The goal of A First History For Adults is to provide a complete overview of the history of Western civilization. The curriculum is designed to render this massive sum into an accessible and enjoyable narrative. The three parts of the course follow the natural dividing lines of the history of the West to date, starting with the most recent story first, and then spiralling back repeatedly to enhance and reinforce what is learned.
Part 1 - The Story of America
The Story of America includes an introductory European narrative. This story of Europe provides the indispensable context for understanding the developments in America that followed. America's existence is seen as the product of the Age of Discovery, involving the crucial contributions of Prince Henry of Portugal and Christopher Columbus. The backdrop to America's evolution also includes other key developments including the rise of Christianity, the Reformation, and the progress towards secular government in England. The growth of the English and French colonies in America are closely tracked through their early struggles, and later, the colonial wars that gave Britain control of America. The pivotal event of American history, and indeed of world history, the American Revolution, is given special attention. The "critical period" that followed, extending through to the presidency of James Monroe is also emphasized. The story then turns to the build up to the Civil War, and the key changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. After the Civil War, America emerged as a world power, economically and politically. The course concludes with an examination of America's role in the turbulent 20th century. To understand the context of America's growth as a unified narrative culminating in the present is to grasp the complex and exciting background of the world we live in.
Part 2 - Europe: Context and Foil
This second installment of the course builds on the foundation established in Part 1. The story of Europe is a compelling tale on its own, but it also an important complement and contrast to the history of America. Europe: Context and Foil begins with a retelling of the early political developments of America's mother continent, with a new focus on explaining its own evolution. The formation of each of the major nations is discussed. Special emphasis is placed on the rise of Christianity and the challenges associated with attempts at secular-religious integration on the one hand, and distentanglement on the other. This includes a presentation of the Crusades, the rise of the Papacy and national monarchies, and the uniquely national experiences surrounding the Reformation. It is in the context of this European narrative that the Italian Renaissance is most profitably discussed. The Thirty Years War is examined as a major turning point in the religious and political landscape, leading to the rise of France as the dominant continental power and England as the dominant world power. Russia's gradual encroachment into Europe and the French Revolution serve as the backdrop for an explanation of the new continental system that emerged in the 19th century. The focus then shifts to the unification of Germany and the revolutions that shook the entire European world. The new Europe, with Germany as its leading nation, and Russia looming on the fringes is the setting for the 20th century. The world wars that followed are presented as based on a complex and long-running chain of causal antecedents. The course ends with an asssesment of Europe's relegation to a secondary status, both militarily and culturally, during the Cold War, and its desired renewal through the European Union.
Part 3 - The Islamist Entanglement
For information on this course, please go to the course webpage.
Part 4 - The Ancient Background
It is only having studied America first, and then Europe, that Ancient history can really be tackled with a reasonable objective of connecting its narrative to the present. Only when studied in its proper sequence can Ancient history be rendered into a viable component of an abstract perspective on the present. Consequently, the course begins with a general review of the narrative of the West from the fall of Rome to the present. Students are encouraged to pursue additional, selected readings to spiral back and forth between periods and to see history as a sum. The Ancient Background facilitates this integration by completing the picture. It begins with a brief presentation of the emergence of man from his pre-historical barbarism and the appearance of the earliest historical cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The causally integrated narrative examines their expanding interaction and ultimate failure as the context for the emergence of Greece, the true birthplace of Western civilization. Major emphasis is placed on this heroic culture, and on how its values were transmitted through the centuries and continue to sustain our own world. The political development of Rome is then charted, with a special emphasis on its impact on the history of Europe, and America. The ultimate aim of the course is to allow students to forge a seemless grasp of the history of all the Western world, from its oldest, unyielding roots to its precariously vibrant modern canopy.Back
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