Long before European “voyages of discovery” ushered in the modern era of globalism and global inequality, huge areas of the world had already been connected and divided by extensive systems of material exchange, crisscross cultural interaction, and political integration. The history of these earlier worlds is the subject of this course. The pursuit of comparisons and connections will be the passport that allows us to crisscross the regions, societies and cultures into which the world’s pre-modern history is usually divided. By practicing history on a large scale, particular questions and problems come to the fore: Why did major social and technological transformations such as agriculture or writing arise multiple times in different areas and periods and then spread further afield? Were their causes and consequences always the same? How did human groups in various regions form states, empires and other collectives? How did cross-cultural interaction ebb and flow with changing patterns of migration, trade, and imperialism or with the rise of universal religions? What effects did broad climatic and ecological changes have on different societies and systems of interaction? How were larger world-historical trends experienced, advanced or resisted at more local levels? How did people placed at the margins of such trends, such as nomads and subject populations, come to play important roles in large-scale transformations? The class format consists of lectures and discussion sections. In order to understand world history in terms of both large-scale patterns and human actors, we shall tackle big questions by examining very particular pieces of evidence — both textual and material — from the pre-modern past.
Evaluation is based on two exams (midterm and final), three short papers (each 1000-1750 words), and participation in discussion sessions.
Everyone is welcome, and no special background is required for this course.
3 hours of lecture & 1 hour of GSI-led discussion sections.