World History I

Christe A. McMenomy, Ph.D. and Sarah Miller Esposito for Scholars Online
2020-2021: Monday and Wednesday 4:00pm to 5:30pm Eastern Time

Please note: Assignments are being coordinated with our new text and may not be available yet.





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Course Overview

This course is an introductory survey of World History from the earliest times to 1750. As such it cannot pretend to anything like completeness in either breadth or depth, though it is considerably enhanced from our previous versions of the course, since we have extended a one-year survey course into a more thorough two-year sequence. Our method will be to extract a broad and coherent foundation of facts and historical relationships from the text, while pursuing certain themes systematically and comparatively throughout the course, as a way of exercising and developing the capacity for analytical historical thought, and also as an illustration of some of the riches the field has to offer.

The survey component for 2020-2021 will be built around the third edition of Patterns of World History by Von Sivers, Desnoyers, and Stow. It is a solid college-level text for a world history course, and it accordingly presumes a fairly mature and sophisticated reader. It is a secular textbook, and does not presuppose any religious perspective, but it also does not skirt important religious issues in history as most high school textbooks seem to do. We have made this change after careful consideration of a number of textbooks. After close comparisons, we determined that this textbook is at least as nuanced and more balanced than textbooks we have used previously, and emphasizes the development of the tools of historiography, especially close analysis of primary source materials, in a way that aligns with Scholars Online's overall goals.

The thematic element of the course was originally conceived by Dr. Bruce McMenomy and Paul Christiansen, and based on positive student feedback, we continue to the structure they devised. Our discussions will primarily center around three clusters of concepts: resources, community, and power. We will develop an analytical vocabulary for describing these things, and then will examine how they are expressed in each period after the first. Under the first heading we consider the raw materials of cultures and societies, from geography and natural resources to human resources, money, and intellectual capital, and how wealth is amassed, distributed, and mediated. Under the second we consider the relationship of the individual and groups of people, including the formation of tribes, cities, states, and empires, along with other voluntary or involuntary associations of persons. Under the third heading we consider the types and dynamics of power, both personal and institutional, and how it is met with consent or resistance. Each of these three subject areas is of course intertwined with the others as well; we will try to show their points of intersection, to allow students to connect these concepts both in the abstract and in a diachronic perspective.

We will supplement the readings in the textbook with others from the web, and will ask students to engage in regular critical writing about a range of issues. There will be regular quizzes for each chapter, and exams as required.

History is by nature a contentious and controversial subject. It has to do with how people interpret their lives and how meaning of any and every sort emerges from human experience. Accordingly, you will probably find things in the textbook with which you disagree (even if they're not the kind of thing that can be proven objectively wrong). That's okay. We will expect you to know what the book says — we don't require you to believe every little bit of it. By the same token, you'll probably disagree with us as well. That's okay too. We often disagree with each other. Learning to manage disagreement in the context of civil discourse is one of the more important lessons one can learn.

The course has no specific prerequisites, but it does require a student to be able to read carefully and critically.