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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Your professor

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 63.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Encapsulation Dr. Childers summarizes the complex events that drove Europe to the situation it was in just before the Millennium over the previous 200 years. I would love to hear his follow-up on the Euro crisis in the 20 years after this course concluded.
Date published: 2018-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not breathtaking but still 5 stars This is a good solid European history course, from the causes of the French Revolution through the collapse of the USSR. It covers all the bases, but it's strongest when Professor Childers is discussing Germany. I already liked and had read quite a bit of European history. There was some new detail but no "wow!" moments in the course. It's just good, solid and well spoken - good enough to earn 5 stars.
Date published: 2018-02-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative Lectures I really have enjoyed the information in the lectures. My very first response however was to consider sending it back because I found the lectures somewhat difficult to listen to. I suspect the lecture is older but it seems the quality of the audio with the lecturer's voice made it difficult for me to follow the lecture easily. Once you get used to it, it gets a bit easier but not ideal.
Date published: 2017-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I prefer Dr Childers and other older course presentation style to that of more recent courses which seem to over-inflect and present more slowly. I listened to Dr Childers WWII course and i thought it was outstanding. He does a nice job of explaining the real life experience as he discusses the history and is able to emphasize certain points, the relevance of which become clear as the course progresses such that it ties together. When the information is interesting and well presented, extra visuals, etc, are unnecessary
Date published: 2016-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent overview and summary a fluid overview of european history, good balance between cultural and political events graphic and visual material was less than I would have preferred the course moves rapidly and some background knowledge is required or at least very helpful
Date published: 2016-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of modern European history This course covers the second half of what we call the modern era. There is huge amount of ground to cover, and there are many other courses in the TGC that cover this period. My strategy has been to start out with the broadest courses whose granularity is coarsest. There are a few survey courses in the TGC that cover the era from about 1500 to 2000 and give a very wide perspective. This course is a bit finer in detail, since it covers only the latter half of this period with the first subject tackled being the French revolution. The course was wonderful and well worth the effort… It went over the same events and paradigm shifts as the broader survey courses, but the pace was more sedate and the analysis deeper. Many important, even pivotal topics are covered such as the rise of many of the isms: Marxism, nationalism, liberalism, fascism, totalitarianism to name only a few isms … The heart of the course, however, is narrative. This is a hugely turbulent era – starting with the French revolution, the Napoleonic period, Italian and German unification and the concert of Europe not to mention a couple of World wars and total change of the global power structure. Although I was quite familiar with the events and the paradigm shifts of this period, Professor Childers still provided a lot of new insights for me and the course was hugely enjoyable and worth the effort.
Date published: 2016-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Absolutely enthralling course that covers a range of topics with insight and depth. Prof. Childers is fantastic lecturer who is able to pull together complex ideas with ease. Thoroughly enjoyable- sad to have it end. Would love a part 2, post 1998.
Date published: 2015-12-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview of Modern European History Audio Review: Based on comments from earlier reviews about the paucity of visual aids and my prior experience with a Dr. Childers video course, I surmised that an audio only course would be sufficient for my learning goals. This was the case. Dr. Childers is quite knowledgeable about European History and weaves several important details into his presentation that really put the story into the historical context. It is not difficult to imagine oneself in the time and place of the events and people he is describing. While Dr. Childers is not the most dynamic speaker, his understated, yet clear voice, coupled with his story telling style, get his messages across. The chronological continuity of the story is interesting in itself, but there are many "aha" moments where some people and/or events come together to provide a particularly interesting insight. For example, the Louisiana Purchase by the U.S. seems like a steal by American standards of the time, while to meet his objectives, Napolean saw it as a good deal for France. It is also interesting to learn what happened in the interstitial time periods between major events. For example, such a period occurred between the formation of Germany in 1871, the "Balance of Power" established by the diplomatic moves of Bismarck and its breakdown during the rush to Colonialism in Africa and elsewhere, resulting in "The Great War". Also, Dr. Childers makes a strong case as to why WWI and WWII were a continuum, as opposed to separate events, at least in Europe. I recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in learning how the stage was set for the current political and economic conditions of Europe. Note: this course was produced in 1998, so no events of the 21st Century are covered.
Date published: 2015-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fine Late Early Era Great Course Often history professors talk about various ages of a civilization as early or middle periods. This course gives you an opportunity to study not only modern Europe but also the Teaching Company as it was in its late early period. While not one of the very first courses, it was clearly recorded before the days of digital video and exceptional audio which characterize modern offerings. The images so evident in modern Great Courses are quite rare here. Even so it is worth enduring the somewhat primitive video and occasional audio dropouts to listen to a fine teacher. He clearly knows his topic well and is a solid communicator. His style suits the course well as he comes across as lecturing a small group in a friendly way. Occasionally i had to restrain myself from raising my hand to ask a question. In what I would call a predominately political and diplomatic history course, he sheds light on the decline and fall of Europe. While we begin our journey through time slightly before the French Revolution, the entire course really points toward the World Wars. The two global conflicts are largely seen as a single war with a long interlude. This event leads to the destruction of Europe as the great Empire Builder and Continental Superpower (I'm including Britain) and the rise of the twin powers of the USA and the USSR. It is the history behind this fall from power that is the ultimate takeaway from this course. The rise of the great alliance system that was supposed to prevent war and in fact did quite the opposite is explained exceptionally well here. I would suggest that a somewhat solid knowledge of history is a prerequisite for this course. It isn't for folks dipping their toes into the stream of history for the first time nor for home-schoolers as it is a legitimate college course that would probably bear a 200 or 300 number in a college catalog. As is my wont, I would recommend Professor Robert Bucholz' excellent Western Civ 2 course as a good 'freshmen' course before tackling this one.
Date published: 2015-05-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Overview, But One Problem My only disappointment was the lack of pictures, diagrams, maps, and charts in the DVD presentation. Ninety-eight percent of the class was watching Dr. Childers lecture. He did a great job, but more pictures and maps would have been a tremendous help. If I had known about the shortage of pictures, I would have ordered the audio version.
Date published: 2015-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Excellent! In this fascinating series of 48 lectures, Professor Thomas Childers synthetically presents the history of Europe from the French Revolution to the eve of the 21st century. Classically, he deals essentially with political and military issues, cultural elements being barely mentioned. Still, the survey is wide-reaching and allows the listener to make connections between events that may have previously appeared disjointed. Overall, Professor Childers proves to be commonsensical and down to earth. He shows no bias in favour or against particular nations or political systems, except to oppose Nazi racism. Thanks presumably to many years of scholarship, he displays much assurance in his analytical skills. Without qualms, he discusses for instance the causes of World War I, as if there were no academic debate on the question. This series is warmly recommended to all, independent of their familiarity with the topic. It will provide a superb introduction to beginners and an opportunity to significantly deepen their understanding for the others.
Date published: 2015-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Takes you on a journey I loved this course, will listen to it again later. Content is well presented and the transitions between lectures is smooth. His voice is clear, right speed. I found myself doing additional research on the side because the content was so compelling. I normally get videos, this is my favorite audio.
Date published: 2014-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey course Professor Childers provides an excellent overview of the last 300 years of Western European history in this course, plowing through the material in thorough, workmanlike fashion. He is not flashy, and his viewpoint is traditional, but he covers the subject matter fairly and comprehensively. The strength of the course is found in the latter lectures, covering the period after 1900 and particularly those dealing with World War II. These lectures are powerful and not simply reworked versions of the material in his TTC courses on World War II and Hitler. I listened to the audio version of this case, and I thought that worked just fine. I would note that although this course was taped in the late 1990s, it wears well 15 years later (although I suspect the video version would show that TTC visual capability has increased substantially over this time).
Date published: 2013-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You Name It, He Covers It! Fortunately for me, I had ordered Radcliff's Interpreting the 20th Century, as well as Liulevicius' Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century, in addition to Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age and went through them in a row. That was a WOW!!! You get three similar and different perspectives on many of the same topics. Well worth the trip!!" Should you be looking for just one course, however, Childer's course was the most thorough, complete and well done of the three. The last session, #48 was interesting because it was his summary of where Europe was in the 90's and where it may be heading. I'd love to get his take on things today to see how much his perspective has changed, if any.
Date published: 2013-11-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Politically Correct History Nonpareil - I was disappointed in this summary of 250 years of European history. No, it wasn't all terrible. Good (IMO) were the lectures on how Hitler came to power, the holocaust, and a few other lectures in this 48 part course. It is true that I am fussy. For the average college graduate, the average CNN viewer, the average "progressive," this course will go down like warm milk; it will reinforce a narrative that you think you already know. And nothing, literally nothing, will surprise you in the sense that you say to yourself, "Gee, I had no idea that is the way it happened." Example: In describing the 1848 revolution in Prussia, he describes King Frederick William as a typical reactionary who (he says) when offered the crown of a united Germany by the middle class "National Parliament" in Frankfurt, rejected it out of hand as being "a crown from the gutter." Actually, the king had received the delegates who approached him with great courtesy but in a later off-the-cuff remark to others observed that the crown offered was of "dirt and clay." Childers changed this to"a crown from the gutter." As had happened simultaneously all over Europe, there had been mass demonstrations in Berlin and some 100 people had been killed by by Prussian soldiers. The king in response had ordered all troops out of Berlin and had then ridden through the city streets preceded by a single civilian guardsman who carried a German, not a Prussian, banner. For several months thereafter, a liberal civilian government ruled in Berlin, but it never was united enough to accomplish anything and a conservative backlash throughout Germany caused this government to be thrown out. In short, this professor deliberately, in my view, caters to all our - and his own - preexisting biases. Economics and economic history is where he fails most consistently. Example: he says England was where the "industrial revolution" got started and where in the years afterward was the richest. Wrong!. It got started first in the United Dutch Republics which first invented the limited liability joint stock company. The Dutch before and after always had the highest per capita GDP. His explanations for why the industrial revolution started in England are positively embarrassing: 1. that England was an island and free from the disruption of war etc.; 2. economies of scale(!!); and 3. technology and scientific developments(!) Which begs many questions: How did the Dutch on the mainland, subject to many wars and invasions, manage? Why did English entrepreneurs first develop factories with economies of scale, new technology, etc.? I am relatively sure that this professor has not read a single current book on economic history, e.g., by Joel Mokyr or Diedre McCloskey. Other lectures that I thought inadequate were the French Revolution and the outbreak of WWI. The Great Courses has IMO a superb course on the former, "The French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon." As to WWI, nothing can beat Christopher Clark's "The Sleepwalkers." By comparison, what prof. Childers serves us is pablum. Childers shows us his "progressive" bias in describing the fall of the Soviet Empire. He actually says (inferentially) that it fell because Reagan escalated the arms race and started building a star wars anti-missile defense that was unworkable but that the Russians mistakenly believed otherwise. Gorbachev wanted, he says, to provide his people with "more consumer goods" but couldn't also keep up with the Reagan-induced arms race. Again, Childers leaves untouched obvious follow-up questions: Why couldn't the Russians provide consumer goods and weapons for the military? (He never once mentions the underlying defects in the Soviet system.) If he couldn't provide both, why couldn't he drop out of the arms race and produce only consumer goods? There are other deficiencies but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.
Date published: 2013-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from deep, insightful and truly satisfying I bought this course based on how much I enjoyed Prof. Childers' course on WW II and the shorter one on the Rise of Hitler's Empire. I found Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age one of the best TC history courses I have taken so far. It's encyclopedic in its coverage, and even though I know a great deal about European history I learned more by understand the overall flow and integration of themes in this course. For example, the relationship between German unification and Italian unification in the late 1860s and early 1870s was never clear to me. I also gained a much deeper understanding -- and new respect for -- Otto von Bismarck. The breakdown of his diplomatic system had a great deal to do with the outbreak of WW I. I've enjoyed Prof. Childers' style in each of his three courses. He loves the material and speaks with genuine passion -- and horror -- as he talks about the slaughter of WW I, the horrors of the Holocaust in WW II, and more. All in all, this is a very satisfying and truly great member of the set of Great Courses.
Date published: 2013-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from - One of the Best - I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Childer's lectures, finding them extremely informative and easy to listen to. I normally try to limit myself to one Teaching Company lecture per day, due to other claims on my time. In this case I found myself breaking this rule and often listening to an extra lecture or two. The only minor criticisms that I have are (1) The title of the 19th lecture, ‘Race, Religion, and Greed’ was a bit off-putting. Proffering ‘greed’ as an explanatory category is intellectually sloppy and an obvious effort to prove ones ‘humanistic’ credentials. (2) I wish that a bit more of the conditions of the United States entry into and fighting during the two world wars were covered (I realize that this is a lecture series on Europe, but our participation in these wars had a huge impact on the history of that continent). (3) the Professor seemed a little naive and Pollyannaish regarding the forming of the European Union and the concomitant development of the welfare state system. Granted, the lecture was prepared some years ago, but even at that time there were critics of the effort to unify such diverse economies and national cultures. I consider these minor criticisms and recommend this lecture series without hesitation.
Date published: 2012-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gives a lot of insight into today's world. I took courses in world history and U.S. history in high school, and U.S. history in college, but had never had a course that covered recent European history. I found it riveting and informative.
Date published: 2012-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course, Poor presentation We have watched over 20 TC courses and this is the first one in which we were disappointed. We have watched the Great Britain courses from medieval to the British Empire and wanted an overview history of continental Europe. We were quite satisfied with the contents of the course. The presentation by Professor Childers was very disappointing. When he was away from the podium and lecturing to 'us', he was very efective and informative. However, too often he had to read directly from his notes. The most irritating action (or inaction) of his was when he seemed to lose his place and would stand there for several seconds before he would finally resume. There were many times that I wanted to shout 'Get on with it'. Although we have not seen the similar course by Professor Bucholz, I would still strongly recommend his course over Professor Childers. He gives a much smoother presentation without having to read from his notes and has a subtle sense of humor (this is based on his Tudors and Stuarts lecture).
Date published: 2012-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Thorough Having listed to "Foundations of Western Civilization II" and Professor Childers' course on Hitler, I was a little nervous that this course would just be a repeat. I was not disappointed. The course was a detailed trip through European History from the Enlightenment to the end of the 20th century. Where as "Foundations II" was an overview (and I really liked it too, but at times the speed of all the names, dates and places can be hard to keep straight in your head) this was just the right amount of detail to where I was always engaged in the lecture and I was able to retain what I heard(learning is my goal in buying these courses). Professor Childers presentation style is straight forward facts; no jokes, antedotes (well 1 or 2 in 48 lectures), no show; just the facts (which I like). But, facts told in a relevant, interesting way, like putting all of the pieces of a puzzle together. He is a great lecturer. I really enjoyed this. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2012-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and Fun Again, Dr. Childers shows his skills as a lecturer. If you've seen my other reviews, you'll see I think he's among the best lecturers in the Great Courses. The material covered is comprehensive and he's chosen to present the defining topics in the history of this era. By the end of the course I had a great understanding and appreciation for European History - and I had taken it in college! For anyone interested in current world events, I think it's so important to understand how we got to where we are and Dr. Childers does just that.
Date published: 2011-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Knowledgeable and meandering DVD reviews. Dr Bucholz’s FOUNDATIONS OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION II and Dr Childers‘ EUROPE AND WESTERN CIVILIZATION IN THE MODERN AGE cover mostly the same territory in 48 lessons each. If you had to choose one, which is the best? First the common points. Both are survey history courses covering the diplomatic, economic, social and ideological factors that transformed Europe from a motley collection of perpetually warring territories into the much more prosperous and peaceful European Economic Community we know today. From their perspective, America and Asia start as sideshows that grow in importance. For North Americans, Europe is the source of much of our cultural heritage. But at the same time, its welfare state model and political structure appear exotic unless we understand how war and geography, social values and high population density pushed them in that direction. Now for the differences. Bucholz starts in 1350 and spends more time on England (his specialty). This can be justified to some extent because England accedes to modernity before many of its neighbours. Childers, on the other hand, starts in 1750 and spends more time with France and Germany where his expertise seems to lie. Long story short, both are excellent lecturers, but if I had to choose one, I much prefer Bucholz’s FOUNDATIONS. His use of the “Great Chain of Being” to explain the fundamental world view of medieval Europe clarified everything. It is the backbone of the whole narrative as religious divisions, scientific advances and geographical discoveries gradually weaken this influential principle. Then he explains the clear split between constitutional monarchy of the English variety and royal absolutism as seen in France. These concepts and the evolutionary trends undermining them help clarify the institutional variations between a wide range of countries from Russia through the Holy Roman Empire to Italy and Spain. He also adds interesting details about England’s use of deficit financing to pay for its army, a trick that fatefully eluded the rest of Europe for a long time. Compared to EUROPE, in other words, FOUNDATION does a better job of explaining mentalities, social trends, and institutional limitations, while balancing these impersonal factors with occasional influential personalities such as Napoleon or Hitler. In comparison, Childers, though clearly knowledgeable, often gets bogged down in minor details. As for PRESENTATION, I clearly preferred Bucholz. He is clear and fluent with a good sense of humor. He is also very moving as when he defines civilization (in the Holocaust and final lessons) not through its high-culture expressions, but as a fragile artefact we all have a hand in creating around the kitchen table or though our behaviour towards the outcasts of society. Finally, some reviewers complained about Bucholz’s implied “liberalism” when he approves of Europe’s welfare state experiments. Being Canadian, I am only an outside observer of U.S. politics. But with all due respect, I believe these reviewers may be missing the fact that Europe’s evolution and social realities were very different from America’s. If mores vary between New York, California or Texas, how much more between Russia, France and Germany? Is this not the whole point of courses like this? Our political beliefs, however seemingly “universal”, are in reality the expression of unique circumstances. I’m choking on my own preachiness. Forget me and give FOUNDATIONS a try
Date published: 2011-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AWESOME,THOROUGH SURVEY OF A TORTURED PERIOD This review refers to the CD's. After just completing listening again to these excellent lectures, I found them as compelling as when I purchased them some years ago. First, Dr Childers is a dramatic lecturer who keeps one attentive at all times. Second, his deep command of his subject allows him to bring in all sorts of details of the times and personalities he's discussing. It makes for fascinating listening. His discussion of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon provided a broad understanding the period, and is a good departure point for his survey. There were issues he covered that were fresh and original to me. While there was no major war in the nineteenth century. there were several small conflicts. Even more important was his coverage of the ghastly social consequences of the early industrial revolution in its impact on many human lives. He raises the perplexing question of why Europe who reached the pinnacle of power and achievement in the late nineteenth century proceeded to destroy that standing early in the following century. With the advent of the bloody twentieth century, he provides much, detailed information on the issues underlying the violence. In addition, one is given a clear understanding of the strategic issues as well as the tactical implementations of the European combat in both major world wars. His discussion of the arrangements and understandings among the three principal allies at the conclusion of WW II was very interesting. One learns about why they broke down to be followed by the Cold War as well its consequences. He covers in detail the collapse of communism in Russia, and the choices facing the Russian communist leadership at that time. The ultimate consequences for the people of Europe, of course, is a story still unfolding. This series of lectures are equal to, or better than, the other two TGC programs of Dr Childers on the second world war and the rise of Hitler's empire. The reviewed series are informative, comprehensive, and a worthwhile investment for anyone interested in that period of history or who desires to understand more about how the world in which one finds oneself today became what it is. Acquisition is highly recommended for anyone.
Date published: 2011-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Edge of Your Seat Interest Although Professor Childers' might not be quite as dynamic as other TTC professors, he certainly knows how to maintain interest in a great subject. His enthusiasm, although low key, shines throughout the course. I did observe, however, that as the subject material became closer to WW II and the present day, Dr. Childer's became more passionate about the material, in my opinion. This was my first Childers' course to purchase, and I did so with the DVD version. His knowledge is quite evident, and his pace, although somewhat slow, does allow one to take notes without stopping the player to do so. Although the program was recorded in the old, original TTC studio/set, I actually like this better in several ways. 1) I like the way that the Flags of the nation(s) involved are put on center stage, depending on which nation is being discussed. 2) I enjoy the way the camera 'pans out' and includes the audience in the view. It is good to see the interest of the studio audience displayed from time to time. (I wish TTC would consider going back to this) The material covered is something that, in my opinion, every informed citizen should be aware of. It is so important to realize how 'then' became 'now' in order to understand how modern events fit into the total scheme of history. As Dr. Childers and many other TTC professors stress over and over again, we need to realize that these events unfolded in real time; i.e. citizens of the day did not know how events would turn out, as we do. The course book is excellent. Although it might be a bit dated after over 15 years, it still contains a wealth of information. And it is way better thatn the newer, summary style book included with Dr. Childer's course on Hitler's Empire (please see my review of that course) Although the visuals and maps are not on a scale comparable to later TTC history courses, the ones presented are still excellent. I would love to see an updated course on this material. And I would like to see Dr. Childers present it. Although other reviewers here have commented on his speaking mannerisms, I quickly became accustomed to them, and he certainly is one of the better history lecturers that TTC has to offer.
Date published: 2011-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply outstanding I have listened to approx. 20 TC courses, and have only been moved to review a few, some quite negatively to warn others, such as Prof. Fears' course on "events that changed the world," which should have been named "events that I find interesting." This course by Prof. Childers on the history of modern Europe is absolutely outstanding, one of the best courses the TC offers. Prof. Childers speaks with a clear voice, is easily understood, and has a good pace. Substantively, his lectures are fascinating and provide a continuum to nearly two and a half centuries of modern European history. I have studied this part of European history for decades, so I came with a pretty good knowledge base, yet I was amazed at the new insights and linkages Prof. Childers brings to this part of history. I cannot recommend this course highly enough.
Date published: 2011-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive, enjoyable, affable voice Professor Thomas Childers presents a comprehensive review of European history since the mid 1700s. He conveys his extraordinary knowledge in a friendly and pleasant voice. Especially interesting were scattered segments that illuminated the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe. In early times, as Jewish people were subject to religious and economic anti-Semitism, Jews were forced to be the “lender of last resort”, a necessary role in any society, but Jews were subsequently criticized for performing the role given to them. Following the liberal emancipation of Jewish communities in the 1870s, as Jews expanded outside their traditional roles in the 1880s, a social backlash grew in the 1890s throughout Europe. In Germany, the Conservative Party cynically attempted to capitalize on the backlash for political gain, leading to the rise of racial anti-Semitism. I also enjoyed learning about the Schlieffen Plan, a military strategy adapted by the German General Staff in 1905, and how it effectively set the trigger for WWI. Germany, fearful of a two front war, would take advantage of rapid mobilization made possible by German railways to quickly crush France through Belgium; then German forces would wheel around and attack Russia to the east. Germany assumed that Russia could not mobilize quickly. Unfortunately, the Schlieffen Plan effectively assured a broad European war if a crisis occurred. For example, if Austria and Russia went to war over the Balkans, Germany’s first action would be to attack France through Belgium, avoiding involvement in the Balkans, and the risk of a simultaneous two front war with both France and Russia. So the trigger was set for a Europe wide war, with the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) faced off against the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). This course provides excellent value. Your educational goal can be achieved with a focused level of attention during a regular commute, or while performing solitary chores at home.
Date published: 2011-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive, enjoyable, affable voice Professor Thomas Childers presents a comprehensive review of European history since the mid 1700s. He conveys his extraordinary knowledge in a friendly and pleasant voice. Especially interesting were scattered segments that illuminated the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe. In early times, as Jewish people were subject to religious and economic anti-Semitism, Jews were forced to be the “lender of last resort”, a necessary role in any society, but Jews were subsequently criticized for performing the role given to them. Following the liberal emancipation of Jewish communities in the 1870s, as Jews expanded outside their traditional roles in the 1880s, a social backlash grew throughout Europe in the 1890’s. The German Conservative Party cynically attempted to capitalize on the backlash for political gain, leading to the rise of racial anti-Semitism. I also enjoyed learning how the Schlieffen Plan, a military strategy adapted by the German General Staff in 1905, effectively set the trigger for WWI. Germany, fearful of a two front war, would take advantage of rapid mobilization made possible by German railways to quickly crush France through Belgium; then German forces would quickly wheel around and attack Russia to the east. Germany assumed that Russia could not mobilize quickly. But what the Schlieffen Plan effectively created was the guarantee of a broad European war if a crisis occurred, for example in the Balkans. If Austria and Russia went to war over the Balkans, Germany’s first action would be to attack France through Belgium, not get involved in the Balkans. So the trigger was set for a Europe wide war, with the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) faced off against the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). This course provides excellent value. Your educational goal can be achieved with a focused level of attention during a regular commute, or while performing solitary chores at home.
Date published: 2011-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Essential History Course Professor Childers is one TTC's best history professors and this is one of TTC's best history courses. It's an excellent survey of European history from the French Revolution (1789) forward and it's critical for understanding the underlying causes of the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Nazi's rise to power and the the holocaust. Childers's approach to history is not just a descriptive, but also quite analytical without being dry. While the topic covers a number of tragic events, he avoids the tendency of other history professors to preach or offer moral commentary. This is an outstanding course - essential for anyone interested in understanding present day Europe.
Date published: 2010-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating This was a very good course. The professor held my attention the whole time. He does not just recite the facts of the historical events described, but fully explains why they happened. For example, with World War I, he shows how the long-term causes of the war went back decades before the battles actually began. He got me to think about how events such as the French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and two world wars made permanent changes in how people lived and viewed the world. I feel like I have much greater insight into European history after watching these lectures.
Date published: 2010-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lecturer Professor Childers is a yeoman lecturer who delivers as if you were around a small table with Epicureans, eating history. There could be no better explanation of Europe, from the Enlightenment to post-War World II. He shares a grasp of both detail and overview that made me want to come back for more, as would a page-turning novel. There is not a weak entry in these 48 lectures. TC courses succeed when they present three elements which make up a valuable listening experience; a consistent theme ("plot"), an engaging presentation by a detached narrator, and robust subject matter which draws on a wide variety of sources. This course has all three. Prof. Childers is never self involved with the delivery, but engages the listener as if the history of France and Germany were fundamental to our understanding of the world. Which it is. Another TC advocate recommended this course as an alternative to "the Long 18th Century" and I am very glad I bought it. I will listen to this whole course again one day.
Date published: 2010-10-20
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