Western Civilization Part II: Modern Europe and its Global Impact

How did the world become modern? Less than 600 years ago, the world's civilizations and cultures existed largely in isolation from each other (often ignorant of each other's existence), most people believed the sun orbited the earth, "media" could hardly be said to exist, and governments, large and small, were primarily monarchies and aristocracies. What happened? In this course, we will examine how a series of revolutions in technology, geographical  awareness, politics, theology, science, economics, international relations, and philosophy brought us from that world to the one we live in today, with a specific focus on the role of European culture in shaping that reality. 

Major topics will include: The Renaissance and the rise of Humanism; the “Age of Discovery”; The Reformation and Counter-Reformation; The Copernican Revolution in Astronomy; Elizabethan England and Wars of Religion; The English Civil and the rise of French Absolutism; the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment; The French Revolutionary Era; The Industrial Revolution and the Age of Ideologies; the Age of Colonialism; The Great War of 1914 to 1918 and its after-effects; World War II and the Holocaust; The Cold War and the age of Superpowers.  

Major skills developed: Critical-Historical thinking and how to evaluate sources for objectivity and reliability. Balancing primary and secondary sources. Learning to make an argument grounded in properly cited research. How to avoid traps like presentism and relativism. How to use empathy and imagination to try and gain insight into historical situations and individuals. Students will be expected to play historical roles in simulations of Historic events (e.g the Congress of Vienna), and to write a 7-10pp research paper which will be due in the third trimester.


Our main text is Cole and Symes, Western Civilizations (Brief Fourth Edition, Volume 2) ISBN 0393614891.  We will also be using The Gods Will Have Blood, by Anatole France (9780140443523);  All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque; and Night, by Elie Wiesel.  All other readings will be provided by the instructor.    


If you hate history classes that are obsessed with “covering the material” and memorizing a lot of disconnected facts, that is good, because so do I. History is so much more than a body of knowledge: it is an analytical skill for understanding the human world and why things happen the way that they do; it is a set of tools for telling reliable information apart from untrustworthy sources. If you have always been curious about history, but have found past experiences rigid or trivial, this is the course for you!

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Taught by Tony Boisvert

  • timespan circa 1500-present

  • significant primary source reading

  • major paper each quarter, including instruction in research methods

How did the world become modern? Little more than 500 years ago, the world's civilizations and cultures existed largely in isolation from each other (often ignorant of each other's existence), most people believed the sun orbited the earth, "media" could hardly be said to exist, and governments, large and small, were primarily monarchies and aristocracies. What happened?

In this course, we will examine how a series of revolutions in technology, global awareness, politics, science, economics, international relations, and philosophy brought us from that world to the one we live in today, with a specific focus on the role of European culture in shaping that reality. 

Topics Will Include: 

  • The Beginnings of Modernity (1348-1517)

  • The Reformation and Wars of Religion

  • The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution

  • The Enlightenment and The French Revolution

  • The Age of Ideologies (Romanticism, industrialism, socialism, colonialism, nationalism)

  • The World Wars, Fascism, and the Holocaust

  • The Cold War and European Unification

Major Readings will include:

  • R. Descartes, "Discourse on Method."

  • T. Hobbes , selections from Leviathan

  • J. Locke, selections

  • Voltaire, selections from Candide

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, "A vindication of the rights of women"

  • Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

  • C. Dickens, selections from Hard Times

  • J. Conrad, Heart of Darkness

  • B. Tuchman, selections from The Proud Tower and The Guns of August

  • E. M. Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

  • E. Wiesel, Night

Written Assignments:
There will be at least one major writing assignment per quarter.  In the third quarter, there will be a research paper.