World History

Paul Christiansen and Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2013-14: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time



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Course Overview

This course is an introductory survey of World History. As such it cannot pretend to anything like completeness in either breadth or depth; our method, therefore, will be to try to lay a broad and coherent (but necessarily fairly thin) foundation of facts and historical relationships, and to dig into particular areas with greater focus, as a way of exercising and developing the capacity for historical thought, and also as an illustration of some of the riches the field has to offer.

The survey component will be rooted in World History: People and Nations from Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Curiously, while the book lists a page of "Content Reviewers" and "Educational Reviewers", it makes no claim to any authorship whatever. Whether the book sprang fully grown and bound from the heads of Messrs. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, or whether it came about some other way will have to remain one of the mysteries of the course. The notion that it could be merely reviewed into existence is intriguing, and may suggest some Borgesian inversion of reality, but seems merely to reflect the reactive nature of textbook publication in the world today. It is of course possible that all the authors associated with the project declined to affix their names. Nevertheless, the factual material related is usually correct and solid, though sometimes inferences and logical connections are a bit slippery. Occasionally it has out-and-out bloopers that we will correct as noisily as possible when we find them. We hope you'll bring to our attention any that elude our notice. A subordinate goal of the course is to encourage a healthy and critical skepticism about things that show up in textbooks.

We will supplement the readings in the textbook with others from the web, and will ask students to engage in some research of their own to test both the scope of the available sources and to learn how to manage them.

We should probably state up front that history is by its very nature a contentious and controversial subject. It has to do with how people interpret their experience and how meaning of any and every sort emerges from life. 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 larger lessons one can learn. It may be a collateral benefit of studying history, but history is a subject peculiarly capable of eliciting and requiring it.

The course has no particular prerequisites, but it does expect that a student be able to read carefully and critically.