Turning Points in Modern History

Course No. 8032
Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
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Course No. 8032
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated with more than 1,000 visual elements to create an engaging educational experience, including photographs, archival footage, animations, timelines, and numerous specially created maps that help orient you and describe the location, impact, and progression of important historical events. There are also hundreds of illustrations of people and events, such as the voyage of Chinese admiral and explorer Zheng He.
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Course Overview

Get a unique and rewarding view of world history by immersing yourself in the fascinating story of the discoveries, inventions, upheavals, and ideas that shaped the modern world.

What do the fall of Constantinople, the French Revolution, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the invention of the Internet all have in common? If any one of these turning points had not occurred, or had occurred differently, the trajectory of modern history—and even your life—would have been dramatically altered.

Each event and innovation sparked a profound change in how entire societies viewed the world while signaling the dawn of a new political, economic, or cultural and social reality. Being aware of these turning points is critically important—but it's even more essential to comprehend the complexity of their causes and effects if you want to fully grasp how we arrived in the here and now. Only by understanding how these and other landmark moments and movements transformed our world and continue to impact it today, and by studying the creative ways humankind has found to adapt, can we get at the heart of what it truly means to be "modern."

Turning Points in Modern History takes you on a far-reaching journey around the globe—from China to the Americas to New Zealand—to shed light on how two dozen of the top discoveries, inventions, political upheavals, and ideas since 1400 have shaped the modern world. Taught by award-winning history professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, these 24 thought-provoking lectures tell the amazing story of how life as we know it developed—at times advancing in one brilliant instant and at other times, in painstaking degrees.

Starting in the early 15th century and culminating in the age of social media, you'll encounter astounding threads that weave through the centuries, joining these turning points in ways that may come as a revelation. You'll also witness turning points with repercussions we can only speculate about because they are still very much in the process of turning.

What It Means to Be Modern

So what is meant by "modern"? As opposed to ancient or premodern, modernity involves a mindset that stresses novelty, breaks with the past, and recognizes change.

In exploring these turning points, you'll see as the attributes of modernity and progress recur again and again, including

  • the growth of technology;
  • the autonomy of the individual;
  • reliance on experimentation and science over the dictates of tradition;
  • new concepts of popular sovereignty and equality; and
  • interconnectedness on an increasingly global scale.

Professor Liulevicius doesn't merely recount the greatest events of history, but rather has carefully selected true catalysts in provoking changes in worldview. Whether you're covering a turning point concerning

  • technological change, like the invention of the airplane, motion pictures, or the atomic bomb;
  • political history, such as the establishment of sovereign nation-states; or
  • social transformation, as in the abolitionist movement or the recognition of women's right to vote,

you'll focus on the impact the event had on its contemporaries and their hopes and fears regarding its effects. And you will see, in spite of the shock of the "new," society's remarkable ability to adapt.

A Unique Understanding of Our Shared Past

Some of the events presented in Turning Points in Modern History, including the discovery of the New World and the fall of the Berlin Wall, will immediately resonate as watershed moments. The global significance of other pivotal events may only become apparent through the professor's guidance, such as the publication of the Enlightenment-era Encyclopédie and the Russo-Japanese War—which has been historically overshadowed by the two world wars that followed.

Whether the events are familiar or surprising, you'll encounter a wealth of eye-opening insights throughout.

  • The voyages of Christopher Columbus: Despite what you may have learned in school, almost no educated European thought the world was flat in Columbus's day.
  • The printing press: Gutenberg's machine played a major role in launching the Protestant Reformation. For centuries, calls for reform within the church were slow to gain acceptance or were ignored. The printing press allowed Martin Luther's message to spread and take hold instead of quickly evaporating.
  • The American Revolution: Even by the time of the Boston Tea Party, few colonists were driving for independence. Most wanted the restoration of their rights as Englishmen.
  • The theory of evolution: Many people actually speculated on evolution before Charles Darwin. After he introduced his ideas, the Nazis and others took the concept in directions he would not have endorsed.

While any one of these or the other turning points featured are fascinating enough to warrant an entire course, this unique format allows parallels and links to be made across centuries and continents. You'll see how the building of the Berlin Wall intersects with the space race; trace how the Anglo-Dutch trade wars led to China's subjugation; and consider whether the Westphalian system of territorial sovereignty established in 1648 still applies in cyberspace as the Internet nullifies borders.

Learn What Might Have Been

As you discover how turning points such as the discovery of penicillin and the opening of East Berlin hinged on chance, accident, and, in some cases, sheer luck, you'll realize how easily history might have played out differently.

  • When Enrico Fermi and colleagues attempted to create a nuclear chain reaction in Chicago, no one knew with certainty it wouldn't run out of control. Had it gone awry, would their protection system—a technician with an axe and workers standing by with buckets of cadmium and salt—have been enough to prevent catastrophe?
  • If an "American missile launch" inadvertently detected by a Soviet satellite hadn't been declared a false alarm by a Russian official, how differently might the cold war have ended?
  • If the voyages of "the Chinese Columbus," Admiral Zheng He, had continued and reached the Americas, would we be speaking Mandarin today?

Having lived, studied, and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Dr. Liulevicius is uniquely qualified to draw unexpected connections between events and figures. In Turning Points in Modern History, you'll experience humanity's last 600 years as a sweeping narrative. By the final lecture, you'll see the big picture come into crystal-clear focus and possess an understanding of where we are, where we've been, and where we're headed like never before.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    1433—The Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He
    Explore the idea of modernity and define “turning point.” Then, consider why Chinese admiral Zheng He’s voyages promoting the power of China’s authority did not continue as part of a larger campaign of discovery—and what the consequences might have been had he reached the Americas. x
  • 2
    1453—The Fall of Constantinople
    Although many educated people think they know about the fall of the Roman Empire, Professor Liulevicius says the end actually happened 1,000 years later with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. Delve deeper into this event and learn the trauma the loss created for Europeans. x
  • 3
    1455—Gutenberg’s Print Revolution
    Trace how Johannes Gutenberg’s introduction of a press with movable type sparked a print revolution, becoming a key factor in the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the standardization of vernacular languages. x
  • 4
    1492—The Columbian Exchange
    Without intending to, Christopher Columbus’s search for Asia initiated an event that has been called the most important historical turning point of modern times. Investigate how Columbus’s encounter with the Americas brought distant peoples together politically, culturally, and environmentally in ways that were simultaneously productive and deeply destructive. x
  • 5
    1600—The British East India Company
    The English and Dutch East India companies coexisted in the Spice Islands as they worked to outflank the Portuguese, but their rivalry soon escalated into war. Examine the founding and meteoric growth of the East India Company and the violence that ultimately led Britain to establish an empire on which the sun never set. x
  • 6
    1648—The Treaty of Westphalia
    The Thirty Years War involved some million soldiers and mass civilian casualties. Explore the significance of the Peace of Westphalia, the settlement that ended the war in 1648—a vital turning point that still shapes how international politics are handled. x
  • 7
    1676—Van Leeuwenhoek’s Microscope
    Trace how Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s striking discovery fit into the larger Scientific Revolution and shifted intellectual authority from classic texts to that which is observable and measurable. x
  • 8
    1751—Diderot’s Enlightenment Encyclopedia
    The Encyclopédie was the most ambitious reference work and publishing project of its time. Discover how the editors made knowledge accessible to a mass audience and championed the Enlightenment’s progressive, secular message, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church. x
  • 9
    1787—The American Experiment
    Learn how America’s founders established a model of a republic through debate, compromise, separation of powers, and a flexible Constitution. x
  • 10
    1789—The French Revolution
    How did France’s fight for liberation from royal authority lead to Napoleon’s rise and even greater despotism? Contrast events in America with those in France to see how attempts at creating modern republics radically diverged. x
  • 11
    1838—The British Slavery Abolition Act
    Confront the harsh realities of the African slave trade and consider the role social mobilization played in eradicating the institution across the British Empire. x
  • 12
    1839—The Opium War in China
    Delve into the causes, conflicts, and consequences of the Opium Wars, in which China was psychologically devastated and subjugated by British imperialism. x
  • 13
    1859—Darwin and the Origin of Species
    Discover how a simple observation inspired Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection, and why his Origin of Species was eagerly accepted by much of Victorian society. Then, look at how the Nazis and others distorted Darwin’s ideas. x
  • 14
    1869—Binding Continents
    In 1869, two events connected the world through modern technology, giving science vast significance as a source of authority. Learn how the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the United States and the Suez Canal in Egypt revolutionized the way people perceived space and time. x
  • 15
    1893—First Women Voters in New Zealand
    Follow the fight for women’s suffrage in New Zealand and America, as two global trends—the demand for women’s political voice and the growth of settler societies—intersected. x
  • 16
    1896—The Invention of Motion Pictures
    Motion pictures revolutionized people’s view of the world. Survey early movie culture, along with the contributions of Thomas Edison, Georges Méliès, and others, then see how the medium became “weaponized” by Bolsheviks in Russia and Nazis in Germany. x
  • 17
    1903—Kitty Hawk and Powered Flight
    Witness the dawning of the air age and meet the Montgolfier brothers, the Wright brothers, and others who brought humanity’s dream of flying to fruition. Then, explore how aviation shaped the experience of modernity, from the relative ease of travel to the stark reality of “total warfare.” x
  • 18
    1904—The Russo-Japanese War
    To the world’s surprise, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Learn how this conflict fought with industrialized weapons reconfigured world politics by igniting the process of global decolonization, establishing Japan as a great power, and setting the stage for two world wars. x
  • 19
    1928—The Discovery of Penicillin
    The advance of antibiotics occurred amid the larger context of the development of germ theory. Trace how scientists’ understanding of the mechanisms of infection and disease evolved during the 19th century—and see how Alexander Fleming stumbled upon his life-saving discovery. x
  • 20
    1942—The Dawn of the Atom
    When German physicists split the atom, Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt of the potential for “extremely powerful bombs of a new type.” Chart the course of the nuclear bomb from this letter through the first nuclear chain reaction led by physicist Enrico Fermi, the Manhattan Project, and devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. x
  • 21
    1969—Walking on the Moon
    The moon landing expanded humanity’s sense of the possible. Learn how the space program grew out of advances in rocketry during World War II and advanced rapidly due to cold war paranoia exacerbated by the launch of Sputnik. x
  • 22
    1972—China Enters the World Balance
    Nixon’s meeting with Mao shifted the cold war’s balance and returned China to the world stage. Learn the reasons for Nixon’s trip, the consequences of which still reverberate, and plot the rise of Mao and communism in China. Then, see how Deng Xiaoping’s promotion of private enterprise began a trajectory of growth that continues. x
  • 23
    1989—The Fall of the Berlin Wall
    How did a bureaucratic blunder by a Politburo member lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall? Find out as you examine the surprisingly peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. x
  • 24
    2004—The Rise of Social Media
    Are the Web and social media making us more globally connected or locking us into niche societies and creating an epidemic of loneliness? Probe both the power and the perils of the Internet—from aiding popular uprisings to rewiring our brains. x

Lecture Titles

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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CD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 12 CDs
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

About Your Professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford...
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Reviews

Turning Points in Modern History is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 46.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Even though I am a student of history, I learned a great deal from this course. Professer has a very good speaking style.
Date published: 2018-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fascinating course. I've enjoyed all the Great Courses I've purchased, but I'd give this one an even higher boost. The material was fascinating, from the Chinese fleet that might have discovered America to the printing press to the internet (which even goes up to Russian hacking of some of its neighbor states, although not the U.S. election). I learned that motion pictures had their start with a bet about how a horse ran, and tons of other interesting tidbits. I'll be listening to this one again.
Date published: 2018-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Mind Awakening Lectures I really enjoyed each of these lectures looking at them from the Key Turning Points that they were gave a refreshing new meaning to them for reflection.
Date published: 2018-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! What a delightful course! The professor makes the information exciting and relevant in a conversational tone. He presents not just dates and events, but "whys" and "what ifs." He connects specific events to other events and ideas as well as to current times. We would highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2018-02-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but... There are several ways to evaluate this set of lectures. One way, is to ascribe them to a type of 'edutainment', best exemplified by a script from a history channel in which the 'professor's' opinions of historic turning points are summarized in a 24-part series...oh, wait...that's what it was! Another way to examine these lectures is to place the events described (i.e. turning points) into the real, and complex context of that particular historic event (e.g the Gutenberg bible, literacy, and the reformation; or the advent of global exploration and commerce, inciting the growth of technology; or, maybe, the advent of instruments of mass destruction and the revelation that it hasn't happened...yet) that just might be important to us now. Or, perhaps another way might be that the good professor just suggests that, in his opinion, (the)facebook (sic) simply is the voyage that Zheng He never took...or Paine’s 'Common Sense' was never translated into French; or, in John Lennon's phrase "...Imagine there's no countries..." are important to the face we look at in the mirror . Good course...not great. Worthwhile, since it makes you think (much like the companion course about medieval turning points by Dorsey Armstrong), and well-presented in a good, strong voice by Dr Liulevicius. I recommend this course as part of a well-rounded look, not only of history, but as a way of analyzing historic events. Coupon and sale only, if you please.
Date published: 2018-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice History Yea, took History in College and love the lectures, along with book, Dvds, online viewing,
Date published: 2017-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title is true to the content. This is a well-developed course touching on the most important happenings in different eras of world history. It covers each "subject" with just enough information.
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course on Turning Points & Impacts In this course, Professor Liulevicius does an excellent presentation of turning points in modern history. There may be other turning points in modern history that are not covered in this course. However, the one thing that all of the turning points selected by Professor Liulevicius have in common is that they still have impacts to today. Some of these turning points had immediate impacts to life when they occurred and others had gradual impacts that took years to develop. But all of these impacts have lasting impacts to our lives today. The turning points described in Lectures 21 through 24 have occurred in my lifetime and I have been able to observe them firsthand. These last four turning points are still impacting and changing our current lives and the long term full effects of these turning points will not be known for many years. For example, the advent of social media has definitely impacted personal interactions. People have one persona for face-to-face interactions and a completely different, sometimes hostile or hateful, persona for their anonymous social media interactions. It will be many years before society reconciles the differences in these personas. I highly recommend this course as an opportunity to understand what happened at these points, what might have happened if which had gone differently, and why they still have impacts to today.
Date published: 2016-08-21
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