The Modern World

History 115





Term Paper





Course Description

This course surveys the modern world  from the 18th to the 20th  century.  Its aim is not just to provide a summary of the events of modern times, though these are important and not slighted. It tries to raise questions about what “modern” meant and how “modernity” relates to the present. For as the historian William H. McNeill already noted a generation ago, we need to do much rethinking about the past:

The American (and world) public badly need new visions, new generalizations, new myths, global in scope, to help navigate in our tightly interactive world. If historians fail to advance suitably bold hypotheses and interpretations, then politicians, journalists, and other public figures will continue as now to use unexamined clichés to simplify choices that must be made (New York Times, December 27, 1981).

In keeping with McNeill's advice, this course adopts a global perspective. It focuses upon the historical processes through which a distinct set of "modern" ideas, values, institutions, and problems first emerged in Western Europe and then spread world-wide, engendering not only a new mentality associated with modernity but a new,  interdependent world system that centered around the North Atlantic. This is the "modern world" the course attempts to reveal.