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History 50

World Civilizations, Beginnings-1600


Fall 2003                                                                                     Office:  Benicia 1011

Dr. Martin Secker                                                                       Office hours: TR 1:30-2:30

Class hours: TR  10:30-11:45                                                     Phone:



Course website:  The weekly reading schedule, links to online readings and websites, and handouts will all be posted on the website. You will need to check it continually.

Course weblog:     Announcements, changes, writing prompts, discussion questions, and other course materials will be posted here. A link to the log will be on the online syllabus, or you can type the address directly.

Course Forum- This venue is provided as a place for you to pose questions, discuss course materials, and assignments with other students, as well as with me. If you are having problems with a text or a topic, or have questions about something, this is the place the throw out the issue for discussion. The use is the forum is purely optional for this class. It is simply there to facilitate the exchange of information and a limited kind of cooperative effort or study.


Required Texts:


Stearns, Peter, World History in Brief, Volume One to 1450, 4th edition, (Pearson Education).

Stavrianos, Leften, Lifelines From Our Past, Revised edition, (M.E. Sharpe: 1997).


We will also read extensively from primary sources in handouts and on the internet.


Course Description


This course is designed to provide an overview of the nature and course of human history. Along the way, the student will have the opportunity to acquire a superficial familiarity with most of the major civilizations of the world. At the same time, the course will suggest some of the factors that have affected and continue to affect the way societies work and people live. By the end of the course it is hoped that each student will have gained some sense of the cultural and historical roots of contemporary human societies as well as an appreciation of the universal character of human history.


Course Goals


Upon completion of the course students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of:

Ø      The origins and roots of western civilization.

Ø      The contributions of different peoples and cultures to the mix that eventually becomes a whole new civilization in western Europe.

Ø      The chief characteristics of the institutions and value systems of the societies studied here.

Ø      The processes of change and development within societies and civilizations.

Ø      The complex interplay of value systems, social structure, geography and ecology, technology, economics, and political institutions in human societies. 

Ø      How societies and civilizations have confronted issues of diversity and cultural differences within their populations.

Students will also be able to demonstrate:

Ø      University-level methods of historical inquiry, text interpretation, analytical writing, and critical thinking.

Ø      The ability to reflect upon their own lives in the light of world history. 



Course Requirements


Attendance is required. You are allowed four absences without penalty. Each absence beyond that will result in a one grade reduction in your course grade. With eight absences you automatically fail this course.

Class preparation and participation.  I expect students to come to class each day having read thoroughly all materials assigned for that day and ready to discuss the topics covered that day. Consistent thorough preparation will greatly help your grasp of the sometimes complex subject of this class, and will improve the chemistry within the classroom making the class itself a better learning experience. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be mentally “into” this course.

Text glosses-  (5%) Each student must submit brief glosses of required source readings four times during the semester. These glosses will be the basis for class discussions of the texts.

Internet/website sources and commentaries.  (15% = 3 x 5%): 1) Art or music sample.  Each student must submit at least one example of art from one of the cultures under study in this class in the time periods covered by this class. You must also provide a brief commentary on the example, and identify the website (URL) from which it comes; 2) Brief web-based research on “kinship societies” or “people without a history.” Comment on how your research affects your understanding of Stavrianos’s first part. Documentation (URL) and commentary required; and 3) description of and commentary on website dealing with some aspect of history prior to 1600 C.E. The website must be fully identified. This website must not be used for either the Art/Music or “kinship societies” assignments.

Responses to prompts (5%): Writing prompts will be posted for each week’s readings. You must respond in writing to a prompt from five weeks throughout the semester.

Extended analyses of writers and documents (20%- 2 x 10%). You are allowed to use one the writers and documents assigned for our readings. You may use other writers or documents, but these choices must be approved by the instructor in advance.

Exams (55%)   There will be two exams- a midterm (20%) and a final exam (35%). Please note: You must average a passing grade on the exams to pass the course!!! There are no make-up exams without an acceptable, verifiable, written excuse, or unless arranged in advance.


All your work should be kept in a portfolio throughout the semester and resubmitted at the end of the semester.


Assignment sheet: History 50 assignments




Written work is due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late work is accepted, but a one grade penalty is applied for each day (not each class period) it is late, beginning at the end of class.

Course grades are determined on a 1000 point scale. Weight is given to assignments according to the above percentages. For instance, the journal is worth 300 points.


900-1000=A            600-699 =D

800-899 =B            Less than 600=F

700-799 =C


Resources on the Web


Writing Guides: Brown University; Carney; Bowdoin College

History texts: Academy for Ancient Texts; Internet Sacred Text Archive; Internet Classics Library; From Primitives to Zen (Eliade site); Exploring Ancient World Cultures; The Labyrinth; ORB: the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies; Internet History Sourcebook Project; world civilizations

Online textbook:



Part I. The Rise of Agriculture and Agricultural Civilizations


Week 1


9/2     What is World History?


9/4     People Without a History?

Stavrianos, Introduction,  ch. 1;  Stearns, Preface IX-XI, pp. 1-13

For sources on the religious practices of “kinship” societies see:

 From Primitives to Zen (Eliade site)


Week 2


9/9    Elites and the Masses: Tributary Societies and the Origins of Civilization

Stavrianos, ch. 2; Stearns, pp. 13-16


9/11   Disease, Climate and Resources: Geography and Climate in History


Week 3


9/16   Ziggurats and Pyramids: River Valley Civilizations in the Middle East         

            Stearns, pp. 16-21

Primary sources: Proverbs from Ki-en-gir; Gilgamesh:the Flood Story;  

Code of Hammurabi; The Precepts of Ptahhotep;

The Dead Pharoah Becomes Osiris TheDead Pharoah Ascends to Heaven;

 Egyptian Love Poetry


9/18    Aryans, Oracles Bones, Myth and Mystery: River Valley Civilizations on the Indus River and the

                        Yellow (Hwang He) River

Stearns, pp. 21-31

Primary Sources: Hymns from the Rig Veda; The Worship of Ancestors


Part II. The Classical Period, 1000 B.C.E.-500 C.E.


Week 4 


9/23  Sons of Heaven and  Filial Piety: Social Order and  Cultural Integration in Classical China

Stearns, pp. 33-59;


9/25   Harmony, Humaneness, and the Dao

            Primary sources: selections from the Analects;  Han Fei Tzu;  

selections from the Tao Te Ching


Week 5 


9/30   Brahmans and Sudras: Order and Integration in Classical India

Stearns, pp. 60-80

Primary sources: Edicts of Ashoka;  the Arthashastra, selections on Government;

the Arthashastra, on Gender Issues


10/2   Karma, Dharma, Enlightenment,  and Illusion

            Primary sources:  Bhagavad Gita;  Dhammapada




Week 6 


10/7  Helots, Hetaerae, and Useless Questions

Stearns, pp. 81-103

Primary sources: Antigone, excerpts;  Greek materialists;  On Greek Women;

Euthyphro (first three selections);


10/9   Civic Duty and Personal Allegiances

            Primary sources: Polybius;  Apuleius; Apuleius 2; Livy, excerpts;


Week 7


10/14     World Religions and the Axial Age

Stearns, pp. 104-127

Primary sources: Matthew 10:1-42;  Matthew 24:3-31;  Faith and the Law;  Tertullian;  Two Cities


10/16   Mid-term Exam



Week 8

10/21    Bedouins, Merchants and Revelations

Stearns, pp. 129-145

Primary Sources: Hanged Poems ;Selections from the Qur'an; Hadith, excerpts; Sunnah, excerpts

Handout: Early Islam

10/23    Veils, Shari'a, the Millet system, and ijtihad

Stearns, pp. 146-161

Primary Sources: Pact of Umar; Ibn Rushd; Moorish poetry

Week 9

10/28    India and Southeast Asia under the Impact of Islam

Stearns, Ch. 7

Primary sources: Sidi Ali Reis

10/30    Swahili cities and Saharan Caravans

Stearns, Ch. 8

Primary sources: Ibn Battuta, travels in Africa and Asia; al-Jahiz; Leo Africanus; Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco;


Week 10

11/4  The World of Eastern Orthodoxy

Stearns, ch. 9

11/6  The First European Civilization 

Stearns, ch. 10, pp. 199-218

Primary sources: Gregory of Tours; Salic Law; Life of Charlemagne; de litteris colendis


Week 11

11/11    Kings, Saints, and Clerics

Primary sources: Concordat of Worms; Bull unam sanctam; Feudal Agreement; Life of St. Benedict

11/13    The Harvest of the Middle Ages

Primary sources: Anselm, on the existence of God; Sic et Non; Letter of Heloise to Abelard


Week 12

11/18    Aztecs, Anasazi, and Cahokia

Stearns, ch. 12, pp. 236-246

Primary sources: Letter to Charles V; Chronicle of the Incas; Cahokia; Anasazi; Aztecs; Mayan civilization

11/20   Gunpowder, printing, and poetry

Stearns, ch. 11, pp. 219-228

Primary sources: Chinese poetry; Chinese educational system; Autumn of the Palace of Han



Week 13

11/25    Neo-Confucianism, Li-Po and the Chinese Golden Age

11/27                 Thanksgiving


Week 14

12/2    Samurai, Ikebana, and the Sound of One Hand Clapping

Stearns, ch. 11, pp. 229-235

Primary sources: Taika Reforms; Early Japanese constitution; The Sarashina Diary

12/4    The Last of the Great Steppe Conquerors.

Stearns, ch. 13, pp. 247-251

Primary sources: Marco Polo on the Mongols; Ibn al-Athir on the Tatars


Week 15

12/9    The World in Transition

Stearns, ch. 13, pp. 252-256

Primary sources: Da Gama; Pico della Mirandola;

12/11       Rise of Capitalism

Stavrianos, ch. 3