Unformatted text preview: THEMES FOR UNDERSTANDING
WORLD HISTORY As TH E Y P u R s u E their craft, historians often organize
their material on the basis of themes that enable them to
ask and try to answer basic questions about the past. Such
is our intention here. In preparing the sixth edition of this
book, we have selected several major themes that we be-
lieve are especially important in understanding the course
of world history. These themes transcend the boundaries
of time and space and have relevance to all cultures since
the beginning of the human experience. In the chapters that follow, we will refer to these themes
frequently as we advance from the prehistoric era to the
present. Where appropriate, we shall make comparisons
across cultural boundaries, or across different time peri—
ods. To facilitate this process, we have included a compara-
tive essay in each chapter that focuses on a particular theme
within the speciﬁc time period dealt with in that section of
the book For example, the comparative essays in Chapters 1
and 6 deal with the human impact on the natural environ—
ment during the premodern era, while those in Chapters 21
and 25 discuss the issue during the age of imperialism and
in the contemporary world. Each comparative essay is iden-
tiﬁed with a particular theme, although it will be noted that
many essays deal with several themes at the same time. We have sought to illustrate these themes through the
use of comparative illustrations in each chapter. These il-
lustrations are comparative in nature and seek to encourage
the reader to think about thematic issues in cross-cultural
terms, while not losing sight of the unique characteristics
of individual societies. Our seven themes, each divided
into two subtopics, are listed below. retitacss ;
1 . i ': 1. Politics and Government The study of poli-
.- .. tics seeks to answer certain basic questions
_ _' l - that historians have about the structure of a
society: How were people governed? What
was the relationship between the ruler and the ruled?
What people or groups of people (the political elites) held
political power? What actions did people take to guaran-
tee their security or change their form of government?
‘ ' 2. Arts and Ideas We cannot understand a so-
. ciety without looking at its Culture, or the com-
mon ideas, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that
are passed on from one generation to the next.
Culture includes both high culture and popular culture.
High culture consists of the writings of a society’s thinkers and the works of its artists. A society’s popular culture is the
world of ideas and experiences of ordinary people. Today,
the media have embraced the term popular culture to de—
scribe the current trends and fashionable styles.
" : 3. Religion and Philosophy Throughout his-
" tory, people have sought to ﬁnd a deeper
‘ meaning to human life. How have the world’s
great religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism,
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, inﬂuenced people’s lives?
How have they spread to create new patterns of culture in
other parts of the world?
’ ._ 315 4. Family and Society The most basic social
‘ _ : unit in human society has always been the fam—
lithm ' ' ily. From a study of family and social patterns,
50ml? we learn about the different social classes that
make up a society and their relationships with one another.
We also learn about the role of gender in individual socie-
ties. What different roles did men and women play in their
societies? How and why were those roles different? ~ _ 5. Science and Technology For thousands of
' years, people around the world have made sci-
gf, tact entiﬁc discoveries and technological innova-
TEthtutett tions that have changed our world. From the
creation of stone tools that made farming easier to advanced
computers that guide our airplanes, science and technology
have altered how humans have related to their world.
' 6. Earth and the Environment Throughout
. ._ history, peoples and societies have been af-
‘ggﬁmg'_ ' fected by the physical world in which they live.
Wilma“? Climatic changes alone have been an impor-
tant factor in human history. Through their economic
activities, peoples and societies, in turn, have also made
an impact on their world. Human activities have affected
the physical environment and even endangered the very
existence of entire societies and species.
ministries 8- 7. Interaction and Exchange Many world his-
txrtttttstl torians believe that the exchange of ideas and
' innovations is the driving force behind the ' ‘ evolution of human societies.Theintroduction
of agriculture, writing and printing, metal working, and
navigational techniques, for example. spread gradually
from one part of the world to other regions and eventually
changed the face of the entire globe. The process of cultural
and technological exchange took place in various ways,
including trade, conquest, and the migration of peoples. studies a
PHitBStli’itt’ -- xxix ...
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- Spring '11