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World History / Global Culture

What could it possibly mean to tell a history of the whole world? What is global culture? Is there such a thing? If so how would global culture shape the telling of world history? If not, how can world history have meaning? This discussion will focus on ancient world history before 1500 CE which is the date where most of the resources I consulted leave off. These issues are discussed in four resources which will be the basis for my questions and facts to guide the discussion:

  • W3902 World History to 1500 CE with Richard Bulliet of Columbia University (25 videos totaling 31 hours): This video course presents and at the same time critiques a narrative world history from prehistoric times to 1500. The purpose of the course is to convey an understanding of how this rapidly growing field of history is being approached at three different levels: the narrative textbook level, the theoretical-conceptual level, and the research level.

    CJ's Review: Bulliet tears apart and then rebuilds the history given in his successful textbook on World History "The Earth and its Peoples". The approach is brilliant in helping us re-think the telling of history. He has a deep understanding of the history of technology and the history of human-animal relationships which make the course even more special. But he doesn't broadly cover the details of world history (for those you might read his textbook which I didn't).

  • HIST 3379: World Civilization to 1500 with Sally Vaughn of the University of Houston (28 videos totaling 36 hours): comparative survey of six major geographical and cultural areas (West Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Africa, Europe, and Meso-America) from 4000 B.C. to c. 1500.

    CJ's Review: Vaughn has included hundreds of wonderful freely re-useable images to illustrate her history (but I wasn't too inspired by her lectures; she is an expert in Medieval history and those lectures, the one on Southeast Asia, and her final two wrap-up lectures were particularly good). Her slides provide names and places for further research. I valued it for its survey qualities especially since Bulliet skipped many of those details. As such it complemented Bulliet's course nicely.

  • Crash Course in World History with John Green (I'm only watching the first 22 videos in this series for this discussion. The series has a total of 42 videos totaling 8 hours): John Green teaches you the history of the world in 42 episodes.

    CJ's Review: John Green gives an awesome, fast-paced history of the world. Each episode is about 10 minutes. Watch one or two and you'll get hooked: they are awesome! Details and big picture all bundled into short, succinct, and enjoyable episodes.

  • "What is Global History" (2008) by Pamela Kyle Crossley

    CJ's Review: This is a short, but dry textbook. It provides a survey of histiography that I found useful for putting Bulliet's course in perspective. I think of it as a second opinion and because it's a book, it has more detail. Crossley is one of Bulliet's co-authors and he lauded her work.

In addition to all the directions in which participants may choose to guide this discussion, I want to go in depth on these five topics:

  1. What is world history? What is history? What is Historiography?
  2. What is global culture? What are the problems in talking about and discussing global culture?
  3. What is the importance of energy profiles in the development of civilizations?
  4. What is "path dependence"?
  5. Are there "common denominators" or "universals" that all humans everywhere are subject to?

Note: in order to cover the breadth of the subject, I have scheduled an additional meetup to cover Bulliet's lectures on human-animal relationship on Saturday, March 23rd. You can read more about that meetup by following this link: Human-Animal Relationships (Book Discussion).

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  • Louis S.

    C.J.---I want to thank you for organizing a wonderful meetup. It was not only an interesting, continuous fast moving discussion about whether or not such a thing as 'global history' can exist, but also had some fascinating digressions (I found the discussion about all the conduits for online teaching and learning particularly useful for my own purposes). I also want to thank you for all the work you obviously put into preparing to talk about Bulliet and Crossley's ideas, and for guiding the discussion so carefully and thoughtfully.

    2 · February 11, 2013

    • CJ F.

      Louis, my slides for a presentation I gave last September on on-line education are here: http://www.cjfearnley...­

      As I say in the slides: "I can be your OER [Open Educational Resources] guidance counselor: feel free to contact me for help finding some good courses." Just let me know how I can help.

      February 11, 2013

  • CJ F.

    This is the story about Portugal whose details I forgot during the meetup:

    In 1572, Luis Vaz de Camoes wrote "Os Lusiades" the great epic poem modeled on Homer's Illiad and Virgil's Aenneid lauding da Gama and Portugal. Despite much critical acclaim, in 1578 Portugal's King Sebastian were killed in the Battle of Alacer Quibir (aka the Battle of the Three kings). As a result, Portugal was subsumed by Spain for 60 years in the Iberian union [masked]) and most of us have not heard of Camoes' great work.

    Where there any other questions that I can answer from my notes now that I'm back in the saddle?

    February 11, 2013

  • Brandon

    Can a person attend if they are on the waitlist? :-)

    February 9, 2013

    • CJ F.

      Brandon, you lucked out: there were some cancellations today and so you have been promoted to 'attending'. I look forward to meeting you tomorrow.

      February 9, 2013

    • Brandon

      Thanks so much...can't wait!

      February 9, 2013

  • Amy

    I just changed my RSVP to not attending.

    February 9, 2013

  • Amy

    Sorry to miss tomorrow's discussion -- but I have a rare chance to go cross-country skiing. I look forward to next time.

    1 · February 9, 2013

  • Amy

    Looking forward to another great discussion!

    February 9, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Pamela Kyle Crossley has some helpful perspective in her book "What is Global History?" She explains the nature of history: "Having collected and analyzed all the evidence they can acquire or consult, [historians] must construct an interpretation that tells something about change over time, and produces a story. It is a story merely." She observes "The historian makes a story about something he or she can never recreate. ... the historian is forever outside what he hopes to narrate. ... History is not the past, it is the story we tell to represent the past." She explains that historiography is "the study of the writing of history". Global history tells "a story that aspires to explain global-scale changes over time."

    Her "story" dovetails with Bulliet's ideas and critiques. I'm really looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts tomorrow!

    If you have time, please watch one or two of the Bulliet videos. I have highlighted seven of them in prior comments.

    February 9, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In session 24 of Richard Bulliet's course (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inLQaMifa3U) he discusses (after some introductory remarks about the boundary of Europe) several efforts to define cultural literacy including the "Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas" (1952) and UNESCO's effort to foster the concept of a global culture. He describes his effort with Theodore de Bary to teach a course on global writers in translation with seminars on trans- or inter-cultural conversation. Bulliet concludes "The whole enterprise of thinking in terms of a world culture at the level of texts and images needs a lot more work. How to do it and how to make it work in an integrated fashion is unclear to me even though I taught in the course with de Bary for five years. I was never convinced that you could do this sort of transcultural intellectual and artistic conversation." Is it possible to discuss global culture in such a way as to provide a meaningful and engaging context for world history?

    February 8, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In session 17 of Richard Bulliet's course (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VelZ6ErwAG4) he describes his epiphany while taking an Asian history course with John K. Fairbank. He showed slides of conical piles of night soil and explained that when they get big enough they are divided into smaller piles. Bulliet's epiphany on the great metaphor of history: the basic materials of history, the documents, the records, the archives, these material artifacts are "night soil". When you get enough of it, you can divide it into smaller piles. That is, it is the organization rather than the data itself that matters and endures in history and determines if it is persuasive or not.

    Bulliet discusses different ways to divide up history. He even questions the canonical assumption of world history: that history leads to global convergence in the modern era. Good stories about numismatics, the collection and study of currency, and printing further illustrate the discussion.

    February 7, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In sessions 15 & 16 of Richard Bulliet's course (15: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF6ig8c9Gh0 16: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpsNGrysfuc) he explores the big question of "path dependence" (if you only have time to watch one video, watch the Session 16 video where the thesis is fully developed). "Path dependence" is the theory that history matters. Bulliet (always the inveterate iconoclast) argues that Europe's changing energy profile in the middle of the middle ages led inevitably to its "emergence". Bulliet concludes "If you create a new social class by a shift in the energy profile that is industrious, wealthy, and entrepreneurial, regardless of Monasteries and wars the industrial revolution may be inevitable."

    For a deeper understanding of Path Dependence, I recommend this set of 6 videos (totaling 1h 12m) from Scott E. Page's "Model Thinking" course: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkCiNL_gZp2dgzvrfFFdbybg35cK-PabW

    February 6, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In session 7 of Richard Bulliet's course (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsRrnL4Sa6A) he gives a wide-ranging discussion on how history often is "rewritten" or "invented" for political purposes. For example, Iran is part of the "Middle East" and Pakistan and India part of Southeast Asia because Britain ruled the them, but Iran, Iraq, etc. were part of a contested, unconquered "frontier" region.

    Why do people tell or write their histories? Narrative writing precedes the writing of history (Hessiod's Theogony treats the origins and genealogy of the gods which precedes Herodotus' "The Histories" and Thucydides). India has 1,000 year periods where no one thought it important to write down their history! Does writing make the history any more valid? The Rigveda was orally transmitted for 1000 years before being written out. Yet the Avesta (primary Zoroastrian texts) and "The Travels of Marco Polo" are disputed texts! Why would writing be such a "gold standard"? Should it be?

    February 5, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In session 3 of Richard Bulliet's course (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TmkBtOkoIA) he introduces the profound notion of energy profiles. The lecture considers the profound questions of why does society change? E.g., "when you shift to an energy profile of small electricity it changes the political context, it changes the social context, it changes the capital investment pattern, it changes the geography and it changes the environment." He also considers how energy profiles affected the prehistoric construction of big stones, big piles of dirt, and the tamped earth structures versus smaller stones and brick.

    The beginning of the lecture considers Nostratic Language Theory and glottochronology in the context of the question "Is it possible to write a world history that can be taught everywhere in the world?

    These are big questions affecting how we frame a history of the world and so are great discussion starters for Sunday.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TmkBtOkoIA

    February 4, 2013

  • Will B.

    Is this a remake the Mel Brooks History of the World 2? Excuse the pun but it sounds a bit too global for me. Why not discuss "reality" with everyone bring specific examples. Good luck and notify me if you decide to do it as a musical.

    February 3, 2013

    • CJ F.

      Bill, personally, I'm operating on the working assumption that to end warfare, we need all humanity to think of itself as part of one tribe living in one town. If that is true, it may be that the world history movement provides a conceptual tool needed to help build our one town world.

      Don't we need to have a story about our one town world in order to feel connected as part of one tribe in one town? Or is world history just another way for America to reinforce its global hegemony?

      The discussion will examine both the idealistic and cynical perspectives on world history. I recommend you watch a few videos from each of the three courses linked in the event description. It is a topic for which I have developed a fascination.

      February 3, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Richard Bulliet's introductory video on World History (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_w7pfulsn8) discusses the peculiarly American forces shaping World History & its textbooks.

    Bulliet says that all World History texts assert that the domestication of wheat and barley led to civilization even though it may not be true. Bananas, cassava, and potatoes provide more calories per acre and so they or even fish may have more to do with the start of civilization than grains. What other unexamined assumptions are there in world history? Bulliet ends the lecture by saying that throughout the course he will be taking "his own work to pieces" to help uncover the deeper issues of telling a history of the world. His deep critique will help us explore the question "what is world history?" Should it have a center? A chronological crescendo at its end? What themes ought it cover? Will America succeed in selling it to the rest of the world?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_w7pfulsn8

    February 3, 2013

  • Brian

    Well, I am trying to watch Richard, with the patience of a three year old, waiting for somethng like "tears apart" to happen. I am, as a three year old would, having a lot of fun watching John Green, though. Those videos would be fun to take a date to, except he is funnier and smarter and cuter than me. Bad idea.

    1 · February 1, 2013

    • Brian

      Yes. I did watch some, and will continue. I was kind of being tongue-in-cheek.

      February 2, 2013

    • CJ F.

      OK, maybe he doesn't tear apart his book in every lecture. But in session 13 & 14 he definitely tears apart his own chapter on "The Rise of Islam" (I love his snide remarks about "what was the author thinking" where we know that he wrote the chapter). And session 23 and 24 on "The Latin West" (note the YouTube description of session 23 is wrong) he really leans into his co-author and its treatment of Europe which doesn't even discuss the Ottomans (oh my!). But its been awhile since I watched the first few lectures: he might have started more gently :)

      February 2, 2013

  • Amy

    Looking forward to another great discussion!

    January 27, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Next week, I will detail a small set of the most relevant videos. With 70 hours of supplementary videos, I doubt anyone will watch them all. But check out John Green's Crash Course in World History videos!!!

    January 4, 2013

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