History 202: Introduction

Peoples and Cultures of the Modern World, Fall 2014: Introduction to the course

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

What do you think of when you hear the word "modern"? Most people think: new and up-to-date; not old. Google defines modern as: "of or relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past." This definition raises more questions than it answers: How recent is modern? How remote is modern? Who is Modern? What is modern?

That's where historians come in. When, they ask, did the modern era begin? What preceded it and what caused it? Historians focus on how societies change over time. Historians use terms like, Neolithic, Ancient, Medieval, pre-Modern and traditional to describe what came before and historians seek to understand the essential difference between life in those previous eras and the modern world. But how does a student of history understand differences in various locales and at different times? Are all humans living on the planet today modern in spite of growing cultural differences? What do modern peoples in vastly different cultures throughout the globe share? What makes someone or something modern? What, in short, does it mean to be modern?

A central focus of this course will be to explore the ways that the Western world has attempted to transform peoples and cultures throughout the globe. In this course we focus on the responses of the non-West to Colonialism, Industrialization, and globalization. Is modernism, we might ask, simply a tool to facilitate exploitation? Or is it a great "gift" from the West? Are all ideas, values, and cultures equal? Can the West engage in dialogue with the non-Western world without imposing ethnocentrism? Has globalization led to a "great convergence" of cultures and ideas in the world? These questions will lead to others, on the nature of progress in human history. Are we all truly better off, as is usually assumed, to be living in a modern society?

History 202 has two main goals:

1. To introduce you to the study of history and literature and some of the social sciences. In addition to history, you will learn a little bit about political science, economics, and anthropology, and you will explore the many ways in which these disciplines help us understand the human experience. We will also read one of the world's great works of literature and ponder what it can teach us about the nature of colonialism.

2. To introduce you to the contemporary developing world and help you understand the lives of people who reside in a variety of places. You will learn how historical and social circumstances influence people's lives and contribute to shaping the problems and opportunities that the developing world faces today.


You will need to purchase a copy of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I will also give you a set of bound photocopies. These will be your readings for the course.

Syllabus: The course is divided into five segments, each with a different page on this website. Which is chock full of useful tips on class participation, writing, and how to think about history. Most important of all, you should read Course Requirements.

Daily assignments: are designed to take you about 75 minutes for each class. If you are consistently taking longer, please talk to me.

Take notes as you read, in the margins of the texts or in a notebook.

Quizzes will be given from time to time to test your reading comprehension. You can use your notes in a notebook, but not in the texts.

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5