History of the world to 1500

‘War’-panel of the Standard of Ur, c 2600 BCE.
‘War’-panel of the Standard of Ur, c 2600 BCE. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

This course surveys the course of human civilisations across the globe from the dawn of history to the start of the Sixteenth Century. Given the breadth of its content, we will focus on general themes and trends that characterise human societies, pointing to commonalities that underscore the shared origins of mankind. Occasionally, we will explore significant developments in religion and political theory that shaped the course of human history. By the end of the course, we will understand better the world on the eve of modernity, which will lay the foundations for a better appreciation of the subsequent centuries of gradual globalisation.

Course expectation and student evaluation

Course grades will be assigned on the basis of several elements:

  1. in-class quizzes (30% total)—a map quiz and six quizzes (lowest grade dropped) on critical terms (e.g., Indus Valley civilisation, Muḥammad, Chengīz Khān);
  2. mid-term examination (20%)—in-class examination mid-way through the semester;
  3. final examination (30%)—in-class examination over the entirety of the semester’s content, including questions on critical terms and essay questions;
  4. class participation (20%)—contribution to in-class and online discussions and attendance, critical to a successful experience (students with over three absences lose their entire participation grade; each additional two absences result in a letter-grade penalty off of the overall course grade).
This division of factors aims to give all students a fair chance at a good grade by avoiding too much emphasis on one examination method. Nevertheless, since a significant share of the grade (20%) derives from participation, this means that you must attend and participate in class to get a good grade. The key to good participation is reading the assigned texts, so come prepared!

Each student has the opportunity to submit up to five extra credit response papers to announced events that take place throughout the semester.

Required texts

The following texts are required for this course and can be purchased at the bookstore. Those looking to save money can purchase used (or ‘like new’) copies of all of these books online. They are also accessible on course reserve at the library or, sometimes, available for free electronically through databases on the library website.

Recommended texts for further readings

The following texts are recommended for those interested in doing further reading on the subject. These books are not required for purchase, but are available at the bookstore. They are also available for free on course reserve at the library. Even though these books are recommended, you are still responsible for doing any required reading from these texts.

Roberts, John M and Odd Arne Westad. The History of the world. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel Noah, ed. The Origins and diversity of Axial Age civilizations. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

Course outline

Readings from course textbooks appear in small caps. All other readings include full bibliographical citations and are available electronically on the class website. It is highly recommended that you prepare in advance by downloading and/or printing all online readings at the beginning of the course, so that you can concentrate on reading them over the semester. While ‘recommended reading’ are not obligatory, they may be useful when preparing research papers (those with an asterisk (*) are highly encouraged). Primary source readings are noted below.

I. Introduction to the ancient world

  1. Introduction to world history

  2. Required reading:
    • Coatsworth, et al., Global connections, 1–10.
    • Examine the class primer (always review relevant materials and bring the primer to each class).
  3. The Agrarian revolution

  4. Required reading:
  5. From cities to empires

  6. Map quiz
    Required reading:
  7. The Ancient Near Eastern ‘cradle of civilisation’

  8. Quiz #1
    Required reading:
  9. Migrations of ancient peoples

  10. Required reading:

II. Regional civilisations and confessional religions

  1. Africa and the Americas

  2. Required reading:
  3. Ancient civilisations in South and East Asia

  4. Required reading:
  5. The Ancient Mediterranean world

  6. Quiz #2
    Required reading:
  7. The Rise of confessional religions

  8. Required reading:
  9. The Israelites and the development of monotheism

  10. Required reading:

III. Empires, religions, and cross-cultural interactions

  1. Græco-Roman civilisation and empire

  2. Required reading:
  3. Sāsānian Iran and the absolutist tradition

  4. Quiz #3
    Required reading:
  5. The Birth of Islam

  6. Required reading:
  7. Mid-term examination

  8. Mid-term examination
  9. The Arab-Islamic conquests in global perspective

  10. Required reading:
  11. The Middle East and Europe

  12. Required reading:
    Quiz #4
  13. Cultures of the Silk Route

  14. Required reading:
  15. States and societies of the Americas and Africa

  16. Required reading:

IV. Fragmentation and re-consoldiation

  1. Fragmentation of the European world

  2. Quiz #5
    Required reading:
  3. Fragmentation of the Islamic world

  4. Required reading:
  5. Fragmentation and consolidation in South and East Asia

  6. Required reading:
  7. Indigenous empires and civilisations

  8. Required reading:
  9. The Mongol conquest of the world

  10. Required reading:

V. Towards modernity

  1. European progress towards modernity

  2. Quiz #6
    Required reading:
  3. Rise of the ‘gunpowder empires’

  4. Required reading:
  5. The World on the eve of modernity

  6. Required reading:
  7. Final examination

  8. Final examination

Upcoming talks and lectures

Please note that not all of these events are open to the general audience; please check with the organisers to confirm.
  • 08 May 2024, 14.15—‘Category imperative: The Establishment of the Bahāʾī Department in the Israeli Ministry for Religious Affairs’’ (47th annual conference of the Middle East & Islamic Studies Association of Israel): Open University, Raʿanannah, Israel.
  • 15 May 2024, 16.30—‘Shoghi Effendi and the development of Bahāʾī-Israeli relations’’ (Il Condominio Italian Bahāʾī forum): Rome, Italy (Zoom).
  • 06 June 2024, 18.30—‘Crisis of authority and authority during crisis: Shoghi Effendi’s succession and the State of Israel’ (Hebrew University Chair in Bahaʾi Studies Public Lecture): Hebrew University, Jerusalem (Zoom).
  • 13 August 2024, 9.30—‘The Return of Iran: Iranian nationalist rhetoric during the Iran-Iraq War’ (14th biennial conference of the Association for Iranian Studies): Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Past events ► click to expand