lecture I-2 idea of civilization

lecture I-2 idea of civilization - World history I Lecture...

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World history I Lecture I.2 The Idea of “World Civilizations” Now that we’re back the next thing is to ask what this class is exactly going to be about. What is “world civilizations?” What is going to hold together all the different stuff we are going to study? “Civilization” first. The word comes from a set of interrelated Latin words, “civilis,” “civis,” and “civitas.” A “civitas” is a city; civis is a free citizen of a city, and civilis is an adjective for the kind of conduct or the kinds of affairs proper to such citizens. “Civilization,” then, is the form of culture that one finds among city-dwellers in the ancient world. Notice that civilization is not the same thing as culture . All human beings have culture; that is, they have particular ways of living together, values and traditions and methods of doing things that are shared in their group. You can live in a culture without living in a civilization. Biologically “modern” human beings got along for tens of thousands of years in cultures that were not civilizations. Civilization, in fact, only emerged in the last fraction of human existence, beginning about five to seven thousand years ago. 1
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Now, we often use “civilized” to indicate that we consider somebody superior to others. A “civilized” person is smarter, better educated, or better behaved than a non-civilized one, who is “barbaric” or “savage.” We talk this way because inhabitants of past civilizations used exactly these terms to claim that they were superior to their non- civilized neighbors. But if we stick strictly to our definition, we should observe that, as an analytical category, saying that a particular culture has the traits of a “civilization” does not mean that it is morally or intellectually superior to any other culture. We only mean that it has the traits of a city-based or urban culture, whether those traits are good or bad things. So “civilizations” are cultures that have urban traits. What are these defining characteristics that will enable us to distinguish civilizations from other kinds of cultures? The first thing to look for is economic structure. Before the development of civilization, everybody in a human community basically had the same economic function, and that was to acquire the necessities of survival for themselves and their families. Necessities mean basically food and water, clothing, and shelter. For most of human existence – those tens of thousands of years of pre-history – human beings lived as hunter-gatherers, mostly traveling to place to place, obtaining these necessities from their environment. Tools, likewise, were fashioned from the stone, wood, or bone found in the environment or obtained from animals by hunting. Groups did not produce surpluses of food beyond what they needed to survive, and they did not normally stay in one place to store up any 2
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such surpluses if they had them. A full belly simply meant that you could stop hunting or
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lecture I-2 idea of civilization - World history I Lecture...

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