Professor: Joseph Fracchia
In the beginning of that century near whose end Columbus crossed the Atlantic, the Chinese admiral Zheng He made seven major voyages throughout the South Pacific and across the Indian Ocean to the thriving trade centers on Africa's east coast. His fleet consisted of sixty-two ships, most of which were so large that Columbus's entire fleet of three ships could easily fit on one deck. Compared to the great and extremely wealthy cities of China, the Indian Ocean rim, and the "Middle East," what we call "Europe" was a rural and poor provincial backwater. Just a few centuries later, however, around 1800, the tiny kingdom of England had acquired an empire on which "the sun never set," and by 1900 Europe had completed its conquest of the world. Yet within fifty years, European powers had destroyed themselves in two World Wars, revolutions by 'third world' peoples were overthrowing colonial rule, and the nuclear-armed superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., were locked in a hostile confrontation that not only affected all parts of the world, but also threatened its annihilation. By the first decade of the new millennium, the euphoria following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 'victory' of the 'West' has quickly waned as a result of economic crisis, and according to some experts, China is about to regain its place of economic preeminence.
These astonishing transformations will be the topics of this course, which will consist of an introduction followed by four parts. In the Introduction we will take stock of the state of the world circa 1350. Through comparative socio-cultural analyses we will glimpse the similarities and differences in how people lived and thought in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. In the second part of the course, we will focus specifically on the profound transformation of European society, politics, culture and international standing affected in Europe by the advent of capitalism. In Part III, we will focus on the great upheavals, the two world wars, the Holocaust, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union and the anti-colonial revolutions that made the twentieth century perhaps the most barbarous in human history. And in the concluding part we will take stock of our world burdened by economic crisis and so full of social, national, ethnic and/or religious conflicts; and we will try to figure out where we go from here.
The class sessions will consist of discussions of assigned readings. Written assignments are: two papers (five to six pages), and final exam.