War and World History

Course No. 8870
Professor Jonathan P. Roth, Ph.D.
San José State University
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Course No. 8870
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Course Overview

For thousands of years, military engagements between opposing nations and societies have had important effects on all aspects of human civilization. While the most direct and recognizable impacts of war are the victories and defeats that shape the course of history, warfare also affects human culture in ways that are not always appreciated or understood.

Surprising as it may seem, war often creates as well as destroys. As the most complex of all human endeavors, warfare—from ancient to modern—has spurred the growth of essential new technologies; demanded the adoption of complex economic systems; shaped the ideology and culture of nations; promoted developments in art and literature; and spread faith across the globe.

Consider, for example, just a few intriguing facts about the important role of warfare in human history:

  • The banking and credit systems that are mainstays of our culture developed as a specific response to the needs of war.
  • Although wars often appear to emerge from conflict within political systems, in many cases— such as the Ottoman Empire and the European nation-states—the political systems themselves emerged from the activity of war.
  • The New England colonies in the United States would probably never have survived economically if it were not for huge profits from piracy and privateering.

Here, then, is a highly provocative encounter with history. In War and World History, celebrated military historian and Professor Jonathan P. Roth of San José State University offers you a fresh and challenging insight into human societies through a deep look at the effects and roles of war.

These 48 lectures take you on an exploration of humanity's interface with armed conflict across five continents. But this is far from a traditional approach to military events. This panoramic series is not the history of battles or military campaigns, but the story of the intimate interconnections of war with human cultures and societies and how these connections have shaped history.

As a penetrating view of the many contexts and meanings of warfare, War and World History is for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of our civilization, past and present.

The Global Terrain of Human Conflict

Huge in scope and fascinating in its details, War and World History explores the complex effects of culture, economics, politics, and religion on war—and war's influences on them. In this context, you chart the colorful history of the practice and methodology of warfare.

As your guide, Professor Roth is unusually well qualified to present a broad-minded view of these events. A war protester in his youth, he later served for six years in the New York Army National Guard, then became an acclaimed scholar of warfare. With his richly informed perspective, the lectures unfold as an enthralling inquiry into the nature of organized conflicts.

In probing the links between evolving human cultures and warmaking, the course reveals the ways in which the fate of civilizations is determined by the fate of military events.

But there's another core feature of the lectures: Seen through the lens of armed struggle, this is world history itself at its most vivid and compelling. You witness the dramatic rise of organized societies, economic systems, empires, and nations, as well as world-shaping creeds, ideologies, cultural forms, and developing conceptions of religion, citizenship, and social identity.

Professor Roth makes the great scope of the material directly understandable by focusing the lectures around the core themes of economics, politics, religion, and social culture in their relation to warfare.

War Pays Its Way

In the 8th century B.C. the Phoenicians—famous as traders—staked out maritime colonies across the Mediterranean. Their goal: vast profit from silver, slaves, and other commodities. But this trade came about through warfare and was pursued in support of warfare. Backed by the first warships designed specifically to fight other ships, the Phoenicians' trade in silver funded the armies of the Assyrian Empire.

This deep interweaving of warfare with economies forms a theme you investigate across the arc of history. In selected lectures you learn

  • how the cost of a single medieval castle consumed as much as a third of a kingdom's entire revenue;
  • how bitter conflict over war budgets led to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215;
  • how Renaissance credit and banking empires arose in response to the financial strains of war;
  • how the victory of liberal democracies over totalitarian regimes in the 20th century was due to successful management of capitalist economies.

The "Anatomy" of Warfare

Throughout War and World History, the lectures highlight the vital methodology and organization of war and the military cultures that grew from them.

You trace the fortunes of the chariot in the Bronze Age as it spread across the Asian core, revolutionizing battle and spurring the "chariot nobility," as nobles were granted lands and incentives to produce chariots for royal armies.

In classical Greece, hoplite soldiers rejected the aristocratic tradition of individual combat, facing the enemy as a phalanx in a wall of shields. You learn how this practice bred an ideology of equality and how the hoplite system had political features that remain important today.

Among many "engagements" with military methodology, you study the momentous rise of the regiment and the vast 18th-century European naval system. And you consider the factors that allowed Spanish forces numbering in the hundreds of men to defeat Aztec armies of tens of thousands.

World-Conquering Empires, Nation-States, and Ideologies

At the heart of the series, you explore the political contexts of war over three millennia, as societies, empires, and political systems flourished or fell by military means.

  • You trace the role of militaries in the great empires, from Rome's profit-based warmaking to the gunpowder conquests of the Safavid Persians to the global reach of Europe's colonial powers.
  • You study the feudal system, west and east, in the Middle Ages and the power structures of lords, vassals, and armored horsemen.
  • You explore the 17th-century European nation-state, where militaries were "nationalized" into central governments and military service was imbued with ideology of citizenship and loyalty to state.
  • You define the crucial military underpinnings of nationalism, Communism, and Fascism in the modern era.

War and the Gods

The interface of warfare with religion breeds some of the most unusual and poignant of history's conflicts.

In the early societies, you see how the Assyrians delivered military reports to the temples of the god Assur, on whose behalf they waged war, and how the Achaemenid Persians conceived of the earth as a spiritual battlefield, with two supreme beings locked in a violent struggle of good versus evil.

You follow religious conquests from Asia to the New World, as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and even Buddhism spread through military force. You probe the Christian and Muslim ideologies of holy war, the bloody Sunni-Shi'a split within Islam, and the Catholic wars against the pagans, the Byzantine orthodoxy, and the Protestants.

Here you find some of the most jarring details of humanity's propensity for violence. You encounter the Hindu justification for killing in war—that war itself is an illusion—and the Christian "paramilitary" monks who attacked pagan temples and carried out assassinations.

The Colorful Instruments of Conflict

The history of warfare reads as a dynamic, overlapping series of technological inventions, as weapons systems arose and mutated, changing military practice and reaching across cultures.

Central to this theme, you trace the history-making military revolutions, including those of the bow, the horse, the sword, and gunpowder. You follow the two separate gunpowder revolutions; first in China, where the technology originates, and second in western Europe, where the practice of "corning" gunpowder vastly increased its power, transforming warfare worldwide.

You mark the great changes in weaponry brought by the Industrial Revolution, as advances in firearms, explosives, and shipbuilding galvanized arms industries. And you see how these factors led to the global military dominance of the European powers.

War's Deep Imprints in Social Life and Culture

Throughout the course, you delve into the fascinating ways in which war shapes social culture—and social culture shapes wars.

In ancient Greece, you enter the symposia—rich banquets where young aristocrats trained for war through songs, poems, and ritual drinking. You learn the uncommon role of gender on the Asian steppes, where women rose as distinguished warriors and were buried with their weapons.

In the feudal era, you study the codes of courtly conduct, chivalry, and honor of the European, Muslim, and Asian cultures.

You consider the Renaissance intellectual revolutions in science, philology, and humanist philosophy, and you see how these were profoundly influenced by thinking about war, and how, in turn, they changed military theory forever.

And you see key imprints of war through the centuries in the relations of class and race and in the literature of heroes, history writing, and art.

The lectures pulsate with intriguing facts and anecdotes that bring the material vibrantly to life. You learn the origin of chess pieces in the divisions of the Indian army, and the military source of the legend of the Amazons. You learn of the military work of Leonardo da Vinci and the war-making role of early Catholicism, as Pope Julius II, in full armor, led an army against Venice.

From first to last, Professor Roth presents the epic story of armed struggle in a way that is both graspable and deeply insightful. Clearly delineating the underpinnings of economics, politics, religion, and culture in their embrace with warfare, he knits together the history-making processes and events that gave us the world we know today.

In the global landscape of human societies, War and World History defines patterns and currents of civilization that are critical to our thinking about humanity's past, present, and future. Probe these pivotal and revealing features of history and deepen your understanding of our extraordinary, evolving world.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is War?
    Is war violent conflict, or is it the condition in which conflict takes place? To answer this, you grapple with the ideas of major Western thinkers, including military theorist Carl von Clausewitz and anthropologist Harry Turney-High. Also, learn the essential parameters of war, drawing on insights into politics, social systems, and humanity's "blind natural force." x
  • 2
    The Historiography of War
    A rich field of sources gives us knowledge of wars—from the haunting remains of fortifications and weapons to papyrus documents, stone steles, and written histories. Consider these and other forms of evidence, as well as the viewpoints of historians (including the questionable stance of Eurocentrism), to arrive at a global-historical approach to the story of warfare. x
  • 3
    The Stone Age War
    When does war first appear, and where? This lecture traces the origins of warfare from the earliest evidence of mass violence in 12000 B.C. Investigate the question of the usefulness of war in early societies, the enigmatic uses of early weapons, and the pivotal links of agriculture to the rise of armed force. x
  • 4
    Peace, War, and Civilization
    In early Mesopotamia, the wealthy southern cities had no walls or armies. Yet the northern cities had fortifications and intense warfare. Explore how and why this happened, and how disputes over fertile land and trade routes sparked ancient warfare and conquest among the Egyptians, Sumerians, and Akkadians. x
  • 5
    The Chariot Revolution
    In the first of the major military revolutions, the chariot spread east across Asia. See how its evolving design created a lethal weapons system while revolutionizing pastoral life on the Asian steppes. Then, learn about the complex personnel and organization needed for chariot warfare and the "chariot nobility" that supplied it. x
  • 6
    The Sword Revolution
    The transformations of the sword played a major role in early warfare. Here, study how dramatic advances in sword technology from the Bronze to the Iron ages changed the face of combat and how war itself drove the evolution from bronze to iron. x
  • 7
    Steppes, Standing Armies, and Silver Trade
    This lecture explores another world-changing military system, as mounted warriors and cavalry rose on the Asian steppes and in the expanding Assyrian Empire. Learn about major Assyrian innovations in military organization and strategy and the links between Assyrian conquest and the brilliant trading exploits of the Phoenicians. x
  • 8
    Pirates and Hoplites
    Greek seafaring culture led to distinctive approaches to politics and war. The Greek city-state blended rule by aristocratic clans with a class of free citizens. Study the system of the city-state and the resulting hoplite culture of warfare, which brought revolutionary military strategy and the notion of equality on the battlefield. x
  • 9
    Great Empires of West and East
    Three powerful states rose in the first millennium B.C. In this lecture, encounter the groundbreaking Persian system of government, which adapted steppe military organization to control an empire. Then travel farther east, where you learn about the distinctive military cultures of the Indian Nanda kingdom and the Chou dynasty in China. x
  • 10
    War and the Rise of Religion
    From ancient times, organized religions spurred complex conflicts. See how ancient mythologies of war arose and how themes of warfare were central to the early books of the Bible. In addition, explore the roots of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism and the pivotal factors of military thought in their development. x
  • 11
    The Greek Way of War
    What gave rise to democracy in ancient Athens? The lecture answers this by tracing violent class conflicts and the outcomes of rule by tyrant-dictators. See how democracy was supported by warmaking and study the military culture, social rituals, and sexual codes of Athens and Sparta. x
  • 12
    An Age of War throughout the Core
    Following the 8th century B.C., splintering empires and shifting economics produced a major era of wars from Persia to China. Learn how innovations in the ability to wage war shaped this era, including dramatic advances in military logistics and technologies such as armor and powerful torsion artillery. x
  • 13
    New Empires and an Armed Peace
    Military strongmen forged the empires of Rome, Mauryan India, and Han China. Trace the groundbreaking transfer of power in all three systems—from nobles to military leaders who rose through merit—and discover how war became commerce in Rome, and how deep philosophical conflicts divided military and civilian elites in the empires. x
  • 14
    Monotheisms and Militaries
    Complex interconnections of religion and warfare arose with the "state" religions of the new empires. In this lecture, see how military force was integral in spreading religions (including peace-minded Buddhism), and investigate military rebellions by Chinese Taoists and Jews and the changing roles of religion in the Roman armies. x
  • 15
    Barbarians and the Fall of Three Empires
    Key political shifts accompanied the waning of the Roman, Han, and Mauryan empires. Follow the ascent of "barbarian" states that challenged the empires, leading to a blending of cultures and the granting of power to barbarian rulers. Also, witness the conquest of tracts of the former empires by steppe confederations and Arab tribes. x
  • 16
    Conquest Links the Core
    Track China's Tang dynasty as it expanded west in the 8th century backed by a vast military, and the Muslim caliphates as they conquered regions from the Atlantic to central Asia. Then, examine the blocking of Muslim expansionism by the West and the great clash of the caliphates and the Tang on the Silk Road. x
  • 17
    The Middle Ages and a Common Way of War
    Investigate broad advances in military technology in the Middle Ages as they spread across Europe, Africa, and Asia. As you focus on the cataphract, or armored horseman, you learn about innovations in the stirrup, bow, lance, and armor, as well as military architecture and torsion artillery. x
  • 18
    Armored Horsemen and Global Feudalization
    Armored horse warriors were deeply linked to the rise of feudalism. Explore the feudal system across differing societies and its structure of autonomous states based in loyalty to military nobles. Then, study the feudal codes of chivalry, east and west, and feudal culture from ceremonial weaponry to heroic literature. x
  • 19
    Crusade, Jihad, and Dharma Yuddha
    Following A.D. 1000, many violent religious conflicts emerged. Probe the events of the Crusades and the Christian and Muslim ideologies of holy war, trace Islamic conquest in India and West Africa, and examine the notion of "just" war in Hinduism and Buddhism. x
  • 20
    The Mongols Conquer a World
    Genghis Khan forged the legendary Mongol Empire as a great confederation of steppe tribes, pursuing world domination with huge and highly organized armies. Study the Mongols' extraordinary conquests, their cultural contributions, and their ultimate dissolution through issues of succession and internal wars. x
  • 21
    The Business of War in Medieval Europe
    The lecture opens on China's economic supremacy in the Middle Ages, fueled by military strength, trade, and sophisticated technology. You investigate historic power shifts within medieval Europe and the links between European wars and large-scale economic expansion, arms trading, and the creation of banking empires and mercenary companies. x
  • 22
    The Gunpowder Revolution
    Gunpowder appeared in 12th-century China. Trace its creation and geographic spread, as well as the early weaponry of "fire lances," explosive devices, and rockets. Afterward, study the technology of the second gunpowder "revolution" in Europe as it dramatically boosted the power of guns and cannon, transforming warmaking on land and sea. x
  • 23
    War at the Margins
    Warfare was central to societies outside the Eurasian core, though lacking the advanced technology of the core civilizations. Explore the culture of war in the kingdoms of Sudanic and southern Africa, the military technology of Oceanic peoples, and evidence of armed conflicts in the Norse, Inuit, and Siberian cultures. x
  • 24
    A World Apart—War in the Americas
    Agriculture and population growth spurred violence in ancient Mesoamerica and South America. Uncover the records of the Mayans and Toltecs (which reveal warlike cultures with warrior elites) and evidence for sophisticated warfare among North American peoples, the Aztecs, and the Incas. x
  • 25
    Renaissance and Military Revolution
    In Renaissance Europe, spiraling costs of war shifted power to central governments and merchant city-states. Probe the intellectual revolutions that came with the rediscovery of classical texts and the invention of printing. Then meet a new brand of military leader: one backed by a science of warfare and the first modern armies. x
  • 26
    Conquest and Colonies
    European expansionism was aided by groundbreaking naval technology, particularly the armed galleon. Learn about the Portuguese conquest of sea routes in Africa and Asia and the entry of Spanish forces into the Americas, which led to bloody conflicts with the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan empires. x
  • 27
    The Gunpowder Empires
    Changing global economics and large-scale arms trading led to the rise of empires backed by gunpowder technology. Study the many forms of gunpowder weaponry and the multilayered infrastructure surrounding it in the military cultures of the Ottoman, Persian, Russian, and Chinese empires. x
  • 28
    More Holy Wars
    The 16th and 17th centuries saw deepening religious conflicts. Trace the clash of Portugal and Spain with Islam, the Ottoman conquests of Europe, and the Mughal-Hindu wars in India. Then, investigate Ottoman and Mughal cosmopolitanism, the Sunni-Shi'a divide within Islam, and the violent conflicts of the Protestant Reformation. x
  • 29
    The Rise of the Regiment
    In the late 17th century, European power began a historic ascent. Learn about the revolutions in military organization that made this possible and the evolution of the regiment—which became the cornerstone of a complex, professional military culture that spread throughout the European-controlled world. x
  • 30
    The Wooden World
    Europe's growing power was built on a vast maritime culture, serving trade, warfare, and exploration. Delve into the fascinating details of the highly structured crews that manned sophisticated warships and merchant vessels, as well as the great bureaucracies that oversaw fleets and naval strategy and gave rise to the scientific study of marine warfare. x
  • 31
    The Global War to Control Trade
    Eighteenth-century trade created world-spanning conflicts. European trading companies, backed by private armies and warships, battled for profits from silver, fur, and cash crops. Trace the slave system and the role of privateers and piracy in political rivalries in Asia, Europe, and the New World. x
  • 32
    Warfare and the Nation-State
    Europe's nation-states created a highly effective political system, with nobles and military centralized under governments operated by civilian bureaucrats. Study the culture of the nation-state, which brought new conceptions of loyalty, social identity, and wars supported by merchant trade and innovative tax systems. x
  • 33
    War and the Making of the Americas
    Discover the many contexts of armed conflict in the New World. Study the Spanish wars of conquest from Chile to New Mexico, the powerful Native American tribal states, the brutal military control of slave populations, and the pivotal roles played by colonial militias and self-made officers during the American Revolution. x
  • 34
    War and the Unmaking of Africa and Asia
    Military strength in Asia and Africa declined through the 17th and 18th centuries. Consider the core factors in this decline, including the failure by China and India to follow European advances in technology and naval strength. Afterward, investigate internal decay in the Ottoman Empire and the military fortunes of powerful African kingdoms. x
  • 35
    The Industrialization of War
    The Industrial Revolution brought world-changing advances in military technology, as mass production and dramatic improvements in transportation saw the rise of both national and corporate arms industries. Survey French, German, and American breakthroughs in firearms, along with the creation of steamships, armored warships, and the submarine. x
  • 36
    The Nationalization of War
    Nationalism became the most important political and military ideology of the 19th century, inspiring wars and revolutions across the world. Explore the emergence of nationalism; Socialist, Communist, and anarchist movements; and religious ideologies from "muscular Christianity" to new forms of militant Islam. x
  • 37
    Race and Class at War
    Complex conditions of class, race, and gender shaped 19th-century warmaking. Track the historic rise of commoners to high military ranks; the "racial theory" that affected blacks, other non-Europeans, and Jews in Western militaries; and the ways that women distinguished themselves on and off the battlefield. x
  • 38
    Imperialism and the Triumph of the West
    European nation-states reached global political and military dominance in the 19th century. Uncover the core strategy and methodology of Western imperialism and see how European power was rooted in advanced technology and the failure of many non-Western states to keep pace with industrial systems and modern armies. x
  • 39
    The 19th-Century Culture of War
    Nineteenth-century wars left numerous marks on world culture, including military models in education and war literature, memoirs, journalism, and history writing. Here, explore the deep imprints of war in 19th-century music, fashion, social customs, and art. x
  • 40
    A Common Way of War—The 20th Century
    In this lecture, chart the spread of a common, global military methodology during the 20th century. Study the core weapons systems and naval technology, as well as the transformative changes in warfare that followed the advent of the internal combustion engine, aircraft and related weaponry, and wireless communications. x
  • 41
    War and 20th-Century Ideology
    Emerging political creeds played critical roles in 20th-century warfare. Fascist regimes deemed warfare necessary and pursued expansionism rooted in racist ideology. Communist ideologues viewed class conflict as inevitably violent and embraced large-scale militarization. Investigate how these two systems clashed with each other and with nationalist democracies in the two world wars and other related conflicts. x
  • 42
    War and the Persistence of Nationalism
    In the 20th century, nationalist sentiment remained a powerful force, despite many ideology-based regimes and wars. Study the conflict between Communist states and disputes over national boundaries, which saw the favoring of nationalist interests over ideological ones. Also, examine the issues of national identity and ethnicity that underlay militarism in both new and traditional nation-states. x
  • 43
    Economies and Economics at War
    Enormous costs of war posed critical challenges for modern nation-states. See how capitalist economics and organization outstripped totalitarian regimes in managing wars, shaping the outcomes of the 20th century's major conflicts. Learn also how military and civilian technology penetrated each other, producing revolutionary advances in transportation, communications, and energy. x
  • 44
    Culture and War in the 20th Century
    War's social imprints in democratic societies showed new trends. Investigate how popular culture in all media became the forum for heroic depictions of war, with an emphasis on the individual's experience in wartime. Conversely, learn how public reaction against war manifested itself as antimilitarism in the high culture of modern art, poetry, and literature. x
  • 45
    The Weaponization of Information
    Information and intelligence became critical to 20th-century conflicts as governments censored communications and restricted public media. Study the use of propaganda as a major tool by the British, Soviets, and Germans and the practice of spying and communications intelligence in the interwar period and the cold war. x
  • 46
    Guerrilla War and Terrorism
    Chart the history and modern practice of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, the subtle distinctions between the two, and their ideological roots. Also, probe the ambiguities that characterize their tactics as either political warfare or criminal acts in a violent landscape of bombings, "proxy" wars, civilian casualties, and counterinsurgency. x
  • 47
    The Struggle for Peace and Justice
    New ideological movements and institutions arose in response to war in the 20th century. Consider the theories of "law of war" that underlay the Geneva Conventions and war crimes trials and trace formal initiatives to eliminate war, including the League of Nations, pacifist movements, and the work of the United Nations. x
  • 48
    Warfare at the Turn of a New Century
    The series concludes with an analysis of complex conditions of warfare in the last 20 years. Study the military uses of computers and the Internet, critical legal issues of war, current motivators for conflict, and evidence of decreasing warfare. Professor Roth offers reflections on his own experience with the military. x

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Your professor

Jonathan P. Roth

About Your Professor

Jonathan P. Roth, Ph.D.
San José State University
Dr. Jonathan P. Roth is Professor of History at San Jose State University. He received his B.A. in Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology from the University of California, Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has taught at Tulane University in New Orleans, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Roth has researched, written, and lectured extensively on...
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Reviews

War and World History is rated 3.5 out of 5 by 60.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Despite the many negative reviews, I had high hopes for this course, largely because I have long been interested in the subject matter. I learned for myself, as many of the negative reviews had noted, that Prof. Roth is not one of the Great Courses's strong lecturers. I listened to the audio version and it is possible he fares better on video, but I found the lectures consistently to be dull and tedious. Prof. Roth's lecture style is also distracting and frustrating; in particular, he will elongate certain words for emphasis and then rush the next set of words while allowing the last words of many sentences to trail off, almost to the point of being inaudible or incomprehensible. I slogged through the first dozen or so lectures over a period of many months before finally calling it quits and seeking an exchange. Others have obviously found value in the course so this one may well come down to personal taste; for me, Prof. Roth and this course were a disappointment.
Date published: 2015-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommend I loved this series for its breadth and scope. The lectures were constantly stimulating and I learned something new every time. I particularly liked the worldwide nature of the courses and the evident humanity of the lecturer.
Date published: 2015-07-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I give up I rarely fail to finish listening to teaching company courses, but I gave up on this one after ten lectures or so. The Professor seems to have a lot of data at his fingertips, but fails to give any discernible shape or meaning to his material. There is an art to lecturing, which is a public performance before an audience, with its own set of conventions; one of theses is that you don't just pour out information over your hearers in an undifferentiated stream, but structure it into a set of main ideas or arguments. The problem with these lectures for me was that the data came in such vast quantities, so quickly, that it overwhelmed the little bit of structure that the professor had created. I just felt that I was beginning to make sense of one set of facts, and more of them came pouring down. I was frustrated, and soon became convinced that I was wasting my time. I didn't feel that my understanding was being enhanced, or that I was likely to remember any of the material.
Date published: 2015-05-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from War without the battles I read a number of reviews about this course and decided to buy it anyway. In retrospect, I can say that some of the negative reviews are warranted. This course is correctly titled - it is about war and world history. It is not about battles and world history or key historical figures and world history. Here is a quote from the summary: "A penetrating view of the contexts and meanings of war, this course is essential for your understanding of the evolution of civilization." Amazingly, Professor Roth is able to present 24+ hrs on the subject of warfare without describing a single battle with any depth. Not a one. The corollary to this is that you don't need to know the difference between a phalanx or a platoon to enjoy this course. Additionally, Professor Roth does not spend any time or effort to describe key historical figures. Wars may be important but the individuals who start them or win them or lose them are not. I found this to be very foreign - imagine the 19th century without Napoleon - but the course isn't about individuals. Professor Roth is strongest when he is describing the changing socioeconomic conditions and the impact on warfare or vice versa. For instance, his analysis of the regimental system is well done. Why didn't the system exist before cheap, affordable firearms and why was it adopted so quickly? I can think of a handful of other insights that are similarly interesting, but I am not sure there are enough to sustain 48 full lectures. Finally, Professor Roth does have an annoying verbal tick - he uses a sing-song kind of tone in his conjunctions. It's the type of thing that you never notice in most Great Courses because the content is so good, but given the other distractions here, it begins to annoy. I would only recommend this course to those who want to study the effects of war on society but don't care to understand anything else, like root cause or the role of key individuals. For most people, I think that the Teaching Company has much better options to study these subjects.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Surprisingly insightful. When I started watching this course, I was feeling less than enthused, but I stuck to it and completed it yesterday. I must say, Professor Roth presented some extremely new and, to my knowledge, never heard before historical facts, which made me really appreciate his insight a lot. I certainly could have used this information during my college exams.
Date published: 2014-12-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Great Disappointment I hate to start a review with my credentials, but since this is going to be so negative, let me say that I'm a retired professional historian (Ph. D.) with extensive experience both teaching, which I'm still doing, and writing. I do a lot of driving and like to listen to courses that might add to my course content. I purchased this course with great expectations, and managed to listen to the first thirteen lectures before I couldn't take any more. Professor Roth is one of the worst lecturers I have ever heard, and how the Teaching Company selected him is beyond me. First, in the lectures I managed to listen to, there is not a single fleshed out human being. This is history as etymology. To Professor Roth, humans seem to be a species of ants, without emotions, or real lives. Observed from on high, they are acted upon. Moved around on the world stage by forces beyond their control, they have no will, no real choices, no emotions, no thoughts. Anyone who has spent any time in the classroom ought to know that students need to be engaged, and dry analysis alone is not the way to do so. They need stories, anecdotes, real people with whom to identify if they are to be kept interested. Professor Roth is unaware of this simple fact of good teaching. As a result, he's BORING. Secondly, there's an old adage, "write what you know." The corollary is "don't write (or teach) what you don't." Professor Roth knows precious little about war, and in a course supposedly about war and world history, this is fatal. I kept waiting to hear something about war. I heard about swords, some equipment, the role of silver coinage in Athens, and Spartan homosexuality, but nothing really about war. What finally brought me to give up was Professor Roth's airy dismissal of Alexander the Great as, in his words, "in my opinion, more lucky than great." Wow, a figure universally considered for over two millennia one of the great, if not the greatest of the Great Captains, whose campaigns and leadership skills are taught it every service academy in the world, was "more lucky than great." Now either Professor Roth is on to something that has eluded military historians for literally thousands of years, or he is fundamentally ignorant of war and its practitioners. I suspect the latter. What an awful course.
Date published: 2014-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous man, i really gotta disagree with some of the negative comments. I've listened to over 40 Teaching company courses and this is certainly among the top 10, maybe top 5. Obviously every one will differ about a professor's presentation. I thought this was very good, I rarely drifted off. It was not the BEST but it sure kept my attention. As for the content, it is ambitious. It isn't just military history - it is War as it relates to world history. As such, he touches on social issues that were related to war, such as slavery or poltiics. It isn't just about weapons and battles or military strategy. And it covers an enormous scope and has really educated me - there is a lot of stuff in here about Africa, the Americas, and Asia that I simply didn't know about, despite listening to dozens of history presentations. There's a great deal about Asia, Persia, American indians, and the Kingdom of Ghana. Kingdom of Ghana....who knew....and what I like about Dr. Roth is that he doesn't set off my Political Correctness meter. He was very unbiased as far as I was concerned, and I especially liked the fact that he would frequently bring up some time honored bit of information, such as Europeans were racists from the get-go, only to dispute it with examples (like relatives of Montezume who became European spanish nobles, or Ethiopians who became Russian generals), or that American indians were pacifists who knew nothing about war until Euro-Man arrived. I learned an enormous amount and this has tied together enormous amounts of history and geography from prior courses. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2014-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive military history Includes many examples of seldom examined conflicts that are passed over in standard histories. His use of examples from Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania are very valuable to me as I travel frequently. Audio history while freeway driving makes my travel days a joy.
Date published: 2013-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent teacher This is an excellent course that examines the context of war in world history. This is not a simple military history or listing of campaigns and tactics, but rather a broad overview of the effect of military styles and technologies on history. The course expects some degree of sophistication about world history but does not assume much knowledge of the details of military history. This should appeal to military buffs as well as students of social and political history. The professor is clear and knowledgeable, with a charming and fascinating style.
Date published: 2013-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is a gold mine. Prof. Roth takes you as close to war as you can probably get if you are a civil citizen. As a novice to military studies, I was fascinated how well organised and smoothly the course leads you to grasp the historical, sociological and other various layers of war as a phenomenon while remaining stimulating even for a layperson. Further, the lectures reveal connection between states and affairs you might have never expected. The reason why some may find this a bit overwhelming is perhaps that it is not the usual undergraduate level course you find here but rather an advanced one. It assumes you already have a solid understanding of world history. Despite its great value, a week point of the course though is the guide book. This sometimes does not include important works mentioned during the lecture which otherwise might be subject of further reading. The course´s message is an inspiring one: „Peace studies has become popular at universities but suffers from a lack of knowledge about warfare, despite the rise of new military history. Studying war is a critical part of the struggle to end it.“ Could not agree more.
Date published: 2013-01-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from How to Make History Boring I just returned this course to TTC/TGC after a valiant effort to listen beyond 6-7 lectures. Professor's style is largely to string together simple declarative sentences with little inflection, enthusiasm, or storytelling. Also, as noted elsewhere, the course is really mistitled and the history is far better presented in other TTC/TGC courses.
Date published: 2013-01-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great material, disappointing presentation This course meets the objective of providing good education on a fascinating topic. However, the professor's style is very wooden, his inflections are odd, and listening to him for any length of time is a trial. If you want to understand more about war and human history, you could sandwich these lectures in between watching other, more vibrant lectures. That's what we did to get through it. We learned a lot but it was painful.
Date published: 2013-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great backdrop to future studies First, I would be remiss if I did not once again thank The Great Courses staff for giving me this course for free. I was supposed to get the course on World War II for Christmas from my wife, and they mistakenly sent this one. They let me keep it for free. Knowledge is vital, and free knowledge is noble. Thanks again for that. I'm not an ancient history expert, or even moderately well versed with it for that matter. All of my education in history is from 1865 to present. I really enjoyed this course. I wish that I would have listened to it before all of these other courses on WWI, WWII, and Hitler. What the Professor does in this course is tie together complex social, political, and technological factors in the wars and warriors of each period. You follow how formations, tactics, weapons, and people changed during the various civilizations and empires of the ancient world. He later carries it forward into the modern world during the last two or three discs. I was fascinated. His military education clearly comes across, and he sounds like a military officer at some points instead of an out of touch academic. Being both a military officer and an out of touch academic, I can say that. Some of the things that we do in the modern Army are derived from the ancient Greek and Roman armies. I've said this about other courses, but with respect to military history, this should be your first course. Lastly, the professor has the best vocabulary and inflection of any I have listened to so far. He so clearly loves what he teaches, and it really does come across as such. He is also unashamed of being a military leader. In the modern era of apologizing for everything, I really respect the fact that he lists his military service along with his civilian accolades. I have had quite a few professors who have admitted military service as if it were a closeted drug habit. Kudos to you Sir.
Date published: 2013-01-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Enigma Audio CD. I’ve listened to all four volumes and I’m still not sure what to make of this course. It’s not what I expected – a summary of how all the major wars string together in history. It doesn’t even spend much time on any particular war. Instead it weaves in and out of such subjects as technology, religion, and race relations. That’s not bad, but I’m still not sure how to put it all together. Dr. Roth takes on an ambitious goal – to summarize the history of the world. His emphasis is definitely on history much more than war and he largely neglects politics. He asserts that most major advances occur within what he calls the “core,” i.e., the region from South and Central Europe through the Middle East and on to China. He dwells on how the Steppe peoples pushed many advances in civilization until the industrial age. (Until this course, I had always envisioned them as nomadic barbarians.) He discusses the European rise to power from backwater status in the second millennium CE. But he largely overlooks Africa and the Americas except in the context of colonialism. To paraphrase McArthur, for Dr. Roth, it’s all about “the core, the core, the core.”
Date published: 2012-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Holistic approach to war and society Having attended a military academy and made the military my profession in every sense of the word, I have, either by choice or by force, studied much military history and theory in my life -more than the average person for sure. What I really liked about Prof. Roth's course was it's holistic approach. He doesn't get bogged down in the details of battles or a particular ideology. Instead he puts war in the context of it's time -technologically, culturally, politically, socially, economically. Some criticize his style, which may not be to everyone's taste. I didn't have a bit of trouble with it. It kept me awake and focused during commutes and helped emphasize his points. I was sorry when the course was over and hope he contributes detailed courses on a few of the points on which he said he could expound for hours. I probably enjoyed the second part of the course more, but the first part was important to put things in perspective. I'm not sure what the negative reviewers were hoping for, but I thought it was interesting, fact-filled, fun, and educational. A excellent addition to a general military education. There have been a few TC courses with which I've struggled , but this wasn't one of them.
Date published: 2012-05-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, with Room for Improvement Roth is thorough, disciplined, personable and accessible. The course is at is best when Roth is doing the social context of war, causes and consequences (i.e., don't buy it for shoot-'em-up--that's a different subject altogether). Least interesting or original when he got close to the present, perhaps because the recent stuff has been plowed up so much by so many. Also: disappointing use of graphics; they add little or nothing except minor diversion. Either figure out a way to make them more instructive, or leave them out altogether (trans." no need to buy the DVD, CD will do.
Date published: 2012-04-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring This was one of the worst Teaching Company course I have listened to. Took what could have been a fascinating topic and made it as boring as possible. I forced myself through the 6th lecture hoping it would get better but it never did.
Date published: 2012-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much better than ratings indicate The main problem with this course is bad luck in some of the reviewers it had. The content is quite good, and the delivery is good. Personally, I would have liked more emphasis on tactics and strategy, but the course is nowhere near the level that some of its reviews indicate. Take a look and decide for yourself.
Date published: 2012-04-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from One of the worst courses ever I have taken over 100 courses and this is the first one I have reviewed because I felt it was so poorly done and others should know. The presenter has a very poor delivery. He elongates his words and then mumbles afterwards, just an irritating style to listen to for me at least. The material was superficial and had little insight and I sometimes wondered if it was about war at all since they are seldom mentioned.
Date published: 2012-03-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Doesn't deliver on its promise. Having read John Keegan and Victor Davis Hanson's tighly argued books, I was pleasantly surprised by Roth's promise that he was going to provide a valuable counterpoint to these thinkers. Boy, was I disappointed. Roth fails to deliver on this promise in a big way. Considering how boring his style of delivery is, often the only thing I found interesting about some of the lectures was figuring out how Hanson or Keegan would have devastated Roth's argument were they there to refute them. For instance, Roth describes how, for instance, firearms technology spread rapidly once it was invented. Yet, he does not show why, even with other parts of the world catching up technologically to some degree, they were unable to catch up to the West in their military results. Hanson does this in spades with his persuasive book Carnage and Culture, a book which Roth takes time to insult but could not even put a dent into. Roth must thank his lucky stars that nobody was opposing his viewpoints! That said, Roth also tries to do entirely too much in this course. The lectures fluctuate between dealing with the vaguest generalities and the most specific details without a well delivered unifying structure to help the listener realize where these details are going to take him. In this respect Roth ought to learn from Robert Bucholz, whose courses are better delivered, far more streamlined and far better structured. I am seriously considering sending this course back for a refund!
Date published: 2012-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Superb Course This is among the handful of very best courses among the 90 or so Teaching Company courses that I've completed. It might better be titled World History and War, because it adopts a world-historical perspective to discuss the role of war as a cultural institution. As other reviewers have said, don't get it if you are looking for a discussion of specific battles or campaigns; it has a much broader perspective than that. The course was fascinating from beginning to end. I look forward to viewing it again because it was densely packed with ideas and information that were new to me. Professor Roth is tremendously knowledgeable, and very engaging. He was, I thought, scrupulously fair about presenting viewpoints with which he disagreed. As a few other reviewers have noted, Professor Roth has an idiosyncratic style of speaking, but it is well worth persevering. Unlike one other reviewer who preferred audio, I started with an audio version and was a bit distracted by Professor Roth's delivery. However, the subject matter was so compelling that I bought the DVD version, and found that to be preferable. (Also, I had found that I wanted to see illustrations of some of the things discussed. If I have any criticism of the course, it is that The Teaching Company, uncharacteristically, skimped a bit on illustrations; there were places where a picture would have been helpful, but it was not provided. Notwithstanding that, I give this course the highest possible recommendation.
Date published: 2011-11-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Rigorous Analysis I recommend this course but it is not for everyone. I can understand why some reviewers rate this course less than ideal. Some courses deliver nuggets of information in varying degrees of granularity, while others deliver the big picture. This course quite rigorously delivers units of information in bewildering granularity but none of these pieces of information result in a blinding epiphany. The ah ha moment comes after the 48th lecture when you realize you don't have any huge nuggets to point to but you do own the whole mine. Prof. Roth takes a PLECTRUM analytical approach, strumming across all the strings to touch at every dimension of analysis (i.e. P=political, L=legal, E=economic, C=cultural , T=technical and so on). As a student of history, I have been exposed to many works on war. This approach, though demanding, was a delightful surprise. If you are looking for a course which describes individual battles, tactics and famous generals, this is not it. Although the information comes in buckets it is quite drinkable at your own pace and at your own level of focus. The teaching company's production values, while quite high recently, are less so in this production. The sparsity of graphic material leads me to recommend the CD version which will allow one to absorb the material almost anywhere. The presenter's sometimes-stammering speech I think is due more to TTC's initially clumsy handling of the Teleprompter, stage direction and less than ideal camera switching activity. The professor is extremely knowledgeable and analyzes war and history from so many different perspectives that he ultimately weaves the various skeins of yarn into a complete, comprehensive ball of knowledge you will be pleased to possess.
Date published: 2011-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from War in context War is a human activity that has been present in all times and in all places in one degree or another. Yet, except for specialists in the field, it is largely ignored by academia and the intelligentsia. Agreed, it's not a "nice" subject. But ignoring it won't make it go away, and characterizing those who study it as grown-ups who are playing with toy soldiers only trivializes the subject. Professor Roth ably counters this mindset, and places war into the larger context of history. He does so without concentrating on one particular piece of geography (Europe). It's amazing how many of the same military systems were adopted simultaneously throughout much of the world. And when systems were adopted in one place before another, there was a profound impact. Some folks have reservations about the presentation. Well, content trumps everything. And the good professor works very hard at his craft, and while not as slick as some, really gets the point across.
Date published: 2011-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great course an excellent, thought provoking course that teaches history in a way I had never considered before. The majority of the courses were extremely interesting and I was sad when the course was over.
Date published: 2011-07-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Can,t recommend Just could not finish this one. Rare for me. DR Roth certainly is pleasant and well prepared, but ultimately this course just did not hold my interest. With so many other excellent TCC courses available, I have to rate this a PASS!
Date published: 2011-07-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Tough Going I slogged my way through the first 16 lectures, hoping against all odds that the lectures would improve. Sadly, I cannot listen to anymore. I find Professor Roth unduly tedious, scattered, and downright boring.
Date published: 2011-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Original Cut at History Intrigued by the wide range of reviews of these DVD's, I reread Donald Kagan's On the Origin of War and John Keegan's A History of Warfare before watching the DVD's. Like a good academic, Dr Roth begins with definitions of terms involved in what he proposes to discuss. Then, we go from the stone age through the horrors of industrial warfare as prisms to view history. We end up with today's odd position of warfare at the sharp point for the infantry thrown back in many ways to the constabulary days of the late nineteenth century. There's a lot of meat here to ponder, and I think it would appeal more to the generalist than one interested in strictly military history. That said, it's highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "War what is it good for?" To answer the plaintive introductory lyrics of Edwinn Starr's anti-war song, war is, in the case of this course, good for an excellent learning experience. Previous reviews have been all over the place with some reviewers wishing they could give this course more than 5 stars, while others would like to have given it a negative star rating. This is a 5 star review. This is a history course about how 'war' has evolved through the course of history. This is NOT a course on military history. Dr R covers 'war' quite thoroughly and provides a very interesting and informative history from the first stone throwers, into the sword swingers and knife stickers, through the various manifestations of gunpowder weaponry, further into weapons of mass destruction, and finishing with our very special brand of 21st C war in which seemingly everybody is making war on everyone else with any weapon they can find. What comes through this enthralling course is that as the power to destroy increased, the power to control diminished. When people had weaponry that could only kill one a few at a time, they used it with abandon. However, once people had weapons that couild kill almost everyone, its use became necessarily limited and, hence, less effective. Professor Roth covers this evolution from up close and personal killing to impersonal (at least, at a distance) killing back to the up close and personal asymmetric wars of the last 60 years or so. If you want a history of the great and significant battles of history, this is not the course for you but it is a great idea for another TC course. If you want a fascinating history course about the evolution of how some people fight with other people combined with lots of fascinating history, then listen or watch this course. It takes a while to warm up to Dr Roth - I found it easier to listen then to watch - but once you do, you will enjoy Dr R's tour through the very, very violent streak that runs right down the middle of history - from it's very beginning to right now as you read this. Edwin Starr's conclusion was that "war" was good for "absolutely nothing" - he was certainly right in terms of the incalculable human carnage and suffering it has spawned - but 'war' in the able teaching hands of Dr Roth is certainly worth learning about. Finally, for military history buffs, the TC does offer courses on Great Battles of the Ancient World, the Civil War, and World Wars I & II - all excellent courses. But a history of the great battles and their historical consequences would be a worthwhile course, and this course would be an equally worthy conpanion.
Date published: 2010-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best History Course in TC Catalog I have bought and listened to more TC courses than I can count. Though I've enjoyed many of them, this is the first time I'm moved to write a review. Prof Roth's course rises far above most of the other offerings on world history. It takes us from ancient Sumer all the way to our current involvements in the Middle East. The approach and execution is simply stunning. I think one might only be disappointed if one expects the "old" style of military history, so be aware: this marvelous course embodies the best of the "new" style of military history, which treats war as a way into examining all aspects of human culture, technology, diplomacy, and politics. There is very little description of battles or strategy in the conventional sense. But that is not the point. I fault Prof Roth on one thing, of which I'm sure he is well aware. Either because of lack of knowledge (hard to imagine) or interest (more likely), he gives quite short shrift to Napoleon and the French military revolution of the late 18th and early 19th century. Another likely reason for this is that he is quite interested in technological progress, and, indeed, the Napoleonic period was much more about tactical and political development. However, with that sole caveat, I cannot recommend this course more highly to anyone interested in world history. For the Teaching Company staff: PLEASE, MORE COURSES BY PROF ROTH!
Date published: 2010-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from World History at its best As a professional ancient historian familiar with Prof. J. Roth's work on logistics of the Roman army, I consider War and World History a masterwork in formulating relevant questions and providing sensible, sophisticated answers to them. W&WH is also one of the most convincing demonstrations I have encountered of the usefulness and inevitability of a World History approach to specific historical themes, such as war. The traditional way of writing and teaching military history is undoubtedly the main culprit in the long-lasting neglect, not to say contempt, of the subject of war and the military in history in European universities. Prof. Roth's course could be a way to rehabilitate the field in this part of the world and I certainly plan to use W&WH as a textbook for a forthcoming introductory course to World History. In tune with the title of the serie (Ancient & Medieval History), Prof. Roth rightly devotes more than a third of the forty-eight 30-minute lectures to the earlier periods, showing how the core presented similar, though coincidental, stages of development. This choice provides a sound basis for comparison for later periods. By contrast, the margins, being what they are, become visible only half-way through the course. Because I know less about the later periods and the margins, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how clear, well-organized, cleverly devised, and overall accessible the second half of the course was. This is historical discourse at its best, sprinkled with telling anecdotes, and based on a careful and balanced combination of facts and hypotheses, textual or material sources and theoretical models. The history of war is bound to overlap with religion, technology, politics and diplomacy, political science, economics, international law, geography, psychology, etc. Prof. Roth is obviously at ease dealing with many scientific fields. Thus, he underlines, with due modesty, the interdisciplinary nature of historical research. It is also remarkable that as historical events get closer to Prof. Roth's personal/family history (WWII, Vietnam War, and the recent conflicts in Asia involving the US military), the historian does not pretend to shy away from his status of bystander or even participant in current events. The last lecture is a powerful and welcome reminder that the writing and teaching of history is indeed a civil and political act, as well as an intellectual and artistic endeavour. Even ego-history finds validation.
Date published: 2010-09-01
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