World History Lessons
Early River Valley Civilizations
• Early River Valley Civilizations: Overview...The early river civilizations of Sumer, Egypt, Harappa, and Shang all eventually collapsed. Sumer, Egypt, and the Shang fell to conquering nations or dynasties, but the collapse of the Harappa remains a mystery. Despite their collapse or disappearance, these early river civilizations made their mark on the world. They tamed rivers and created sophisticated irrigation systems to water fields of crops large enough to support substantial populations. They wrote poetry and codes of laws and they built magnificent structures like pyramids and ziggurats. Through research and archaeological digs, historians and archaeologists continue to learn more and more about these early civilizations. Our knowledge of these ancient societies is not finite, but continues to evolve throughout the decades. Yet, despite the many unanswered questions about the early river civilizations, their importance remains the same. They lay the foundation for all the great civilizations that followed.
• Pharaohs and Pyramids...By the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, pyramid building had ceased. Perhaps it had become too expensive or too difficult to build pyramids, or maybe the pharaohs wanted to build something different to set them apart from the Old Kingdom pharaohs. Whatever the reason, the Egyptians abandoned pyramid making. The great pharaohs of the New Kingdom would have tombs built, but many of them were built in the Valley of the Kings without elaborate monuments. By the 1000s BC, the strength of the Egyptian Empire was fading. Other stronger empires had developed and the Sahara Desert no longer provided security from invasion. Egypt was invaded by the Nubians, Assyrians, and Persians. By the 300s BC, the Egyptians no longer ruled Egypt. Their time in the sun had faded. The great empire of pharaohs who mysteriously built magnificent pyramids drifted into legend and merged with other great empires. The Egyptians would not rule themselves for another two thousand years.
• Assyria...Their empire stretched from Mesopotamia into Egypt. Their name struck fear in the heart of the nations around them. They were the first to outfit their army with iron weapons. They laid siege to cities using movable battering rams and towers and were notorious for their cruelty against conquered people. They were merciless against rebellions and often deported entire populations from their homes. They were the Assyrians. The Assyrians were the most powerful empire in the Near East for about 150 years, from 800 BC to 612 BC. The Assyrians began building their empire under the rule of King Sargon II and increased power during the reigns of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal. They became powerful due to their impressive army and organized government that maintained control over the large empire. For this brief time, they ruled the world.
• Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire...Empires in the Near East continually rose and fell. In 612 BC, a coalition of Chaldeans and Medes defeated the once strong Assyrian Empire. The Chaldeans, after gaining control of the entire Fertile Crescent region, established the Second Babylonian Empire and ruled over parts of what used to be the great Assyrian Empire. The Chaldean Empire’s reign over parts of the Near East was, however, short-lived. In 550 BC, Cyrus the Great unified the Persians and the Medes and began to carve out an empire larger than any of the others before him. In 539 BC, Cyrus and his army defeated the Chaldeans. Eventually, the Persian Empire would span into Asia Minor, Northern Africa; as far north as the Caucasus Mountains, as far south as Arabia, and as far east as India. Historians often call the Persian Empire the Achaemenid Empire after the group of people who first created a centralized government in Persia. Cyrus was a descendent of the Achaemenids. Cyrus’s rule of the Persian Empire set him apart from the other Near East rulers. Unlike other empires such as Assyria, Cyrus did not rule with an iron fist. While the Assyrians and even the Chaldeans were notorious for their cruelty, the Persians under the guidance of Cyrus the Great became famous for his fairness and benevolence. This type of leadership enabled him to create and maintain a large Persian Empire.
• The Unification of China...Around 475 BC, the power of the Zhou Dynasty waned and warlords began to take control over areas of China. During this time, the seven Chinese states Han, Wu, Zhao, Chu, Qi, Qin, and Yan emerged. During the Warring States Period from 475 – 221 BC, these states fought each other for control of China. The series of brutal wars ultimately ended with the Qin (pronounced Chin) victorious in 221 BC. Upon claiming victory, the leader of the Qin, Qin Shi Huang (also known as Qin Shi Huangdi) became the First Emperor of China. Qin Shi Huang was born Ying Zeng, a prince of the Qin state. He became king at the age of twelve and a half, but did not gain real power until the age of twenty-one, in 238 BC. By the age of thirty-eight, Ying Zeng had defeated all the rival war lords and became Qin Shi Huang. The Qin Dynasty was at its peak under the leadership of Qin Shi Huang. While his rule over China was relatively short, his legacy as China's first emperor still remains today. As you learn about the Qin Dynasty, consider this.
• The Golden Age of Greece...Do you watch the Olympics? Do you enjoy watching or being in a play? Do you know how to figure out the lengths of the sides of a triangle? Do you live in a democracy? If so, you are impacted by the legacy of Ancient Greece. As you will see, the ancient Greeks developed many new ideas, concepts, and events that are still prevalent in modern society. Many of these innovations came about in what was known as the “Golden Age of Greece” between the years 477-431 BC.
• Alexander the Great and the Spread of Hellenism...To many people, one of the most interesting facets of geography is something called cultural diffusion. Cultural diffusion is the spreading of a culture to another part of the world and the changes that result in both cultures as a result. Think about life here in the United States. How has cultural diffusion affected your life in everyday situations? The U.S. today exports (sells in other countries) many of the products that originated here. For example, you can eat at McDonalds or grab a Frappachino in many countries far from your home. American television shows are broadcast on many foreign channels around the globe. The U.S. is not the first culture to export its way of life and products to other nations. This concept and practice has been around for thousands of years and was a feature of the empire established by a man who became known as Alexander the Great.
The Roman Empire
• Ancient Rome Basics...The empire of ancient Rome is considered by some to be the greatest empire in history. While titles like “greatest” or “best” can be and are often disputed, the fact that the ancient Romans created a very advanced society is indisputable. Many of the conveniences that we take for granted here in the United States were used thousands of years ago by the Romans from architectural designs, to early plumbing, to styles of government and laws, and even roads! In addition to technological innovations, the Romans also expanded their empire to include most of Western Europe and the Mediterranean region. In ruling such an empire, the Romans developed certain systems of government from which the American founding fathers drew inspiration. Ancient Rome also possessed large armies with which they were able to defeat their rivals. Finally, many powerful leaders also emerged who added their own mark to the legacy of ancient Rome.
• Rome and the Spread of Christianity...Today, over one billion people practice Christianity. But when this religion first began over two thousand years ago, none of the communication devices that perhaps we take for granted today existed. What eventually became one of the major world religions was initially spread through conversations with people in different parts of the world, such as traders interacting with the “locals” or through missionaries. As you will learn, the development and spread of Christianity did not happen as quickly as we might think would happen today, nor was it effortless. But, like other major world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism, it did survive, expand, and is still widely practiced today.
• The Fall of the Roman Empire...What causes a great empire to go into decline? What causes a nation to abandon its conquered lands and retreat to just a small part of its original territory? What causes political influence to wane? How would enemies of a great empire feel about its decline? How would citizens of the great empire feel? These are all questions relevant to the Roman Empire. A popular phrase that many use to illustrate that some things take a considerable amount of time to complete is “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” While this is true, Rome did not fall in a day either. The decline of the mighty Roman Empire took place over many years and for many reasons. Like most events in world history, the fall of the Roman Empire had several causes that can be grouped into four categories—military, social, political, and economic. While the decline began during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled until 180 AD, the western portion of the Roman Empire did not officially fall until 476 AD. In this lesson, you will discover the reasons this once-great Empire is no more
Empires Develop in India and China
• India - First Empires...The Indian subcontinent is a large and vast expanse of land, covering more than one million square miles. In ancient times, the region was divided in to many small kingdoms. Each was ruled by its own king. Fighting was common between the kings. In 320 BC, one of these rulers took advantage of the fighting between the kingdoms to conquer and consolidate his power. This man, Chandragupta Maurya, formed India\'s first empire. Chandragupta Maurya\'s grandson brought the Mauryan Empire to its height. Under King Asoka, the empire covered almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Asoka did more than just expand borders to strengthen the empire; he encouraged his people to follow the Buddhist values of peace, respect, and love. He believed that a united empire could only be achieved with peace and stability. Unfortunately, after Asoka\'s death, another few hundred years passed before India achieved longer-lasting peace and stability. From 320 to 550 AD, the Guptas ruled most of northern India as an empire. The empire was peaceful and prosperous. The conditions contributed to a “Golden Age,” a time of great academic and artistic achievement. The Guptas encouraged learning, and important discoveries were made in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.
• Trade Spreads Culture...The Silk Road was the transcontinental network of routes that intertwined throughout Asia for thousands of years. The road and its tributaries all served to connect remote societies; stretching all the way from the Roman Empire through the Middle East, Persia (now Iran), and India to China, and even Japan and Vietnam. The entire road spanned over 4,000 miles. The Silk Road thrived and then faltered over time as various empires rose to power and then collapsed. The road prospered during three distinct periods: the Han Dynasty (200 B.C. – 220 A.D.), during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and during the Mongol Empire (1200s). Traders carried commodities such as luxurious silk, food, spices, art, musical instruments, scientific tools, and technological devices from place to place. This transmitted information and knowledge from society to society. Various groups of people adopted new customs and adapted their old rituals to accommodate modern ideas. This massive superhighway of knowledge was ultimately the way most of Eurasia and Asia became aware of one another.
• The Han Dynasty...The Han Dynasty was a period of approximately 400 years when art, technology, religion, and political ideas flourished. Ruled by the long-standing Liu family, the empire thrived and expanded its borders farther than the Chinese had ever before been able to reach. Even through a brief period of unsettlement, the dynasty was able to survive and continued to lead the Han people well into the 2nd Century. Traders traveled far and discovered many new goods and ideas.
• Mali and Songhai Civilizations...Three great Sahelian kingdoms brought prosperity and foreign recognition to the semi-arid sub-desert climate in Africa. Ghana was first to establish the region as a center of trade. The Malians arose in the 13th century and expanded the region to become a great center of trade, scholarship, and religion. Their great leaders such as Sundaita and Mansa Musa expanded the kingdom and reached out to foreign societies. They thrived until the Songhay from the region of Gao eventually took over power. The Songhay were astute traders also lived in the savannah of the Sahara Desert and dominated the Niger River valley during the fifteenth century. Not only were they a powerful people, they were an expansive empire. The Songhay prided themselves as fishermen and traders. Gold, salt, and copper that other countries sought increased the wealth of the vast civilization. Songhay trade was centered in Jenne-jeno and Gao. Timbuktu, a former Mali city, continued to be a center of learning and scholarship during Songhay rule. The Songhay Empire reached its peak late in the 16th century. Tragedy came when Moroccan warriors capitalized on a civil war, drought, and disease. They captured the gold trade, causing the decline of the Songhay Empire. Today, the region is composed primarily of the two countries, Mali and Niger.
• Mesoamericans: Olmecs...Archeology relies on a number of scientific principles but is far from an exact science. Evidence of a culture's existence is often found in pieces, out of context, or with few other similar artifacts with which to make comparisons. Understanding the Olmecs, Mesoamerica's earliest civilization, suffers mostly from a lack of artifacts – especially ones that include written language. Fortunately, the Olmecs seem to share a few common characteristics with civilizations that came later, such as the Maya and the Aztec. These more recent cultures are much better known, thanks to a larger and broader collection of artifacts. Using extrapolation methods, based on common qualities, provides at least some insight into the Olmec civilization. For now, knowing where and how Olmecs built their communities and examining the diversity and craftsmanship of their sculptures tells the most about this culture and its people.
The Rise of Islam
• The Rise of Islam...Today, Islam is the second most practiced religion in the world. The faith is based upon five fundamental aspects, or pillars. These pillars include acknowledging Allah as the only God and the prophet Muhammad as his messenger, praying five times a day, giving to charity, fasting, and making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. The development of Islam brought about not only a new religion, but a new culture as well. As Islam developed and grew, many Islamic scholars and artists created significant innovations in art, architecture, science, and math. Those of you who have or are taking Algebra see an Arabic word each time you look at your textbook! The origins of modern-day hospitals have their root in Islamic culture as well. These are just two of the many legacies of the Islamic discoveries from the early part of Islamic history that are still with us today—over one thousand years later.
• Trade and the Spread of Islam...The fastest growing religion today is Islam. It traces its roots back to the seventh century. Islam initially spread throughout Northern Africa, Southern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia as a result of both trade and conquest. In the areas where its influence and power reached, many great cities such as Baghdad, Cordoba, and Damascus developed. These cities became great centers of learning that displayed Muslim advances in the sciences, architecture, art, and various other academic and cultural areas. As it grew, Islam also became divided among its believers. The split of Islam into Sunni and Shi’a sects occurred over who was worthy enough to follow the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the world’s Muslims. This split is still evident in both Islam and the world today.
The Byzantine Empire
• The Byzantine Empire...Emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into two halves, east and west, around AD 296. When the west half collapsed in AD 476, many libraries and places of learning were destroyed. However, the eastern half of the Roman Empire, know as the Byzantine Empire, survived for over 1,000 years and thus preserved much of the Greek and Roman advancements. A number of cultural areas were enriched by the people of the Byzantine Empire: art, architecture, law, finances, music, and of course, religion. Those from the Byzantine Empire thought of themselves as Roman descendants, but went on to develop very distinctive personalities and culture.
• Slavic Culture...Ancient Slavic culture and customs was a mostly undocumented but ubiquitous presence in ancient Eastern European and Western Asian history. The presence of the Slavs and their influence on the civilizations around them thrived throughout millennia beginning as long ago as 2,000 B.C. and exists in present times. In fact, more than 25 countries have an official language based upon a Slavic language. Even though we have very little written record documenting the Slavic history, we have learned quite a bit about the ancient culture through folklore and mythological tales passed from generation to generation. Artifacts have been unearthed that further provide insight into the ancient culture. While most Slavic peoples reside in Eastern Europe today, many live in the United States, predominantly in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
East Asia on the Rise
• Tang and Song China...China’s boundaries under Tang rule swelled to greater dimensions than any other time in imperial China history. Modern day Korea, Manchuria, and Iran were all once part of the Tang Empire. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the Tang Dynasty was the greatest power in Asia. Intellectually, scholars made many advances in science and technology and had a growing focus on astronomy. The Tang Dynasty subsided and then ended. For a brief period, China had no primary imperial leadership. After fifty years, another great empire arose. The Song Dynasty continued for 300 years. Art and literature flourished, while many innovative changes occurred in the political system. For the first time in history, a paper monetary system was set in place, which would establish the groundwork for many currency systems all over the world.
• The Mongol Conquests...Preceded by the Xin and Jin Dynasties, the Mongols of the north ultimately invaded and conquered the lands formerly controlled by Chinese imperial leaders. This new era, the Yuan Dynasty, was a time of many great conquests. Under Mongol control, the empire reached its maximum proportions. The military was so mighty that the Mongols exerted power in lands stretching from Eastern Europe to Korea. The Mongolian Empire, otherwise known as the Yuan Dynasty, lasted from 1279 to 1368. Genghis Khan was accredited with the vast conquests. His grandson Kublai Khan sought to integrate the existing culture with the Mongolian beliefs. While his efforts were well meaning, the constant push to construct elaborate cities and structures and to conquer even more lands ultimately led to an impoverished and desecrated empire. While many myths and misconceptions have circulated about Genghis Khan, the Mongol conquest represents one of the most amazing historical accomplishments. Historians continue to uncover more about this elusive character and his objectives.
• Building Beijing...Small insignificant towns existed in the Beijing area during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907). The later Jin Dynasty (936-947) of northern China surrendered a large part of its northern boundary, including modern-day Beijing, to the Khitan Liao Dynasty. The Liao Dynasty established a minor capital in what is now Beijing in 938. Its name was Nanjing, or the "Southern Capital." The Jurchen Jin Dynasty moved its capital to Liao's Nanjing, calling it Zhongdu, in 1153. In 1215, Mongol forces burned Zhongdu to the ground and constructed its own "Grand Capital," Dadu in 1267. This was the true beginning of contemporary Beijing. The Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan, founded his capital in Beijing instead of more traditional central China sites because Beijing was closer to his power base in Mongolia. In 1356, the powerful Ming emperor Hongwu overran the city of Beijing, establishing the Ming dominance in the area.
• Feudal Powers in Japan...From the twelfth to the nineteenth century, Japan was a militaristic empire with the society divided into different classes. This period of feudalism in Japan was a time of great development in social and political structure, as well as vast expansion in art and culture. The emperors rose to rule through family ties, but they had minimal power. The shogun had ultimate control. Shoguns were the military leaders, who distributed the lands to loyal followers, the vassals. The vassals paid homage and allegiance to the shogun and thus received protection. These daimyo in turn granted smaller tracts of land to their personal warriors, the samurai. The samurai followed a strict code of conduct and fiercely defended his daimyo’s land.
The Middle Ages
• Charlemagne...The early portion of the Middle Ages, sometimes called the “Dark Ages,” lasted from approximately 500 to 1000 AD. Although many historians eschew the term Dark Ages, the little we know about the era suggests that a type of darkness did cover much of today’s Europe. The region, still recovering from barbarian invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire, underwent a time of forgetting, decline of cities, and illiteracy. Widespread lawlessness caused little learning and kept Europe in a state of unease. This time of darkness saw a brief light from a confederation of three groups collectively comprising the Franks. Born to a Frankish king named Pepin, the future king whom history would know as Charlemagne, who brought a renaissance to the troubled land. The Franks became the dominant force in Europe and determined much of the age to come.
• Life in Medieval Europe...The Middle Ages began with the fall of a mighty civilization (Rome), and ended with the “rebirth” of civilization (the Renaissance). It was a time of lawlessness, poverty, and disease, but also of lords and knights, trade, and magnificent cathedrals that after of hundreds of years still take our breath away. Much of European society was organized by a system historians call feudalism. Feudalism refers to the system of relations between people in many areas during the Middle Ages. It was a highly structured system where people were tied to each other by loyalty and duty. On top of the structure were the monarchs (kings and queens). To oversee their lands the monarch appointed nobles called barons or lords to protect and administer their land. The lords created manors consisting of the lord's house, perhaps a castle, a village, and the surrounding farmlands. The barons appointed lesser lords, called knights, to protect the lands of the monarch in exchange for their own manors. Many lived in the villages and farmlands surrounding the manor. These were the lowest people on the Feudal ladder and were known as villains or serfs. The Middle Ages also saw the rise of Christianity as an unmatched power throughout much of Europe. The structure of the Catholic Church (the only church in Europe at the time) was established in the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were a time of darkness, but the seed of a new age was being sown.
• The Age of Chivalry...When we think of the Middle Ages, one of the first images that comes to mind is that of the armored knight on horseback. He owned a cheval (a horse), served in the cavalry, and ideally guided his life by the code of chivalry. His duty in life was to battle the enemies of his lord. Fighting was the knight’s trade and he started training during boyhood. After years of learning to become a knight, he would undergo a dubbing ceremony. As a knight, his sword was his chief weapon followed by the lance and the mace. The armor of the knight changed from chain mail to metal plates. His fortress was his castle. Ideally, the knights’ life followed the code of chivalry. Chivalry was a guide for the noble warrior and consisted of fixed principles including defending his lord and master, respecting the church, being courteous, and protecting the poor. Although this idea may not have always existed in reality, it certainly did in legend. In the legends of King Arthur, chivalry was the guiding force for all of the Knights of the Roundtable. Knights existed for hundreds of years and were the source of many legends and tales.
• The Power of the Church...A well-known historian wrote that the Catholic Church did not partake of the culture of the Middle Ages, rather the Church was the culture of the Middle Ages. All citizens were born into the Church; the Church was ubiquitous in everyone’s’ lives regardless of social status. Ultimately, everybody ended up buried by the church. The churches even provided all schooling. They built roads and bridges. Festivals thrived on the grounds of the churches. Families in need of medical care could seek help from their Church.
Western Europe Forms
• The Crusades...Beginning in the 600s AD, followers of Islam spread through the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe, conquering large sections of previously Christian territory. By 1096 AD, European Christians responded with a series of military campaigns to the Middle East known as the Crusades. These campaigns achieved limited success while placing a long-lasting strain on relations between Christian and Muslim. The main goal of the Crusades was to recapture the Holy Land of Palestine, the birthplace of Christ and Christianity. However, followers of Judaism and Islam also considered Palestine sacred. As a consequence, the Crusades stand as just one chapter in a long history of Middle Eastern conflict.
• William the Conqueror...During his life, William was a feared leader and a respected adversary. Yet, late in his life when he was struggling to keep control of both England and the lands he possessed in France, William seemed alone. His half-brother Odo was in prison for treason; even William's son Robert had turned treasonous and joined the King of France against William. Engaged in yet another battle, William suffered an injury from which he was not to recover, and he died in September of 1087. He left behind a legacy that many (especially those in the lower castes of the feudal system) considered cruel and savage. Despite these claims, though, William's reign had more numerous and longer lasting effects on the land than any monarch before him and any monarch for centuries after him. Both England and France suffered the good and the bad that the enormous breadth of William's power brought about. Feudalism would continue in Britain for centuries, as would the taxation practices and Royal Forests that originated under William's reign. France would continue to fight wars with its more powerful dukes before finally uniting the country under a powerful monarchy. In both countries, lords and nobles continued to build stone castles and change both the architectural style and the defensive and fighting styles to suit them. Yet, William would be the last foreigner to wage a successful invasion of England. From his rule onward, the centralized monarchy would stand, as would so many of the changes and evolutions that were a product of William's reign.
• The Plague...In the 14th century, a horrifying pandemic now known as the Black Plague spread throughout Europe. Originating in Asia, it moved rapidly across the continent. The virulent disease left millions dead within only a few years. Exact numbers are unknown, but historians estimate that 75 million people died worldwide. Europe saw between a third and two thirds of its populace– over 20 million people – suffer severely and ultimately die. This major decline in population forever changed the face of Europe’s social structure. Before the plague, the Catholic Church had been the most powerful influence on the lives of Europeans. After the plague swept through the land and disseminated its destruction and chaos, most people became disillusioned with the Church. There was one positive outcome for very few; those common workers who had survived the plague garnered better wages and benefits due to the fact that they were such a small group. While succeeding generations witnessed recurring outbreaks of the plague until the 1700s, none was as devastating as the Black Plague from the 14th century.
African Societies and Empires
• North and Central African Societies...The mention of North Africa to many people today will likely conjure images of the pyramids, the treasures of the ancient Egyptian kings, the importance and splendor of the Nile River, or the vast Sahara desert, but the heritage and legacy of North Africa go far beyond the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and its physical geography. In addition to the Berbers, the original peoples of North Africa, and nomadic tribes such as the Efe, North Africa became home to several societies. During the time of the Ancient Egyptians, the ancient Nubian (or Kush) civilization built a vibrant trading center that linked the Nile River and the Red Sea trade routes. By 600 AD, Arab traders brought not only their wares into North Africa, but their religion as well. Cities such as Cairo, Fez, and Marrakech became stunning examples of Muslim education and civilization. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Islamic Amoravid and Almohad Empires controlled not only most of North Africa, but parts of Southern Spain as well. These diverse societies have all made their indelible mark on the architecture, culture, history, and people of this vast region.
• West African Civilization...What do you think of when you consider Africa today? The histories of the Ancient Western African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay are filled with elaborate trade communities, world-renown centers of learning, especially in the Muslim world, and expanding territories through great conquests. Vast reserves of gold enabled these kingdoms to trade with neighboring Arab nations for salt, a valuable commodity for life in the desert. Goods from other mineral resources also made West African empires a preferred trading partner for neighboring peoples. The exchange of goods was not the only bartering that took place in the region. Many ideas were shared at the ancient center of learning at Timbuktu. Although the empires eventually fell for similar reasons, each left a legacy that endures to this day.
• Eastern City States and Southern Empires...From 1100 to 1500 A.D., Arab traders from Asia extended their reach into the Horn of Africa to sell their goods from other areas further east in Asia and to buy items such as gold, ivory, pottery, and metal works from Africa. As a result, cities and empires on the east coast of Africa flourished during this time. In addition to exchanging goods, ideas and cultures, especially the Islam religion, passed from the Arab traders to the Africans. The cities that developed in this area were very diverse in culture, reflected in the goods sold at the various markets as well as the architectural style of the region. The effects of this trade were not always entirely positive. Arab traders also purchased African slaves and sent them to work in households or as soldiers in various parts of Asia. Later, European explorers would also seek the goods for which Africa had become famous and conquer or disrupt many of the African kingdoms of the time.
• Mayan Kings and Cities...For as long as 20,000 years, humans have inhabited the Americas. They migrated across the frozen Bering Strait between present-day Alaska and Russia during the Ice Age. It took thousands of years for people to eventually move south through North America, into Central America, and ultimately South America. Various civilizations formed in the Americas over the next few centuries. One of the three most advanced ancient civilizations in the Americas was the Mayans. This powerful empire ruled throughout Mesoamerica, modern day Central America, for over 2,000 years. The Mayans were artisans, creating and producing spectacular sculptures, jewelry, and pottery. They observed the skies and developed an intricate calendar system. They worshipped a highly organized system of gods. They lived off yet respected the land they inhabited. While the Mayans thrived for hundreds of years, they ultimately disappeared completely. This great mystery continues to stump archeologists today. Much of what we now know about this civilization comes from artifacts unearthed during archeological expeditions. These amazing clues to the past provide much insight into the ancient civilizations.
• Aztec Civilization...When the Spanish explorer Hernando de Cortes and his conquistadors discovered Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the mighty Aztec empire, in 1519, they were astonished at the scene. The city, literally an island, stood on a mass of land that supported structures right in the middle of Lake Texcoco. It included an advanced freshwater system using stone aqueducts. A network of waterways and canals formed the city streets. Farmers grew their crops on floating gardens called chinampas. The palaces and temples were stone grandeurs. The elaborate ball courts and lively markets instilled a sense of respect for this great society. The Aztecs settled and developed the land in modern-day central Mexico. Their philosophy of assimilation rather than destruction helped them to gain many other tribes and colonies rapidly. They made impressive advancements in the areas of art, mathematics, astronomy, engineering, and technology. Their brief existence came to a rapid end with the inception of the Spanish, during which much destruction and devastation occurred.
• The Incas: Culture and Treasure...While the Aztecs thrived in Central America, another civilization developed further south, stretching along the west coast of South America from as far south as Argentina up through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and into Columbia and Ecuador. The Incas conquered and settled over 2,500 square miles of land and numbered over ten million people. Nestled in the Andes Mountains, they constructed their towns, buildings, and crops literally on the sides and tops of steep mountains. This remote location gave them great advantages in defense and survival.
Renaissance and Reformation
• The Italian Renaissance...The Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries sparked an artistic movement benefiting humanity for generations even today. The paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, and the sculptures created by Michelangelo and Donatello, still relate to and inspire today's societies. The humanism ideology was the new focus in the Italian Renaissance. This intellectual movement focused on human beings' activities, behaviors, and instincts. The Renaissance was a time to celebrate the individual and step away from the God-centered Medieval European society. The location of the city-states was crucial for the Italian Renaissance. This movement predominantly existed in certain areas of Italy, such as Florence, Venice, Milan, and Rome. These specific peninsula city-states had the money, intellect, and talent that were needed for the growth of the Renaissance.
• English Culture and William Shakespeare...One of the movements that swept through Europe was the Northern Renaissance. From approximately 1325 to the early 1600s, the Netherlands, France, England, and Germany were the main contributing countries to this change. The Northern Renaissance differs in many respects from the Italian Renaissance. The main difference was the inspiration that artists drew from to create their artwork. The Italians were inspired by “humanism,” which is an ideology that places focus on the individual rather than God. The northern countries were concerned with religious reform, so their artwork is more secular. During the Northern Renaissance, theatre productions became a hot commodity during Queen Elizabeth's reign. Although many playwrights existed during this time and their plays were popular, none had made the name for themselves like William Shakespeare did. His plays and sonnets are still the most widely read works today.
• The Reformation...During the European Renaissance of the sixteenth century, humanist and secular ideas prompted questions about the theology and function of the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, promoted the reformation in Germany, which led to Protestantism, a new form of Christianity. At the same time in England, a new church started for different reasons. King Henry VIII and the Pope disagreed over the King's request to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn to try to have a male heir to the throne. The Pope denied his request, and eventually King Henry succeeded in breaking England from the Catholic Church. Henry's Catholic daughter, Mary, became queen and burned many Protestants at the stake in an attempt to restore Catholicism in England. This attempt failed and strengthened the Protestant Reformation. When Henry's Protestant daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, ascended to the throne, she developed what is now known as Anglicanism, the blend of Protestantism and Catholicism. The Protestant Reformation sparked the Catholic Reformation. Those that remained Catholic during the Protestant Reformation felt that it was necessary to reevaluate the Catholic religion. Pope Paul III was a major figure of this movement.
South Asia and Middle East Expansion
• The Ottoman Empire...The Ottoman Empire was vast in territory and powerful in influence. At its peak, it controlled land on three continents and ruled a large number of people from varying religions. From the globally respected Suleyman, whose legacy is of one of the most powerful men on earth and the longest-serving sultan, to the numerous scientists, artists, doctors, and architects who created the legacies of the Empire, the Ottomans have left a powerful and influential footprint for future generations to follow. While other parts of the western world were emerging from the collapse of the Roman Empire, advancing little in learning and falling into the “Dark Ages,” the Ottoman Empire flourished in a period of geographical, cultural, intellectual, artistic, and scientific growth. As the Empire declined, its remnants became the modern nation of Turkey after World War I. With the founding of this new nation, the capital moved from Istanbul to Ankara, where it remains today. While the capital has moved, the legacy has not. Today, Turkey is home to many outstanding ruins, relics, and cultural remains of the Ottoman Empire.
The East Limits and the West Explores
• European Exploration...The European explorers that set sail for Asia during the Age of Exploration were devoted Christians who wanted to spread their faith. They sought to make tremendous profits from the spices that could be found in the islands of Asia and to make a name for themselves as they set forth on an adventure that would take them to faraway lands. They faced harsh conditions, months on the open sea, and had, especially in comparison to today's modern technology, very basic navigational tools. In this lesson, you will learn about the motivations behind the European voyages, the new routes these journeys opened, and the effects of the Age of Exploration.
• Chinese Isolation...Despite the voyages of China’s most famous explorer, Zheng He, the years of the Ming Dynasty were primarily years of isolation. During these years, the Chinese sought to keep foreigners out of their nation. The building of the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China both symbolize these intentions. The Chinese realized however that it did need to have some, albeit limited, contact with the west in order for its economy to prosper. As a result, trade with Europe was encouraged in three coastal cities of the nation.
• Japan Limits Western Contact...The 17th and 18th centuries ushered in an era of great cultural development in Japan. Many of the traditions associated with Japan today, such as the haiku style of poetry and kabuki theater, originated and developed during this period. Initially the Asian nation was open to foreign traders and missionaries. The Shogunate later closed the country to most trade and missionary work and prohibited Japanese citizens from traveling to other nations. The isolationist policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate ended with the arrival of the American Commodore Matthew Perry and his ships that sailed into Japan in 1854. The resulting Treaty of Kanagawa opened relations and trade between the United States and Japan. Japan did not want to surrender their cultural identity and sovereignty, thus Japan became an industrialized nation without significant assistance from western nations.
Europe Invades the Americas
• The Spanish Empire...When Columbus and his crew set sail in 1492 to find an alternative route to Asia, most educated people knew the world was round. Despite this, no one in Europe realized that millions of people lived in undiscovered lands half a world away. Columbus’ accidental discovery of the West Indies and the subsequent discoveries of North and South America would dramatically change the course of human history. In the years following Columbus’ discovery, Spain laid claim to much of the New World with the help of conquistadors like Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro. As the riches flowed into Spain from New World empires like the Aztecs and the Incas, Spain carved an Atlantic Empire and became the most powerful nation in Europe.
• Across the Atlantic...Columbus’ discovery in 1492 sent shockwaves through Europe. Spain quickly sent out conquistadors and found wealth beyond anyone’s imagination in Central and South America. Could such wealth exist in North America, too? Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands commissioned explorers such as John Cabot, Giovanni de Verrazzano, and Henry Hudson to explore and claim this new land. The race was on.
• Western Monarchs...King Louis XIV ruled France for 72 years. During his lengthy reign, he increased the power and prestige of the French monarchy. Louis believed strongly in the Divine Right of Monarchs. According to this theory, a monarch was God’s representative on earth, answerable only to God for his or her actions. The Divine Right theory endowed monarchs with absolute power over their kingdoms and subjects. Louis XIV embraced this power wholeheartedly. Some credit him with the statement, “I am the state.” During the early years of King Louis XIV’s reign, King Charles I of England tried to establish himself as an absolute monarch. He did not succeed. Instead, he plunged England into civil war, as supporters of Parliament took up arms against those who supported the king. The English Civil War ended with the execution of Charles I and the establishment of the first and only English government without a monarch. The study of these two kings contrasts the idea of monarchs ruling with absolute power.
• The Thirty Years War...You have finally reached the French coast. Your journey is coming to an end. If you can find work for a few days in a port town, you can pay for the fare to cross the channel. In the meantime, you send your relative a letter notifying him that you will be arriving in a couple of weeks. Write a letter to your relative and let him know what you have seen during your long travels over the continent. Be specific in naming places and battles and people. Give your relative an overall impression of how the war is going and what it is ultimately about. This letter should be descriptive and should try to convey the emotions that you felt while traveling and the relief you feel now that you are almost to your destination.
• Elizabeth I...Elizabeth I, royal daughter of the renowned King Henry VII and his beautiful second, albeit short-lived, wife, Anne Boleyn, reigned as the countries most intelligent yet enigmatic queens ever to rule. Her rocky ascension to the throne resulted in one of the longest periods of sovereignty in England’s tumultuous history. Never before did one woman hold such an iron grip over politics and court life. Her determination to make her “true love”, England, the most powerful nation in the world resulted in years of both victory and loss. Her support and love of learning and exploration earned her reign the title of “The Golden Age.” Elizabeth ruled England with a fair but firm fist for over 45 years; an extremely long time especially for a woman. Beloved by her subjects, Elizabeth I fought a life-long battle of conspiracy and doubt to become one of England’s most well-loved and remembered royal rulers in history.
Enlightenment and Revolution
• The Scientific Revolution...The Enlightenment philosophers and scientists challenged the traditional European views of the Church and long-held beliefs about the way that the natural world works. For some great thinkers such as Galileo, the price of advancing human knowledge was a life of exile and the rebuke of the Church. The hard-won prizes that resulted from the courage of these early philosophers are still being enjoyed today. Humans have greatly developed the scientific discoveries from the Enlightenment, from looking through the telescope at heavenly bodies to using spacecraft to explore the planets. The ideals of human worth and dignity and the values of freedom of religion and thought that sprung out of the Enlightenment are alive and thriving in the United States, Europe and many other countries today.
• The Enlightenment of Europe...Beginning in the late 1600s, The Enlightenment was a time when Europeans sought to build a new world based on reason alone. Empiricism and the scientific method became the only acceptable standards for any sort of knowledge, which relegated religion and spirituality to what a person could know through the mind alone. The religious break with the Catholic Church in the Protestant movement extended through politics and the arts, as well, and became not just a break with religious teachings, but with fundamental philosophies that reached all the way to ancient Greece. Shakespeare broke apart from traditional philosophies of tragedy and comedy that Aristotle had established. Terms such as the “state of nature” and the “social contract theory” began to appear in the writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in England and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France. Jean-Claude Voltaire and Baron de Montesqueau began to rework the understanding of law; ideas that would provide the framework for the American and French Revolutions. In Italy, Gianlorenzo Bernini’s architecture would usher in the Rococo period of art accompanying the Age of Reason. In Austria, wonder-child Mozart was beginning to compose his unfathomable musical compositions, upsetting such staid composers as Saliere.
The French Revolution
• The Lavish Throne... In 1774, the sudden death of Louis XV from smallpox catapulted nineteen-year-old Louis XVI and eighteen-year-old Marie Antoinette into the role of king and queen of France. The two inherited a France in turmoil. The excessive spending of Louis XIV and Louis XV on royal extravagances and wars decimated the French economy. In addition to the horrible state of the French economy, the three estates, particularly the third estate, were very upset with the status quo. For hundreds of years, French society had been divided into three estates. The First Estate, the clergy, was about one percent of the French population. The Second Estate, about two percent of the population, consisted of the aristocrats or nobles. The Third Estate, approximately ninety-seven percent of the French population, included everyone else, from the very poor to the Bourgeoisie. The Third Estate had become increasingly disgruntled with their lack of political power and high tax burden. They began to demand change. Tradition dictated that the new king and queen rule as their predecessors. Louis XIV and Louis XV had ruled with absolute authority and in complete luxury. Following this legacy, Marie Antoinette became notorious for her extravagant spending on clothes, hairstyles, and gambling, while Louis XVI was adamant about keeping his political power. Unfortunately for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Third Estate was no longer willing to watch the monarch squander their taxes or sit idly without a voice in the government. The time for change was near.
• Terror and Reform...Hundreds of years of French social, political, and economic inequality culminated on July 14, 1789 with the attack on the Bastille and start of the French Revolution. The newly-formed National Assembly then abolished the rights and privileges of the first and second estates. They adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man and of Citizen which stated that all men had certain natural rights. The revolutionaries stripped King Louis XVI of his power and by 1791, Louis XVI was king in name only. In 1792, the new government arrested King Louis XVI and charged him with treason for attempting to undermine the French government, now known as the National Convention. On January 21, 1793, they executed King Louis XVI and forever destroyed the old way of life. By 1793, the National Convention found itself at war against Austria, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain, as well as counter-revolutionaries at home. The National Convention was stretched almost to the breaking point as it tried to fight against both the external and internal threats. During this time of crisis, the Committee of Public Safety began to exert its control and soon the revolution would enter its bloodiest phase, the Reign of Terror.
• Napoleon and His Empire...Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica, France in 1769. At the age of sixteen, he took his first military command and embarked on a great military career that would culminate in being crowned Emperor. The chaos of the French Revolution found Napoleon in various military roles, from defending the National Convention at the Tuileries Palace to commanding the French Army of Italy.
• Latin American Independence...The French Revolution and its aftermath sent shockwaves all around the world. Not only did the Revolution affect the European nations, the events in France and Europe led to rebellions across the Atlantic Ocean in Latin America. The western world felt first effect when the chaos in France during and after the French Revolution set the stage for a slave revolt in the French colony of Haiti. Then, in 1808, Napoleon forced King Ferdinand VII of Spain to abdicate and installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as the new king of Spain. As a result, war broke out in Spain against Napoleon. News of Napoleon installing his own brother as king of Spain and of the subsequent war quickly spread to Spain’s colonies in South America. Almost immediately, Creole leaders in South America formed juntas, declared their independence from Spain, and began their fight for freedom.
• European Nationalism...After many bloody battles throughout Europe, the 1848 revolutions were ultimately unsuccessful. The European monarchies remained in power. Even France’s 2nd Republic turned into a dictatorship during the rule of Louis Napoleon. Territories like Hungary that had attempted to revolt and establish their own countries were defeated. The only nationalist movements that were successful were those of unification. The turbulence of 1848 spurred the unification of the German states (with the exception of Austria) with Prussia. Additionally, it would lead to the unification of the Italian states. Unfortunately for European monarchs and empires, the defeat of the revolutions in 1848, provided only a temporary reprieve. Their days were numbered and by the early part of the twentieth century, monarchies would be exception, not the rule, in Europe. Nationalism continued to play a major part in European history including World War I. Even today in Europe, nationalist movements are alive. Moreover, with the establishment of the European Union, Europe faces a new debate about nationalism. Will the EU erase nationalities or will it lead to new nationalist uprisings? Only time will tell.
The Industrial Revolution
• Industrialization...For better or worse, the Industrial Revolution irrevocably changed the world. Steam power gave us means for swift travel and mass production, but also pollution and massive environmental destruction. Factories gave us cheap, readily available products, but frequently at the cost of exploitation, which continues to the present time. Profit and consumerism became the laws of the day. Medical advancements began to emerge to treat the effects of poor nutrition and unsanitary living conditions. Gas and then electricity provided modern conveniences for an increasing number of people. As social movements and workers’ unions began to enact laws protecting the working class, a growing middle class arose that would shape the twentieth century’s pursuit of leisure and entertainment—as well as war and destruction.
• Reactions and Ideologies...The rapid discovery and excessive use of steam power, coal, and petroleum, enhanced communication ingenuities led to a vast industrial global environment in the late 18th century through the early 20th century. Many great inventions and technological advancements enhanced manufacturing and communication. With this progression came widespread social decline. Various social reform movements arose from the economic and social depression of these times including liberalism, conservatism, socialism, Marxism, communism, and capitalism. The social, political, and economic changes made within society due to industrialization are still an issue for concern today. The numerous and conflicting ideologies about how society should be set up and maintained ushered in an era of both accomplishment and confusion. This age of “isms” laid the groundwork for the various international government and political philosophies of today.
• Democratic Reform and Activism...England at the beginning of the 19th century was experiencing vast changes in the industrial, social, military, and political arenas. Much of Europe was dabbling in democratic ideologies and England was deeply involved in debate about how parliament and society was to function. Improvement in living conditions and focus on better lifestyles grew at a steady rate. Mechanization sped up production and people began to focus more on their government proceedings. Two primary political parties evolved: the Whigs and the Tories. The liberal-minded Whigs sought reform and yearned for a more democratic nation while the Tories desired a traditional monarchy with limited power to the citizens. William IV, son of the powerful king, George III came to reign upon the death of his brother, George III right in the thick of a national debate on democratic reform. Vast turmoil erupted and both parties held strong convictions that were not in sync. Would England become a democratic nation where the ruling powers were freely elected by all citizens or would the age-old tradition of hierarchal royalty continue to thrive? William IV finally settled this with the Great Reform Act of 1832. The Reform Act essentially was a pacifying law that quelled the uprisings of the working and middle classes. It was the minimum amount that the aristocratic-minded officials were willing to concede. The act increased the voting electorate by 217,000 people. By lowering the property requirement, voting rights were opened to more men in the middle class. It also transferred a number of Parliament seats from the wealthy countrymen to the underrepresented industrial faction. While these changes greatly expanded democratic philosophy of England, much of the poor rural and urban classes were still underrepresented. However, this was the first of many reform acts that would further transform Britain into a more democratic nation over the next century.
• Problems in Ireland...Ireland’s history is rift with poverty, distress, revolt, and chaos. England’s domination over the nation served only to drag the Irish populace to extremely destitute conditions. The ill-fated potato blight and subsequent famine in the mid 1800s placed those remaining Irish citizens who had not died or emigrated in such a dire situation. It was only a matter of time before revolutionary leaders began to emerge.
Imperialism around the Globe
• Dividing Africa...By the mid- to late nineteenth century, European nations began to turn their attention to Africa. Africa had been an integral part of the European slave trade and a convenient place to establish ports for ship restocking on the way to Asia. Because of this, in the mid-1800s European nations decided that Africa was a perfect place for colonies. European nations wanted colonies in Africa for a variety of reasons, most importantly was the potential for profit. Europe, especially England, called their involvement in Africa the “White Man's Burden.” Instead of establishing colonies solely for profit, the “White Man's Burden” required that Europeans better the life of the natives by enforcing Western culture and civilization. This massive colonization, known as the Scramble for Africa, began in earnest in the 1880s. European countries each wanted to have their own piece of Africa. The Germans went to South West Africa while the French established colonies in West and North Africa. The British took over Egypt, Sudan, and later South Africa and the king of Belgium created his own personal colony in the Congo. Colonization did not happen quickly or easily. European nations waged war agains each other as well as with the native populations. The result was a continent almost completely controlled by Europe. Consider the effects of this as you learn about the European scramble for Africa.
• Europeans Claim Muslim Lands...During the nineteenth century, European nations turned their envious eyes upon the vast markets in the Middle East. European countries stood to make great profits if they could gain control of these Middle East territories. While economic motives were probably the strongest reasons for European involvement in the Middle Eastern, colonization was another. The British, French, and Russians each wanted control of Middle Eastern territories. The competition between these countries led to numerous nineteenth century wars such as the Crimean War and the Russo-Turkish Wars. In addition, the ideas of the White Man’s Burden and Social Darwinism that helped justify European colonization in Africa were also used to justify European involvement in the Middle East.
• Western Powers Rule Southeast Asia...Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States each had an interest in controlling territory in Southeast Asia. Two of the major reasons were trade and the need for naval supplying stations. Of the four countries, the British had the largest empire. In fact, a common phrase was that “the sun never set on the British Empire.” Indeed, with territories all over the world including the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, the sun was always shinning somewhere in their vast lands. Controlling territory in Southeast Asia such as Australia and New Zealand would just add strength and prestige to their empire. The British had competitors in their quest to control territory in Southeast Asia, however. The Dutch and the French also sought territory there. The trade-driven and powerful Dutch East India Company had given Holland a claim to numerous territories in Indonesia, while the French claimed territory in Indo-China and desired more. As the nineteenth century ended, the United States entered the race for territories. The 1898 victory over the Spanish during the Spanish American War not only destroyed the once-grand and powerful Spanish Empire, but gave the United States the opportunity to gain control of some of Spain’s former colonies. By the turn of the century, the United States emerged as a strong imperialist nation. As you learn more about roles of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States in the colonization of Southeast Asia, consider this.
Growth and Transformation
• China Resists Change...Long before Western civilizations discovered East Asia, China had established itself as the “Middle Kingdom” – the dominant political and cultural force in the region. For millennia, it had exerted its tremendous influence over both its own people and, in varying degrees, over many of its smaller neighbors. The seventeenth century, however, brought great changes to imperial China. Domestically, a group of foreigners known as the Manchu overthrew the Ming Dynasty proclaimed the “Mandate of Heaven,” or right to rule China, and established the Qing Dynasty. This dynastic family would be China’s last. Over the course of the next three centuries, powerful changes would sweep the East Asian countryside. Some transformations came from within, but many other new ideas and traditions began to make their way into China from the world beyond its borders. Specifically, Western cultures discovered and began to take a great interest in the fascinating and bountiful world of Chinese civilization.
World War I
• The Great War: Overview...From 1914-1918, European nations, along with others from around the globe, fought a massive and deadly conflict. World War I was originally called the Great War. The war saw the first widespread use of modern weapons such as machine guns, tanks, airplanes, submarines, and poison gas. Unfortunately, commanders on both sides consistently used 19th century tactics against these 20th century weapons. In repeated attempts to take enemy positions, men were ordered to dash across open fields of barbed wire directly towards nests of machine guns. Casualties were staggering. Within its first year, the war turned into a stalemate. Neither side could win. Neither side would admit defeat. For four years, the opposing nations focused on the business of killing. By the time it was over, almost forty million soldiers had died. Both sides had little to show for all the bloodshed, except the shock of previously unknown destruction that devastated much of European culture. World War I was so horrid and destructive that people hoped it would be the “war to end all wars.” Sadly, the peace treaty that followed created conditions that led to the Second World War.
• A Flawed Peace...When Germany lost World War I, the loss was not just on the battlefield. It suffered defeat in the treaty negotiations as well. The victorious nations of France, Great Britain, the United States, and Italy handed Germany a taxing set of demands. Stripped of territories, forced to scrap its massive military, and commanded to pay exhaustive war reparations, the Treaty of Versailles foisted humiliation upon Germans. Although the war reparations were eventually cancelled in 1931, the treaty created a deeply rooted bitterness in Germany. Many historians agree that the wounds inflicted by Versailles would eventually give rise to the Nazi Party and the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler.
Communism, Nationalism, and Revolution
• The Russian Revolution...Imperial Russia was at one time a vast empire that covered over one sixth of all land on the Earth. With over 150 million people living in Russia in the 1800s, it was a vast and powerful realm. A long line of Russian royalty ruled over Russia beginning with Peter the Great in 1721. Russia has seen much turmoil and disorganization throughout its long history. Generations of Romanov tsars and their abstinence from a modern democratic political system gradually caused disgruntled and frustrated citizens. Throughout the 1800s through the turn of the twentieth century, a series of unwise political judgments and catastrophic military defeats led to a general lack of patriotism throughout the country. In particular, the events that occurred during the reign of Nicholas II presented a marked time of discontent among the many groups of people in Russia. Harsh punishments and massacres of the peasants further exposed Nicholas II as an unfit leader. During this chaotic time, a variety of scheming entities emerged to join with and ultimately sway Nicholas’s political decisions. Ultimately, two major revolts led to a complete overhaul of the tsarist political system. The tsar and his family were brutally murdered and the various groups that followed clashed in their political ideologies. This marked a changing point for Russia, one that caused many repercussions throughout the country.
• Imperial China Collapses...For over 2,000 years, a continuous chain of imperial dynasties had ruled China. From approximately 221 B.C. to 1911 A.D., China reigned under a variety of royal families and for very brief periods, foreign outsiders. During the last of the great dynasties, the Manchus ruled the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty, which conquered the Chinese in 1644. Willing to integrate some of the customs of and quick to repair and enhance the lives the Chinese people, the Qing Empire grew and thrived. In fact, for over a century, there was general tranquility and prosperity. Strong leaders espoused the precepts of Confucianism, the presiding philosophy of the empire, in their governing practices. During the eighteenth century, the population tripled in size, contributing to cramped space and lack of land and resources to support the Chinese residents. Excessive indulgence and corruption in the imperial leadership further led to a demoralized military and a generally unsupported populace. A series of revolts arose, beginning in 1796 and continuing throughout the nineteenth century to the eventual downfall and collapse of imperialistic China in 1911. An entire way of political governance changed with the abdication of the Manchu imperial court. Revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen helped to set up the Republic of China that exists to this day.
• India and Southwest Asia: Nationalism...Indian society under British rule (or the Raj) was one of discord and discontent. The British influence created tensions between the Hindu and Muslim people of the region. The Indian and Asian desire for independence formed the foundation of the nationalistic movement amongst the vast Indian society. This led to the creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Not only was this organization, which continues to exist, a major factor in the liberation of India and surrounding nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran (Persia), but it set forth the cultural, religious, social, political, and economic objectives for the nation.
The Interim Years
• Worldwide Depression...The interwar period in Europe stands as a great transitional time in history. Of Europe’s nations, Germany and Russia saw some of the period’s largest changes. As Germany transformed into a struggling republic, radical groups like the Nazis began to take shape. Russia, meanwhile, went from war against Germany directly into a civil war. The Bolsheviks eventually gained control and formed the world’s first communist-type state. In addition to these political upheavals, a massive economic depression swept across the globe from the late 1920s lasting into the 1930s. The Great Depression heaped additional suffering on people who had barely recovered from World War I. In its wake, the people of Europe began to turn towards those who promised relief from their suffering. This political and social shift helped set the stage for the next global conflict: World War II.
• Fascism Rises in Europe...The chaos that followed World War I in Europe gave rise to a new system of political thought, one that elevated the status of the nation above all else. It began in Italy under the leadership of a man named Benito Mussolini. Mussolini called his political ideology ”fascism,” a reference to an ancient Roman symbol of authority known as the fasces. Because it encouraged pride in one’s country and a call to national greatness, fascism spread quickly throughout parts of Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism found a ripe area for growth in Germany, where the defeat and humiliation of World War I left its citizens with a sense of wounded pride. After a costly civil war, fascists also found a foothold in Spain. The popularity of fascism did not last. The fanatical ideas of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy ultimately led to the defeat of these countries in World War II. Today, the word fascism often evokes the terrible oppression and cruelty of these governments.
• The Strong Invade the Weak...During the 1930s, Germany, Italy, and Japan each expanded their world influence by conquering other nations. Japan invaded a part of Northern China known as Manchuria in 1931. By 1937, Japanese forces had spread through the rest of China. In 1935, Italy flouted world opinion and conquered Ethiopia. Germany began its expansion in the early 1930s. By 1939, it occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia and was making demands on Poland. Historians often cite the aggressive movements of these nations during the 1930s as one of the major causes of World War II.
World War II
• The European Front...On September 1,1939 the German army blitzed into Poland, shattering the tenuous European peace that had existed for a mere twenty years. Adolf Hitler, Germany’s charismatic leader, was determined to exact revenge for the perceived slights of the Treaty of Versailles. That agreement, which had ended World War I just two decades earlier, cost Germany territory, money, and pride. Hitler sought to restore all of these and more.
• The Pacific Front...Bereft of its own natural resources, Japanese leaders enacted a policy of colonial expansion in the 1930s. The United States and other global powers objected to Japan’s expansion, fearing it might jeopardize their own influence in Asia. As a result, trade conflicts erupted between Japan and the United States. Needing more resources to maintain its empire, Japan embarked on a bold plan to neutralize the threat that the United States posed. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the United States Navy fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Instead of ending the American threat, Japan inspired the United States to go to war. For the next four years, American and Japanese forces fought in the sky, on the water, and across tiny dots of land throughout the vast Pacific.
• The Holocaust...Through a series of shrewd political maneuvers, Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party gained control of the German government in 1933. Hitler and the Nazis soon enacted a policy of persecution against those the considered “racially inferior” and “undesirable.” They targeted Jews, Poles, and Gypsies, among other groups. Soon after assuming power, the Nazi government set up concentration camps to house these persons. After the outbreak of World War II, the camps were increasingly used for slave labor and extermination. Millions of men, women, and children eked out a painful and horrifying existence in these camps. Vast numbers met their death in them. Those who managed to survive the overwork, undernourishment, crowded conditions, and rampant disease, still faced the danger of extermination in specially-designed gas chambers. This program of persecution and extermination that the Nazis implemented between 1933 and 1945 has become known as the Holocaust, meaning “great destruction” or “massive slaughter.” It stands as one of the most heinous actions ever carried out by humans upon humans.
• Transition to Peace...In the spring of 1945, the nations of Germany and Japan stood on the brink of defeat. Continual bombing had reduced their cities to rubble. Allied armies clawed towards their seats of government. Former Axis partner Italy also lay in ruins. As a result, all three nations faced an uncertain future. What type of victory would the Allies impose? Would defeated nations be allowed to retain their sovereignty? What types of government would succeed the vanquished administrations? Who would be tried for war crimes? The Allies approached the situation with the conviction to not abandon the defeated nations. The unstable situation that plagued a vanquished Germany after World War I had erupted into World War II. Consequently, the victorious nations knew a smooth transition to peace was crucial. As combat operations ended and surrender agreements were signed, each defeated nation was led down a different path. Italy executed its dictator and voted to become a republic. France, Great Britain, the United States, and the U.S.S.R., or Soviet Union, carved Germany into four occupational zones. The United States forced Japan to establish a democracy in place of its empire. The transition to peace was not an easy one, but the decisions made in 1945 and 1946 helped the former Axis nations enjoy peace during the second half of the twentieth century.
The World after War
• USSR a Superpower...Although the Soviet Union existed for only 74 years, its presence in the postwar era cannot be underestimated. Thanks in part to the cult of personality surrounding leaders like Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union rose to unprecedented levels of importance and expanded its influence throughout much of the world. For more than forty years, the Soviets waged Cold War with their equally enthusiastic rival, the United States, and both sides worked ceaselessly to create alliances around the globe that led to a true revolution of the international political system. The Soviet presence in world affairs irrevocably shaped not only the politics of the postwar world, but also its culture, economics, and even its very geography, as the Helsinki Accords illustrate. When the Soviet Union collapsed suddenly in 1991, it left an enormous void in world affairs that has yet to be filled.
• The Eastern Block...The Eastern Bloc nations had high hopes for the future as World War II ended, and placed that hope in the promises of Communism manifested particularly in the Stalinist system. Things did not unfold as many in the East had hoped, however, and political repression, lack of goods, and economic problems plagued the nations of Eastern Europe throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Until the 1980s, serious attempts to break free from Soviet influence were few and far between. Not until 1989 did Communism finally lose its hold on a poverty-stricken Eastern Europe.
• Mao's China...Although the Chinese are an ancient people with a long-established culture, the China we know today is a relatively recent creation, founded by Mao Zedong as the People's Republic of China (PRC) in October of 1949. China had been in a period of steep decline since the nineteenth century, when Western powers began to move aggressively into East Asia. By the end of the century, a handful of industrialized nations had overpowered Chinese forces in a series of Opium Wars and forced a variety of trade agreements on imperial leaders. Within a few years, the last emperor had been overthrown and a new generation of Chinese leaders began to compete for leadership of this enormous and important civilization. Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party finally succeeded in their quest to set the course for a new China. Mao founded the PRC on Communist principles, and he had many ambitious ideas about how to use communist ideals to propel his new nation into the modern age. Would his plans to modernize China succeed?
• Redrawing the Middle East...Oil. Religion. Difficult terrain. Colonialism. The Middle East lays claim to all of these explosive ideas and topics, and its exotic beauty has long been marred by disagreement and conflict. During the first half of the twentieth century, much of the region fell under colonial oversight, but as World War II came to an end, the colonial powers reevaluated their strategies abroad and decided to withdrawal from many areas. While independence in places like Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan brought great relief to the peoples of this region, it also reintroduced long-simmering strife, especially over religion and natural resources. The national lines that had been drawn by retreating colonial powers failed to keep such hostilities from boiling over, and even as an era of independence dawned, another era, one of competition and hatred, was arising.
• The Third World...The history of the Third World is intimately tied to that of the Cold War. French thinker Alfred Sauval coined the term in 1952 in order to differentiate the newly decolonized and smaller nations of Asia, Africa, and the Americas from the “first world,” the United States and its Western allies, and the “second world,” the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc, saying: “this ignored, exploited, scorned Third World:wants to become something too.”
Colonies Become New Nations
• India Gains Freedom...From the eighteenth century until the 1940s, the nations of Myanmar, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were loosely grouped together under the dominion of what historians today call British colonial India. The intersection of ancient cultures, competing religions, varied ethnicities, and Western influences has made this region, often referred to as the Asian subcontinent, one of the most complex and fascinating areas of the world today. Although these various peoples united to revolt against British rule during the early part of the twentieth century, the distinct countries created by the breakup of the British Empire in the years following World War II had very different outlooks, and the relations among the new nations have often been rocky. Exotic, inspiring, and frustrating, the history of this region has something to offer everyone.
• Southeast Asia Gains Independence...Although World War II eventually brought liberation to millions, the people of Southeast Asia did not experience such a remarkable outcome. Instead, as the conflict drew to a close and Japan fled the region, France decided to reassert its colonial power in the area. To complicate matters further, both the United States and the Soviet Union soon took active roles in the region and, over time, Southeast Asia became a hotspot in the Cold War. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam would all eventually achieve independence, but at a heavy cost: millions dead, millions more displaced, complex political problems, and the beautiful lands of the region irreparably damaged.
• Africa Claims Its Independence...Africa has long had a problematic relationship with the rest of the world. While the era of exploration alerted the nations of Europe to the bountiful lands of Africa, it also ushered in reprehensible views about race and domination, leading to the widespread practice of buying and selling Africans as slaves. During the nineteenth century, European nations swarmed across the continent and claimed colonial control of a number of areas, especially along the coastlines. Ignorant of the complex relationships among the vast numbers of tribes living in Africa, Western powers such as Great Britain, Germany, France, and Belgium created arbitrary divisions throughout the region as they claimed colonial rights. By the end of the century, these imperial powers had carved virtually the entire continent into pieces. As the twentieth century dawned, calls for sovereignty grew around the world, but even as imperialism retreated in other regions of the world, many European nations retained their holdings in Africa: the continent boasted rich natural resources, beautiful sights, and plentiful exotic game. Moreover, the contributions of African natives to the European powers during both the First and Second World Wars proved significant, and the fierce rivalries among ethnic groups and tribes created weaknesses that many imperial powers worked to exploit. By the early 1950s, however, the change had begun to ripple across the so-called “Dark Continent.” India’s successful bid for independence from the British, in 1947, inspired similar movements across the developing world, many of which came to fruition in Africa.
• Afghanistan...The mountainous terrain and vibrant ethnic culture of Afghanistan give this ancient land an air of mystery, but what most find intriguing about the country is its political history and uncertain future. For thousands of years, great powers have wrestled to gain control of Afghanistan, and invariably failed to conquer it. During the twentieth century, it became a hotly disputed Cold War territory. Today, the War on Terror has put Afghanistan once again in the public eye, and the whole world watches and waits as it struggles to find its place among democratic nations. Why has Afghanistan become such an intriguing and difficult political situation? An examination of the country’s political and diplomatic history provides some answers.
• Juan and Evita Peron of Argentina...When looking at a map of South America, it is hard not to notice Brazil and Argentina. They are South America’s largest countries, spanning the continent from Caribbean to Antarctic, from Andes to Atlantic. Both nations began as European colonies. Since gaining independence, both have struggled to form lasting democracies. The twentieth century saw Brazil undergo three separate military dictatorships. During the same period, Argentina suffered a series of coups, including an infamous period from 1976-83 known as the “Dirty War.” Today, despite numerous challenges and failed administrations, democratic governments prevail in each nation. This lesson will cover the history of democracy in these important South American countries.
• South African Apartheid...In 1994, democracy in the nation of South Africa drastically progressed. In April of that year, millions of Indian, black, and mixed heritage Africans previously unable to vote cast ballots for the first time. Until this historic election, the nation’s system of government, known as Apartheid, had suppressed the rights of these people. Apartheid, a system that descendants of British and Dutch immigrants established during the 1940s, created a society based on racial classification. The government agency of the Department of Home Affairs designated all citizens as one of three racial categories: white, black, and colored, or mixed race. Persons designated as white had the most opportunities and rights. Persons designated as colored or black had the fewest. Under Apartheid, laws prohibited the mixing of races and divided the nation into segregated regions. The government brutally oppressed political resistance to Apartheid. This oppression led to many human rights abuses, both by the government and by those opposed to it. Within the context of this troubled history, South Africans of all races entered the polls in April of 1994. Together, they began the difficult work of rebuilding their nation, placing it squarely on a foundation of democracy for all.
• The Iron Curtain Falls...The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or U.S.S.R., rose from the ashes of World War I as the world’s first communist government. As the twentieth century progressed, it developed into a global power. After helping the Allies defeat Germany in World War II, it established iron-fisted control over Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. The Soviet Union also developed nuclear weapons, sent humans into space, and spread its political ideals to other nations. From the mid-1940s onward, the U.S.S.R. faced against the United States in the Cold War. The 1980s brought changes to communist Russia. A new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, began to reform the Soviet system. He loosened the communist grip on Eastern Europe and instituted changes within the Soviet government. As a result, relations with the United States thawed. By changing the Soviet Union, however, Gorbachev unknowingly hastened its demise. Conservatives within the Communist Party resisted, eventually attempting to oust Gorbachev in a coup. The coup failed as freedom-loving citizens stood against the conservatives. The same free spirit that ended the coup, however, weakened the Soviet Union. Within a year, the unity of the Soviet republics had collapsed.
• Reform and Reaction in China...The people of China lived under the rule of emperors for thousands of years until barely a century ago. In 1911, reformers led a successful revolution against the Qing Dynasty, replacing the emperor with a provisional government. This provisional government made an attempt to establish a republic, but soon failed and the nation slipped into a period of conflict between competing warlords. This turbulent period lasted until a group of nationalists rose to power in 1928. After World War II, communist and nationalist forces competed for control of China. By 1949, the communists had gained the upper hand, forcing the nationalist forced to flee to Taiwan. The Communist Party continues to govern China today.
The Global World
• The Impact of Science and Technology...In 1903, the Wright Brothers made their first flight. The first public flight occurred in 1910 from the nation's first airport in New York City. It was not until the 1930s, however, that what we know as modern public air travel developed. During that era, aviation technology improved the reliability, safety, and ease of air travel to such a degree that traveling this way became increasingly common. Today, better air controlling tools, weather centers, and navigation instruments have further improved air travel. It has become the most common and reliable, as well as the fastest and safest, way to travel long distances worldwide. Inarguably, air travel has been a primary factor in allowing families and businesses to spread to new regions, with the ability to stay connected in a way that was impossible before.
• Pop Culture and Human Rights...In 2008, the United Nations celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Certain governments have not accepted it, however, which makes ensuring human rights for all an important world issue. From graffiti on the Berlin Wall to bloggers organizing a march, popular culture continues to be a critical vehicle to spread the word of human rights violations. In the 1950s, the Japanese heard their emperor’s voice for the first time on radio. During World War II and continuing today, reporters bring news and updates into American living rooms through photograph, articles, and videos. Artists continue to express their emotions and those of their culture through murals and paintings. Today, we capture moments on video which can be instantly uploaded to the Internet. Art and film continue to bring messages of hope and change about human rights issues all over the world.
• Terrorism in the Modern World...Since September 11, 2001, "terrorism" has become a common word both in the United States and around the world. However, terrorist activities did not begin in the twenty-first century or in the United States. Technically, terrorism has been occurring around the world for millennia. Seemingly, some group has always desired to perpetrate harmful acts against people and property. Often, terrorism has been motivated by politics or religion. Regardless of motivation, however, terrorism is almost always performed by a minority group who is dissatisfied with the way in which current governments or laws are structured. Since 2001, people have largely begun associating terrorism with people of Middle Eastern descent, specifically with fanatical Muslims. However, this is a stereotype that ignores the number of terrorist organizations around the world of virtually every nationality. Terrorist groups exist in South America, Central America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and even in the United States. Therefore, race is not a determining factor in terrorist activity. With the increasing globalization of the world, terrorism has taken different faces. While the intent of the actions is nothing new, the methods—everything from attack to propaganda dissemination—have evolved with globalization and technology. Computers and the Internet have not only given terrorists means of spreading their ideology and broadcasting their message, but they have also provided new targets for attack. In addition, as globalization has made the world smaller, it has also been partly responsible for instigating terrorist activity. Indeed, many terrorist groups fear the loss of tribal or personal identity that accompanies the globalization of the world.