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Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy

Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy

Professor Pamela Radcliff, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego

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Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy

Course No. 8090
Professor Pamela Radcliff, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
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4.5 out of 5
32 Reviews
59% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8090
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Course Overview

The 20th century transformed the political, social, and economic structures of the world in ways no one could have imagined as the 1800s came to a close. It was a time of intense and rapid change that stretches the capacity of the imagination: first flight and space flight, the Manhattan Project and the Welfare State, Nietzsche and Freud, the Great Depression and inflation, moving pictures and home computers, the Cold War and terrorism—and war and peace.

"The level of change experienced over a 100-year period is what most defines the 20th century," states Professor Pamela Radcliff.

Even today, more than a century later, that transformation is far from complete. The nations of the third world, at last free from the colonialism and imperialism that once marked their relationship with the West, are still caught up in the even more complex search for politically stable democracy and economic prosperity.

Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy is a comprehensive 48-lecture examination of this extraordinary time.

It is a course designed around history's ideas as much as its events, revealing how those ideas both influenced events and were in turn influenced by them to shape today's world.

It is a unique opportunity to gain a multidisciplinary understanding of how the modern world came to be and how democracy has emerged as a political ideal, although the parameters of a truly democratic world order are still being vigorously contested.

The subject's very nature demands not only an ability to distill political and economic trends from a century of world history, but to explain them with clarity, drawing on other disciplines as necessary to make key points come alive.

Professor Pamela Radcliff defines the perspective of the course as including what she calls the "Enlightenment Project"—the adoption of liberal, democratic, rationalist principles in much of the world—while emphasizing the unresolved nature of the struggle for democracy.

She concentrates on keeping the big picture extremely clear as she moves across whole eras, entire continents, and disciplines as specialized as international trade balances and movements in literature and art.

She consistently shows all sides of an issue when scholars are divided in their opinions and she makes generous use of primary sources, frequently quoting from those sources to ensure that her lectures convey the richest possible sense of each subject.

To make the tremendous breadth of the course comprehensible, Professor Radcliff presents it chronologically in seven sections best representing this struggle:

Section 1 is an introduction to the 20th century, which most scholars now mark from 1914 and the beginning of World War I.

Section 2 consists of the various crises faced by the West in the years between the wars.

Section 3 covers the challenge to democracy presented by Fascism and Communism, including the many approaches to totalitarianism represented by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Section 4 discusses external challenges to western power from China, India, Mexico, and Japan.

Section 5 explores World War II, including the Holocaust and the rise of Existentialism in post-war Europe.

Section 6 examines the post-World War II world order, including the Cold War, the changing relationship between science and the state, and the rise of the welfare state.

Section 7 concludes the course with a discussion of the challenges of development in a decolonizing world.

Explore a Range of Ideas in Depth

In detail, you will cover topics as varied as:

  • The "crisis of meaning" unleashed by World War I that challenged the political, cultural, and economic values of Western Europe and set the stage for decades of turmoil
  • The different approaches of Fascism and Communism to organizing and mobilizing the masses
  • How art provided a window into the psychological forces swirling through public life.

This course's intellectual breadth and vigor isn't reflected in lofty overview, but in vivid, ground-level history that lets you see those forces at work in:

  • The trenches of World War I, where new technologies created a level of carnage unparalleled in history
  • The theatrical action of Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, turning away from the hope of a salvation in a post-Holocaust world to seek dignity in individual struggle
  • The collective ability of a disillusioned generation here in the United States and around the world—protesting over the Vietnam War, inequality of education, the lack of gay rights—to transform political culture and the nature of democratic debate
  • The march through a dazzling variety of famous, infamous, and lesser-known figures who shaped and reflected the century's tumultuous events and changes, such as Samuel Becket, Marcel Duchamps, Frantz Fanon, Vladimir Lenin, Sigmund Freud, Alexandra Kollontai, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Tse-tung, Mikhail Gorbachev, Emiliano Zapata, Theodor Herzl, Kwame Nkrumah, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ideas Come Alive through Detailed Case Studies

For an even closer focus, the course also includes several lectures devoted to detailed case studies that illustrate how the models covered in the course have been translated into actual practice in post-colonial nations.

You see, for example, how the developmental model put into effect in Communist China differs from that used in Democratic India—and why—and the different results achieved in two countries that began their developmental process with very similar problems.

And see how they both differ from the authoritarian model that has been put into place in Japan.

Similarly, you'll get a chance to see three models of feminism that have resulted from the global women's movement:

  • Women organizing around their status as mothers, as in the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" who alerted the world to Argentina's "disappeared"
  • The "everyday resistance" model linked to the world's poorest and least empowered women such as those in India's southwestern state of Tamil Nadu
  • The more familiar model of "equal rights" feminism seen here in the United States.

Plus, you frequently venture off the pathways of geopolitics or national revolution as you view the course's issues through different lenses. In Lecture 5, for example, you'll encounter Dadaist, Surrealists, and Futurist artists as they turn the ideas of Freud and Nietzsche into a chaotic post-World War I attack on the certainty, rationality, and objectivity of the 19th-century Western culture they felt had betrayed them.

In examining paintings by artists like Hannah Hoch or Otto Dix, or hearing the searing command of the Futurist Manifesto to "leave good sense behind us like a hideous husk," you understand the mood of an artistic world desperately trying to reject the past and steer a course toward what had to be a more promising future.

The Challenge of Defining Democracy

The main issue you address in this course, according to Professor Radcliff, is still a work in progress.

"Even after the better part of a century, the world's nations are still trying to define what real democracy is and how to establish it—not only within nations but between them as well, in the sense of fostering and sustaining relationships based on equality and not on raw power," she notes.

It is an extraordinary process that we continue to watch.

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48 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Framing the 20th Century
    This lecture defines the perspective of the course, including what we will call the Enlightenment Project—the adoption of liberal, democratic, rationalist principles in much of the world—while emphasizing the unresolved nature of the struggle. x
  • 2
    The Opening Act—World War I
    This lecture analyzes why most historians see World War I as the real beginning of the 20th century and why it had such a destabilizing impact on the existing world order. x
  • 3
    Framing the Peace—The Paris Peace Treaties
    A complex peace settlement embodies and feeds the contradictions of an uncertain world order, helping to set the stage for political challenges from inside and outside Europe. x
  • 4
    Intellectual Foundations—Nietzsche and Freud
    This lecture begins to examine the "crisis of meaning" articulated by a generation of European artists and intellectuals, focusing on two influential thinkers, Nietzsche and Freud. x
  • 5
    Art and the Post-War "Crisis of Meaning"
    Building on the intellectual foundations of Nietzsche and Freud, avant-garde artists turn isolated ideas into a popular movement, expressed by the Dadaists, Surrealists, and Futurists. x
  • 6
    Gender Crisis—The "Woman Question"
    This lecture examines the anxieties about gender roles and looks at the variety of solutions offered by liberal feminists and communists. x
  • 7
    The Origins of "Mass Society"
    The identity crisis exemplified by the debates over the "woman question" take a different form in anxieties raised by an emerging "mass society." We examine the phenomenon's paradoxical roots in the evolution of liberal democracy and capitalism in Western society. x
  • 8
    Defining Mass Society and Its Consequences
    This lecture defines the nature of mass society and how it functioned, emphasizing the pessimistic views articulated by the Frankfurt school of German philosophers in the 1920s and 1930s. x
  • 9
    Crisis of Capitalism—The Great Depression
    The Great Depression of the 1930s brings into question the economic system of capitalism and the liberal principles that brought prosperity to Europe and the West. x
  • 10
    Communist Ideology—From Marx to Lenin
    This lecture explores how the theories of Marx were adapted by Lenin and begins a discussion of communism and fascism as serious political challenges to liberal democracy. x
  • 11
    The Rise of Fascism
    We look at the fascist platform and at who joined the movement, and examine why it appeared at this moment in history. x
  • 12
    Communist Revolution in Russia
    The Russian Revolution provides the first opportunity for a communist movement to take power. This lecture analyzes why this happened and the revolution's symbolic meaning to the rest of the world. x
  • 13
    The Totalitarian State? Nazi Germany
    Some scholars have argued that fascism and communism, though different in theory, create similar totalitarian regimes in practice. This lecture looks at Nazi Germany's unique combining of mass mobilization and dictatorial power. x
  • 14
    The Totalitarian State? The Soviet Union
    While the Nazis were master manipulators of the tools of mass society, Stalin and his party use consent and terror to create mass society in an underdeveloped country. x
  • 15
    China—The Legacy of Imperialism
    We shift our focus to challenges to the West's political and moral leadership, beginning with the impact of Western imperialism on China and its role in shaping the 1911 revolution. x
  • 16
    The Chinese Revolution
    In this lecture, we follow the two major strands of Chinese nationalism—the liberal Nationalists of Sun Yat Sen, and the communists led by Mao Tse-tung. x
  • 17
    India—The Legacy of Imperialism
    This lecture introduces the Indian model of nonviolent anti-imperialism and examines the legacy of India's imperialist experience. x
  • 18
    India—The Road to Independence
    We follow the nationalist movement from its origins in the late 19th century to independence in 1947, including the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and his role in Indian nationalism. x
  • 19
    Mexico—The Roots of Revolution
    This lecture explores the legacy of imperialism and ends with a summary of the social, cultural, and economic problems that provoked a revolution a century after formal independence. x
  • 20
    The Mexican Revolution and Its Consequences
    As in China, the Mexican revolution is a struggle for control between different nationalist visions. This lecture argues that the eventual settlement of the revolution was an attempt at compromise. x
  • 21
    Japan—The Path to Modernization
    Japan provides a nearly unique instance of a non-Western country that resists Western imperialism and follows an independent path to economic and political modernization and empowerment. x
  • 22
    Japan—A New Imperial Power
    This lecture explains how Japan becomes the first non-Western country to compete directly with the Western powers in the imperial arena and explores how this leads to war. x
  • 23
    The Pacific War
    While the Pacific war is partly an extension of the struggle against fascism, it is also a battle over the imperialist world order—with race a fundamental element. x
  • 24
    The European War
    We follow the course of the war and analyze why Germany and its allies lost, moving on to the outlines of an emerging fascist world in German occupation policies. x
  • 25
    The Holocaust
    This lecture describes the "final solution" and considers the broader international failure to stop the genocide as a culmination of the post-WWI "crisis of meaning." x
  • 26
    Existentialism in Post-War Europe
    This lecture examines the Existentialist movement's bleak but dignified way for individuals to survive in a post-Auschwitz world. x
  • 27
    Origins of the Cold War
    This lecture discusses how the Cold War emerged out of WWII, including American and Soviet perspectives on the question of responsibility. x
  • 28
    The Cold War in American Society
    This lecture considers the impact of the Cold War on American domestic and foreign policy, including a discussion of McCarthyism and its implications. x
  • 29
    Science and the State in Cold War America
    With the Manhattan Project, massive federal funding, monopolization, and the channeling of research into government projects create a new relationship between the state and private industry. x
  • 30
    The Welfare State
    This lecture compares and contrasts the northern European welfare state and the American model constructed on the foundations of Roosevelt's New Deal. x
  • 31
    The Process of Decolonization
    This lecture introduces the phenomenon of decolonization that began in the first decades after World War II, including its symbolic importance in creating what became known as the third world. x
  • 32
    Challenges for Post-Colonial Societies
    We examine the problems faced by postcolonial nations: economic dependence, poverty, debates over neocolonialism, conflicts provoked by diversity, lack of an experienced political elite, and the influence of Cold War politics. x
  • 33
    Competing Nationalisms—The Middle East
    This lecture charts the evolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and examines the broader issues of competing nationalist claims and the problematic collision of nationalism, ethnic and religious diversity, and democracy. x
  • 34
    Development Models—Communist China
    In this lecture we begin to look at different roads to development, using case studies to compare and contrast their successes and failures. x
  • 35
    Development Models—Democratic India
    Because China and India began the process of development with similar problems, they provide ideal points of comparison. This lecture uses India as an example of the capitalist democratic model in the third world. x
  • 36
    The Authoritarian Development State—Japan
    This lecture examines the hybrid model used to achieve Japan's spectacular prosperity, a model that has taken elements from both the classic liberal and communist approaches to development. x
  • 37
    The Japanese Model—Available for Export?
    This lecture analyzes the adoption of Japan's "soft authoritarianism" by a variety of neighboring countries and speculates on the general applicability of the Japanese model in the third world. x
  • 38
    Latin America—Dictatorship and Democracy
    Latin American countries have attempted many paths in their efforts to resolve long-standing economic and social problems. This lecture surveys those efforts and evaluates the prospects for democracy. x
  • 39
    Hard Cases—Africa
    Africa's political and economic problems have seemed intractable. The lecture begins with a general consideration of the lack of measurable progress. x
  • 40
    An African Case Study—Nigeria
    Scholars still debate the endemic versus colonialist roots of third-world problems. This lecture delves into the Nigerian case as a way to understand and evaluate this debate. x
  • 41
    A Generation of Protests—Civil Rights
    This lecture examines the challenge to racial discrimination in the United States. x
  • 42
    A Generation of Protests—1968
    This lecture analyzes movements in the United States, Western Europe, and elsewhere, with a focus on the mobilization of American students against the Vietnam War and the phenomenon of the counterculture. x
  • 43
    Global Women
    This lecture discusses the origins and goals of contemporary feminism with a broad global perspective that acknowledges the many types of women's movements. x
  • 44
    The Rise of Fundamentalist Politics
    This lecture introduces the roots of fundamentalism as a global movement and the nature of its challenge to the secularism of both Western democratic and communist systems before narrowing its focus to Islamic fundamentalism. x
  • 45
    Communism—From Reform to Collapse, 1956–90
    We analyze the long-term crisis within communist society and the various failed attempts at reform, from Khrushchev to Dubcek, and, finally, to Gorbachev. x
  • 46
    The "End of History"?
    This lecture argues that the final victory of Western liberal democracy has not yet been achieved and examines the parameters of the post-Cold War world, analyzing the complex prospects for democracy around the globe. x
  • 47
    Globalization and Its Challenges
    In the post-Cold War world, the prospects for democracy rest not only on the health of individual nations but on the increasingly complex interdependence that has been labeled globalization. x
  • 48
    A New World Order?
    Despite the end of the Cold War, the "new world order" has yet to coalesce. We use the 2003 war in Iraq to discuss the dramatically different visions of the new world order that have emerged for the 21st century. x

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Your professor

Pamela Radcliff

About Your Professor

Pamela Radcliff, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
Dr. Pamela Radcliff is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She earned her B.A. in History from Scripps College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern European History from Columbia University. Professor Radcliff has been recognized by both the university faculty and her students for her outstanding teaching. In 1997, she received the Eleanor Roosevelt College Excellence in Teaching Award, and...
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Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 32.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh discussion of a very tough subject First, the picture associated with the course is shot from the west side steps of the Colorado state capitol, looking west towards Civic Center and Denver city and county government offices. Given the skyline, I am going to estimate it was done in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Next, this is a mediocre attempt to address a very broad and complex subject. Every interpretation she made of events and outcomes is a potential, and probably actual, subject for intense discussion and disagreement. I'm glad I did a library copy. I found some of it interesting, little of it new (having lived half of the 20th), but overall I am glad it was checked-out and not purchased. Provided entertainment for my daily commute to and from the Colorado state capitol, did nothing to change or further inform my world view.
Date published: 2016-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorite courses so far Well organized, well presented and just so darn interesting. Even though it's a longer one (you get a lot of information for your money) I really burned through it because I was always so eager to hear the next lecture!
Date published: 2015-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Princip A very good course but with a heavy American bias, although that is typical for most of your courses. It seems impossible for American professors to even understand others' experiences, not to talk about accepting them as valid. The Soviets did have some significant achievements (the Chinese too), and Americans have brought horrible misery to many lands and peoples! And we have witnessed (in the last 2-3 decades) that the Western system is capable of horrific crimes and deceptions, both domestically and in other countries. The very title ("The struggle over democracy") is questionable, since it has been obvious for some time that it wasn't democracy at all that the West was struggling for but crude and raw domination of the world. It is obvious especially in the last decade or so - with the genocidal and kleptocratic regimes both in the West and in the lands under its domination (Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, ISIS...).
Date published: 2015-01-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing There's a lot of interesting info here, but I'm afraid the professor did not manage to pull it all together into a coherent, structured flow-on series of 48 lectures. The course dates from 2004, makes excellent use of plenty of visuals and clips. Overall, though, it is rather a hodge-podge and the professor seems to be on edge presenting the lectures. Very disappointing, not recommended.
Date published: 2014-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Treat The ambitious scope of this course reminds me of the history of the world sets so popular a hundred years or so ago. In her exploration of the 20th century, professor Radcliff casts a wide net and provides a compelling geopolitical narrative of world events from the mid 19th century to the early 2000s. I learned a great deal about the histories of certain nations heretofore unknown to me, including Mexico and Japan, and was able to see in a much larger, global context how the pieces of the 20th century fit together. For example, additional light for me was shed on Japan's military occupation of China and Formosa, an adventure leading not only to the West imposing a trade embargo against Japan, but ultimately to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Similarly, details of the Mexican Revolution involving the competing factions of peasants and elites filled a gap in my knowledge. All in all, this course achieves what it sets out to: contextualizing the 20th century in terms of the history of nations and the respective roles they played in the much larger global community. I have viewed close to 100 courses and this was one of my favorites, 10/10 for content and 8/10 for presentation.
Date published: 2014-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Rough Around the Edges The content was terrific. It just seems that she bit off more than she was ready to deal with. Professor Radcliff knows her stuff, but could stand a little more seasoning before taking on a project of this magnitude. She did a great job of covering all the events while providing very good insight on the vast majority of them. Her presentation faltered when she would become lost, rattled or frustrated. It was as though her notes and the podium were her anchors and she could quickly become lost when not in touch with either. As stated above, I enjoyed most of the content with the exception of her thoughts on the 60s, which she obviously did not live through, and her take on sustainability. She was completely biased and brainwashed by the teachings of the SDS as to what the Sixties were all about and needs to tour the Woodstock Museum in Bethel, NY. As for her take on Sustainability, I'd put it under the heading of screaming, yellow journalism and total nonsense. Fortunately for me, I had ordered her course, as well as Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century, plus 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!!
Date published: 2013-11-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I was not impressed The course wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't up to the standard of many other TTC courses. 1# The professor doesn't show any enthusiasm for the subject. I actually came back to the website to see what her specialty was. Modern history. You wouldn't get that sense from her presentation. 2) Speaking of presentation, this may seem like a minor point, but through 48 lectures it starts to get on your nerves. She constantly sounds out of breath, like she ran up several flights of stairs immediately before starting the lecture. 3) There are many technical errors both minor #"In 1993 the US and the USSR agreed to...") to the not so minor. Her understanding of many historical times and places (e.g., Soviet Russia) is sorely lacking. And some of her interpretations (Japan as an "authoritarian" state) are oversimplified to the point of error. 4) Several lectures border on the absurd and are the kind of ridiculousness that give academics a bad name. Dadaism? Seriously?? This course is a very long slough for very little return in increased knowledge or insight.
Date published: 2013-08-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good Course I have watched several courses from the teaching company on modern history and, with regards to content, this is one of the best. I especially like Radcliffe's inclusion of art and science when she talks about how society tried to deal with changes after the major wars. After watching/listening to these lectures I think anyone would come away with a very good understanding of the policital theories that have dominanted the 20th century and the major alternatives to democracy as well as how they came about and there impact on particular societies. The only criticism I have is that Radcliffe relied much to heavily on her notes during her presentation and at times appeared nervous and not quite sure of what she wanted to say. This definitely took away from the flow of her presentation. That being said, if you only watch one course on modern history this would be a very good one.
Date published: 2012-11-08
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