The Modern World

Spring 2014

HIST 2002

The Modern World

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. In order 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. This course can, therefore, be essential for students in many fields, a base equipping them for lifelong learning.


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 really want to get a foundational understanding of modern world history.

HIST 2002 is part of a sequence that begins with Professor Joseph Miller’s HIST 2001 - Many Worlds: A History of Humanity before 1800. Each course is quite different and either can be taken on its own.

This course is a broad survey. Therefore, it is classified as a 2000-level course with no prerequisites. Yet it may stretch you more than some of the more tightly 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 further.

To register for this course, sign up for one of the lecture sections with me (both of the lecture sections are on Tuesdays) and one of the lab sections with one of the GTA’s.


This course is being taught in an unusual way, transforming the traditional on-Grounds lecture/discussion model by integrating it with an online platform offered through the University’s partnership with Coursera.

This course works at four levels of learning:

Level One: Foundational video presentations 

There are two to three hours of foundational video content per week, broken into as few as five or as many as nine topical presentations and offered online through enrollment in the Coursera site. There are a total of 97 such separately produced presentations spread over the 14 weeks of teaching in the course. Think of these presentations as a combination of time you would spend in classroom lectures and on homework.

These video presentations are each associated with particular required readings. Instead of the usual pattern of reading a clump of material and then going to a lecture that also has a clump of topics to fit in the designated time allotment, here the design lets you integrate your readings more tightly with each topic. Ideally, you might read first and then view the associated video presentation.

Level Two: In-depth readings

There are only three required books, but there are other required readings compiled in the HIST 2002 Sourcebook, which you must purchase at N.K. Print and Design on Elliewood Avenue.  These readings have a special purpose: to take you further into mindsets of the time, the ideas and philosophies that particular sets of people came up with in order to make sense of what was happening and develop agendas for action. 

Level Three: Professor-led, in-depth classroom discussion sections

These once a week discussion sections take the place of the traditional lectures. Although the course is open to 120 students, we will never meet in a lecture hall with 120. Instead, each discussion section will be in a classroom of no more than 60 students. It will be led by the professor, not a TA. 

Discussions will meet on Tuesday afternoons for an hour and fifteen minutes. You should have signed up for one of the two options:  (1) the 100 section is (currently scheduled) from 2:00-3:15pm; or (2) the 200 section is (currently scheduled) from 4:00-5:15pm.  These times may change in the final listing.

These discussions will focus on the major historical problems for that week, as well as the in-depth readings. 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 these sections ready to answer questions about the material and participate in the discussion. We will be employing a new system this semester known as Learning Catalytics, which allows you to use a smartphone, or other mobile device to answer class questions and provide input in other ways, rather than a dedicated “clicker” device. Further information about this system will be provided in class.

No laptop use in class; we'll do plenty with computers outside of class!

Level Four: History labs

As part of this course, you will do some historical work of your own.  Like a science lab, in which the experimental materials have already been assembled, in these history labs you will draw on primary sources that have already been assembled for you, organized in folders online.

The point of this lab work is to complement the wider generalizations from the course with the study of specific local conditions. From a set of ten communities around the world, each student will be assigned one to survey. The specific communities are listed at the end of this syllabus. 

Your job is twofold:  First, develop a question about your assigned place/time.  At the back you will find some recurrent themes which may help you come up with a good question.  Figuring out a good historical question is harder than you may think!

And then, once your proposed question is approved by the Graduate Teaching Assistant, go through these materials to answer it.  You may do any supplemental research you wish (including proposed additions to the inventory of materials we have already gathered about these communities).

Each student will do three of these short, structured papers (for 1860, 1910, and 1960), with your community assigned randomly from the set.

If this feels intimidating remember that, like a science lab, we are helping to supply the source materials you will need to get started, available to you in our digital 'lab' online.


Grades will be determined by your performance on the online quizzes (15%), the classroom Learning Catalytics assessments (15%), your survey papers (15%), a midterm that will be offered via Collab (20%), and a final exam, also offered via Collab (35%).

More details about each of these elements will be provided separately.


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.

Except for Palmer, 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.

  • History 2002 Sourcebook (available at N.K. Print and Design on Elliewood Avenue)
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century (New York: Norton, 2006)
  • R.R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: The Challenge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959)  Note that "The Challenge" is volume 1 of 2 (the second volume, "The Struggle," is not required for this course). Although long available in paperback, the book is currently priced high. You should readily be able to find less expensive used copies available, including through Amazon.
  • Odd Arne Westad, Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 (New York: Basic Books, 2010)


In addition to the published books, there are other required readings – articles, chapters, or book excerpts. These are in the History 2002 Sourcebook, listed above.


Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
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