The Modern World: Global History Since 1760



Spring 2013

HIST 2002

The Modern World: Global History Since 1760

Philip Zelikow

This is a survey course in modern world history for students, beginning or advanced, who wish to better understand how the world got to be the way it is today.  This course can therefore be essential for students in many fields, a base for lifelong learning.  And to understand modern history, a global perspective is essential.  This is true whether you are interested in economics, warfare, philosophy, politics, or even pop culture.

As detailed below, this course also adopts a new kind of instructional design.  It is an unusually immersive and engaging format involving a significant student commitment.  It is therefore worth four credits, rather than the usual three.  Take this course if you'd really like to go after learning modern world history.  But if you're looking for an easy course to tack on to your schedule, this is not it.

It is tempting to think that if we can just understand the big patterns, we don't have to get too caught up in the details.  In this course, though, we do care about chronology.  We care about individuals. 

Without some careful attention to sequences of cause and effect, without tracing how big changes come from the choices made by particular people, history can turn into just a series of descriptions, a somewhat tiresome recitation of one thing after another.  Not this course. 

So a big part of what we will do is not only to offer a set of remarkable stories.  We will be training you in how to analyze a situation and how to think about problems of explaining change.

HIST 2002 is part of a sequence that begins with HIST 2001, “Many Worlds: A History of Humanity before 1800” taught by Joseph Miller.  Each course is quite different and either can be taken on its own.

The course is a broad survey.  Therefore it is classified as a 2000-level course with no prerequisites.  Yet be forewarned:  It may stretch you more than some of the more narrowly focused courses offered at the 3000 or 4000-level.  You will have to juggle many different narratives and unfamiliar names.  No matter what background knowledge you bring, this course will force you to reach a lot further.  You have to tackle culture, politics, warfare, anthropology, plenty of economics – and that’s just a start.  Welcome to the modern world.

HIST 2002 is a ‘big picture’ course.  A critical challenge is to balance what we see with a wide-angle global lens with what we can discover with a zoom lens, seeing global trends play out in particular local communities.

The instructional design of the course

This course is being taught in an unusual way, transforming the traditional on-grounds lecture/discussion model by integrating it with a massive open online course – offered through the University’s partnership with Coursera and being taken by thousands of students around the world. 

The course works at four levels of learning:

Level One:  Foundational lectures.  These will be offered online through enrollment in the Coursera course.  These are not just taped classroom lectures.  They are specially produced, broken into topical segments, about ten a week. 

These video presentations are each keyed to particular passages in your textbook.  Instead of the usual pattern of reading a clump of material, then going to a lecture, our objective is to point you to the particular few pages in your text that goes with the topic of an online presentation.  So you read a few pages, view the short 10 to 12 minute video presentation, engage with the assessment, and have your textbook handy as a reference throughout.  Then you do the next segment the same way, about ten of these a week.

The emphasis on this level is to give you factual background, and then introduce and start the discussion of the big "why" questions.  You will also have opportunities to give feedback on the problems you'd like to see emphasized in the tutorial (Level Three).  The week’s topics will typically be posted on a Monday and need to be completed by the following Monday, before the Tuesday tutorial.

Level Two:  In-depth readings.  In addition to the text there will be six books plus some other readings posted online.  So figure about half a book a week.  They are of course very different, but all are about the ideas or philosophies that particular sets of people came up with in order to make sense of what was happening around them and develop agendas for action.  So by diving into these readings in depth you'll be transported deeply into the mental worlds of individuals sorting out the circumstances you're learning about in Level One.

Level Three.   In-person discussion in depth.  This will be offered in the classroom.  Although the course is open to up to 120 students, we will never meet in a lecture hall with 120.  Instead the discussion in depth will be in a classroom of 60 and it will be with the professor, not a graduate student. 

This discussion will meet once a week (on Tuesday afternoons) for an hour and fifteen minutes.  You will sign up for one of these two tutorials.  These discussions will focus on the in-depth readings (Level Two) and on major historical problems from the lectures.  We can, for example, spend time on issues you indicated – in your online feedback – that you did not understand or wanted to probe much more.

You should come to the tutorial sessions ready to answer questions about the material (with an iClicker).  You should come ready to participate in the discussion.  But you cannot use a laptop in this session.

Level Four:  Your historical explorations.  You will conduct local community surveys at moments in history, reporting on these in “survey” sections of 20, facilitated by a Graduate Teaching Assistant.  So you will also need to sign up for a specific GTA section meeting (one of six) for an hour on Thursdays or Fridays. 

From a set of about twenty communities around the world, ranging from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, each student will be assigned a community to survey.  Your survey will answer standard questions about that place at four moments in history:  1860, 1910, 1960, and today.  And you’ll be asked to summarize what has changed since the last survey.  

Every student will do four of these short, structured papers, sticking with one community for two surveys and then rotating to another community for the remaining two.  To aid students, we will post online pools of already-gathered source material on each of the communities, including as much English-language primary material as possible.

Grades will be determined by successful completion of the online assessments (15%), from the classroom assessments (25%), your survey papers and participation in sections (30%), and a final exam (30%).

Required readings

History is a subject mainly learned through lots of reading.  And, as a survey of modern world history, this course covers a lot of ground.

All the required books are also available as e-books, a format with advantages and disadvantages.  Since e-books usually do not have comparable pagination, the assignments also note the chapters or sections being covered so that you can use that as your reading guide in an electronic format.

  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century (New York: Norton, 2006)
  • Pankaj Mishra, From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia  (NewYork: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)
  • Sophia Rosenfeld, Common Sense: A Political History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011)
  • Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, trans. Kathleen Ross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003)
  • Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler & Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010)
  • Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (New York: Ballantine Books ed., 1996, first published in 1966)
  • Peter Von Sivers, Charles A. Desnoyers, & George B. Stow, Patterns of World History: Since 1750 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)  --  Note that this text is published in a combined volume and various sub-volumes  –   you should only get the volume "since 1750."  In paperback this is ISBN 978-0-19-533334-3.  Or you can digitally rent just this volume as a relatively inexpensive e-book. 

In addition to the required books, there are other readings – articles, chapters, or book excerpts.  These will be available as pdf files on the HIST 2002 Collab site.

If you are puzzled by references to obscure names and places, the Encyclopedia Britannica is a good source for checking up unfamiliar names and places.  One of the many useful services of the UVA library system is free access to Britannica Online.  Wikipedia can sometimes be helpful, but the quality of the entries is uneven and unreliable.   



Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
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