began a process of national unification that would also culminate in 1871. Cavour, like Bismarck, successfully employed elements of liberalism and nationalism, underscoring the latter's migration from left to right on the political spectrum. x
  • 18
    The New Imperialism
    In the last quarter of the 19th century, the European powers embarked on a wave of colonial expansionism that differed significantly from earlier drives from territory abroad. What were the causes and dynamics of this new drive for empire, and why did it occur when it did? x
  • 19
    Race, Religion, and Greed—Explaining European Expansion
    Observers at the time, including Lenin and J. A. Hobson, tried to explain the new imperialism in economic terms. These and other possible motivating factors explored, and imperialism's effects on Europe itself are weighed. x
  • 20
    Marx and the Challenge of Socialism
    Socialism appeared early in the 19th century as a utopian political movement, received its most influential "orthodox" theoretical development in the works of Karl Marx, and also proved a driving force in the rise of labor unions and socialist parties across Europe as the century drew to a close. x
  • 21
    The Social Problem and the Crisis of Liberalism
    By the 1890s, universal male suffrage had ushered in a new political era, and socialism's mounting challenge was pressing liberals and conservatives alike. Capitalism had generated unheard-of wealth, but inequities in its distribution remained acute. How did liberals come to grips with "the social problem" in ways that remain influential today? x
  • 22
    A New Conservatism—Anti-Modernism and the Origins of Fascism
    With the return of divine-right monarchy no longer possible, conservative voices began to object to both liberal capitalism and Marxian socialism. In England, France, Germany, and Italy, there were manifestations of a neo-Romantic revolt against modernity and its urbanism, materialism, and instrumental rationality. Intermixed with this was an ominous strain of anti-Semitism that would later help to shape Fascism. x
  • 23
    European Cultural and Intellectual Life
    Intellectual trends sparked by Darwin, Freud, and Einstein are discussed, as is their enormous influence on culture and values. Among those discussed are Zola, Ibsen, Monet, Gauguin, Kandinsky, and other leaders of such literary and artistic movements as Naturalism, Impressionism, and Expressionism. x
  • 24
    Social Norms, Social Strains in the Belle Epoque
    Between 1871 and 1914, Europe was at the height of its power in nearly every sense—financial, military, technological, and cultural. What were the attitudes about race, social class, and relations with the family and between the sexes that accompanied this period of predominance? x
  • 25
    The International System, 1871–1890
    As chancellor at the helm of a newly united Germany, Bismarck maintained peace and political stability until his departure from office in 1890. What were the basic elements of the Iron Chancellor's diplomacy? How did he maintain Germany's position of hegemony on the continent? x
  • 26
    The Breakdown of the International System and the Slide Toward War
    Under the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany abandoned Bismarckian caution in favor of an ambitious, even aggressive, Welpolitik (global policy). What implications did this have for peace and stability in an age of alliance systems and arms race? x
  • 27
    Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in the Multi-national Empires of Central and Eastern Europe
    In the first decade of the new century, the polyglot Habsburg and Ottoman empires found themselves facing grave challenges from subject nationalities in the mountainous, volatile Balkan Peninsula and southeastern Europe. The crisis that erupted over Bosnia in 1908–09 was defused but not before furnishing a sinister hint of things to come. x
  • 28
    The July Crisis and the Outbreak of War
    After the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, a crisis consumed the Great Powers of Europe and led to war before the summer's end. Controversy continues to swirl around Germany's role in this chain of events, which is analyzed via an examination of each Power's goals and options. x
  • 29
    The War to End All Wars—The Experience of the Trenches
    The statesmen and peoples who went to war in August 1914 thought that it would all be over by Christmas. Instead, unimaginable killing and destruction dragged on for years—the 19th century died in the trenches. The military course of the war and its shocking character are described, with special attention to two gigantic battles of 1916: the Somme and Verdun. x
  • 30
    The Treaty of Versailles and the Failed Peace
    We study the closing months of the war, the troubling circumstances surrounding the Armistice, and the controversial Treaty of Versailles. Did the Allies win the war only to lose the peace? What were the hopes of the nations gathered at Versailles, and what kind of international system did they intend to raise from the ashes? x
  • 31
    The Bolshevik Revolution
    What were the long-range causes that destabilized the Tsarist regime? How did Russia's involvement in the war contribute to these? Why did Kerensky's liberal Provisional Government lose its grip after less than a year? How did Lenin and his tiny band of Bolsheviks succeed in their drive to power? x
  • 32
    Civil War and the Establishment of the Soviet State
    Dr. Childers looks at the contest between Reds and Whites, repression and the consolidation of Bolshevik rule, the travails of socialism and the New Economic Policy, and the power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin over "permanent revolution" versus "socialism in one country." x
  • 33
    The Soviet System Under Stalin
    With Lenin's death in 1924 and Stalin's triumph over Trotsky, the Soviet state was transformed. Forced industrialization and the coerced collectivization of agriculture were undertaken to serve the goal of "socialism in one country." By the close of the 1930s, Stalin and his secret police had created a regime based on bloody purges and pervasive terror. x
  • 34
    Mussolini and the Emergence of Italian Fascism
    Along with Communism, another political product of the Great War was Fascism. Fascist ideas had circulated since the 1890s, but it took the war to create the conditions for Fascist success. The first Fascist regime came to power in Italy in 1922 under Benito Mussolini, a socialist-turned-nationalist, former journalist, and political adventurer. x
  • 35
    The Democracies in Crisis
    For France, for Britain, and for the fragile Weimar Republic in Germany, the interwar years were a time of turmoil, punctuated by recurrent economic crises and threats of political extremism emanating from both left and right. What were the origins of this rising tide of instability? How did it shape the course of events? x
  • 36
    Hitler and the Rise of Nazism in Germany
    Although Mussolini and his Fascists preceded them, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party would become the most powerful and aggressive movement on the European radical right by the 1930s. Founded as a tiny faction in 1919, the Nazis came to power just 14 years later. Their novel campaign methods are examined, as are the reasons for the weakness of Weimar democracy. x
  • 37
    Totalitarianism—The Third Reich
    An application and assessment of the concept of totalitarianism, first devised by Hannah Arendt to describe the Nazi and Soviet systems with their all-encompassing ideologies and use of state terror to remake the world. The moves through which Hitler consolidated his regime between 1933 and 1939 are dissected. x
  • 38
    The Third Reich—Ideology and Domestic Policy
    Trace the unfolding of the Nazis' ideological agenda, with special attention to the creation of Volksgemeinschaft (people's community) and the evolution of racial policy and anti-Semitism under the repressive regime of competing power centers that Hitler had brought into being. x
  • 39
    Ideology and Hitler's Foreign Policy
    What was Hitler's vision of the international system? His goals included Lebensraum (living space) in the East, the overthrow of the Treaty of Versailles, and the destruction of "Judeo-Bolshevism." x
  • 40
    The Twenty-Year Crisis—The International System, 1919–1939
    What were the underlying assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of the interwar state system? What drove the diplomacy of France and Britain, and why were they unable to restrain Hitler's Germany, a regime whose aggressiveness outstripped its actual power? x
  • 41
    The Coming of War, 1939
    Dr. Childers examines the chain of events, beginning with the Munich Conference of autumn 1938, that came to include the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in August, and the German invasion of Poland and ensuing Anglo-French declaration of war at the beginning of September. x
  • 42
    The Blitzkrieg, 1940–1941
    From the invasion of Poland in September 1939 until their check before Moscow in December 1941, Hitler's armies overran most of Europe using a revolutionary, mobile approach to warfare. France fell in just weeks, leaving Britain to stand alone under the indomitable Winston Churchill. In June 1941 came the invasion of Russia, the largest military operation in history, and the beginning of a savage, ideologically charged struggle with no rules and no quarter. x
  • 43
    The Holocaust
    The Nazis' decision to perpetrate a murderous "final solution" to "the Jewish question" is dissected in its various phases from the invasion of Poland to the construction of the Vernichtungslager (extermination camps) in the East in 1942. x
  • 44
    The World at War
    The final lecture on World War II examines its expansion into a truly global conflagration with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the war against all the Axis Powers. Special attention is paid to the question of collaboration versus resistance, to the remarkable alliance that defeated Hitler, and the awful costs of war. x
  • 45
    The Origins of the Cold War
    The British-American-Soviet coalition that destroyed the Third Reich began to come apart even before the surrender of Japan in August 1945. The inner dynamics and tensions of the alliance are analyzed, with special attention to developments in Eastern and Central Europe between 1944 and the Berlin Airlift of 1948–49. x
  • 46
    The Division of Europe
    Divided and devastated by war and its aftermath, Europe rose from the ashes in the 1950s as the nations of the West set an ambitious, even visionary, course. Riding a wave of economic recovery, they planned military, economic, and political institutions that would move Western Europe—and eventually, they hoped, the whole continent—toward unification. x
  • 47
    The Collapse of Communism
    A look at the postwar Soviet empire, including its East European satellites, with special emphasis on the unexpected and revolutionary events that brought down Communism, first in Poland and then throughout the Soviet world, between 1989 and 1991. x
  • 48
    Conclusion—Europe on the Eve of the 21st Century
    The 1990s have marked an end to a half-century of global and cold war, leaving an increasingly unified Europe more globally influential than it has been since 1939. Yet old questions like ethnic trouble in the Balkans and the role of Germany continue to haughty the continent. How should we assess Europe's present in light of its past? Can we hazard any predictions about its future? x

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Thomas Childers

About Your Professor

Thomas Childers, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Thomas Childers is Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching for over 25 years. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee and his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. Professor Childers has held visiting professorships at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, Smith College, and Swarthmore College. He is a popular...
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Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 64.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 22 years old but still excellent This 48-lecture course traces the political and cultural history of Europe from the time of the French Revolution up to the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 20th Century. Despite being 22 years old, it remains accurate, relevant, and important in today’s tumultuous time. Although it focuses on what happened in Europe, there is plenty of overlap with America, and the majority of individual lectures invoke comparisons and other applicability to what we are experiencing today, two decades into the 21st Century. Professor Childers is not charismatic in the way that, say, Professors Allitt and Liulevicius are in the same general subject area, and Teaching Company production advances in the last decade make these presentations seem more static and plodding in comparison—for me making taking the course a more concerted effort—but the presenter’s authoritativeness, command of the material, and synthesis are on a par with the company’s top offerings, and it was unquestionably worth it. Despite having now taken a number of Great Courses touching on the same general historical period and subject matter, I found new material and gained new insights in every lecture.
Date published: 2020-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent historical overview We purchased this course as a follow-up to “Foundations of Western Civilization.” And we are so glad we did. The lectures were well organized, and Professor Childers presentations were clear and understandable. Most importantly, we learned a great deal.
Date published: 2020-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough coverage of topic One of the very best courses I’ve taken from Great Courses. Thorough, intellectually honest, and unbiased. Dr Childers did fumble a bit over his notes during his presentation but it little to impair the quality of his presentation
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Discussion of Ideologies This is one of those courses you want to keep listening to one lecture after another. It provides an excellent historical narrative covering the history and development of European civilization from aprx. 1789 (The French Revolution) to 1991 (the fall of communism), focusing not just on specific countries but the big picture of how the various ideologies (liberalism, nationalism, socialism, fascism, communism, capitalism, etc.) impacted Europe in general. Professor Childers is excellent at identifying and articulating trends and seeing and describing the big picture but not at the sacrifice of omitting details of specific people or events. Substantial time is spent specifically on France and Germany, especially the post French Revolution time period for the former and the early 20th century for the latter (the rise of the Nazis). This is time you often don’t see dedicated in other Western Civilization courses that focus heavily on Great Britain and the United States. For me there were many highlights but these lectures stood out where the professor was his best: o 2 (social and political life at the end of the 18th century) o 6 (The terror of the French Revolution) o 8 (Napoleonic era) o 9 (France post-Napoleon) o 25-27 (build up to World War I) o 28-29 (World War I) o 42 (early stages of World War II) A few minor quibbles with Professor Childers' delivery style: 1- While he does a good job of winding down lectures and summarizing the main points, his actual closing sentence or two often seemed awkward (No information on what would be covered in the next lecture or a natural concluding line to the current lecture) leading to a sudden applause signifying the unexpected end of the lecture 2- There are long pauses between some of his sentences to the point that I have to check my phone to see if I may have accidentally paused it! While of course most of the course focused on Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia (and deservedly so) it would’ve been nice to have some additional insight into the progression of some of the other countries such as Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, etc. All in all though it was hard to find flaws. This is a good listen and should enrich anyone's knowledge of this subject. I would love to hear more courses from the professor. For the longest time I held off on purchasing this course because I already owned "Foundations of Western Civilization II" by Professor Bucholz and thought it did a great complete job on the topic. What else could I be missing or want? However, if I never had decided to give Professor Childers a chance I would've missed out on so much. He covers many of the same events but with a different perspective and style that complements Professor's Bucholz's course perfectly. I would highly recommend both if you have interest in western civilization. You will take away much from both. If you are somewhat new to the subject and can only purchase one I may recommend "Foundations of Western Civilization II" but if you are more seasoned you may find "Europe and the Development of Western Civilization" more engaging because it goes deeper into the ideologies of the time period. Either way you really can't lose with either in my opinion! So glad the Great Courses provide such quality products.
Date published: 2019-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely relevant and timely for today's world For much of my life I have avoided European history survey courses, believing that I could become knowledgeable by reading European literature and studying the history of western art, culture, philosophy and religion. But the current state of affairs in the United States and Europe--indeed, of the globe--has finally forced me to want to confront the horrors of 19th and 20th European history in a systematized fashion. I could not have found a better way to do that than this course, presented by Thomas Childers. He is a good lecturer. He repeats major themes and points as he goes along so that you have a solid foundation to build on the next material as you get to it. He sometimes pauses mid-sentence, but I found his pauses to be very useful in helping me take in what he just said. He is clearly passionate about the subject, and takes pains to present the material with clarity and a flair for cliff-hanger endings to each lecture. My only regret is that the lectures were taped before the end of the 20th century. I would like to have the benefit of his thoughts on what has happened since that time. Nonetheless, the course is extremely relevant and timely for gaining an understanding of how we got where we are today.
Date published: 2019-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All courses I love all the courses that I have either listened to or watched. No need for any feedback from me. I am very appreciative and fortunate to have discovered your courses. Thank you very much.
Date published: 2019-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic survey course This is a wonderful survey course of European and Western civilization over the past 200 years and provides the background for understanding the key essentials of modern society. Professor Thomas Childers is outstanding in presenting the material. This course is one of the best from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2019-03-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good course I have purchased most of the history courses offered by the Teaching Company, especially those dealing with the ancient world. More recently, I have been filling in any gaps that I might have in the modern period. To that end, this course on Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age is an excellent addition to the Teaching Company family. In looking over the reviews, there have been a few who seem to be unhappy that Professor Childers might not subscribe to one or another of the more recent revisionist theories of history. Instead, I got the impression that he tends to follow a more traditional understanding of the flow of history. Dealing with a plethora of information, he does a very good job of navigating the ebbs and currents of the story in a way that does not lose the novice, yet still captures the interest of one who has something of a grasp of this period. I did not notice any eccentricities in his voice or presentation and he did not sound as though he was merely reading from his notes (there have been a few professors where such a practice seems to be overly obvious). The audio version works quite nicely, though I imagine that I might be missing out on the occasional map or picture. I am not yet finished with the series and noticed from his biography that his specialty reflected in his publications is in WW2 History. I am looking forward to seeing how he does in this period that is often more familiar to the average hearer than some of the earlier periods which he has covered.
Date published: 2019-01-15
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