History 63: The Whole Enchilada

I offer this syllabus from Fall 2003 in contrast to Duke’s History 75. Would I get caught in ACTA’s net if they scanned through the catalog and noticed this course? There are Marxists abounding in this syllabus. A Muslim, too! I use the word “Eurocentrism”!!!

Or would I be judged to be pedagogically legit because Spengler, McNeill, the Bible, Ranke and Fukuyama show up at various points? If so, put me in the bin with the depraved “political”, because I see the difference between this class and Duke’s History 75 as a highly granular difference in pedagogical philosophy. I build my classes differently than they do, sure. I prefer my classes, sure, if you can pardon a bit of self-promotion. But their class and my class, offered on approximately similar subjects, are both well within what I would regard as legitimate professional historical pedagogy.


History 63
Professor Burke
Fall 2003
The Whole Enchilada

This course is an exploration of world history as a form of historical writing. It is not a survey of events in world history, though we will undoubtedly find ourselves learning quite a lot about certain common topics or issues in world history.

The central question of the class is, “What happens when a historian or writer tries to describe the history of the world, whether limited to a particular time period or theme or encompassing literally everything that has happened to humanity in historical time?” As a genre of writing about history, world history is quite distinctive not just in its scope but in its tone and its outlook. The form has a history all its own. We will focus on the debates between world historians (and between historians writing about global history and historians who are more specialized) that are highly distinctive and particular to the form, ranging from the question of why Western Europe achieved global hegemony after the 1500s to the issue of whether there is a meaningful distinction between “civilizations” and other human societies.

While I typically encourage students to skim readings, and will do so in this class, I nevertheless want to caution that in this course, the reading load is quite heavy and I will expect somewhat closer attention to the reading than I normally require. We are reading world histories as a literary form, and that means we need to understand not just the bare bones of their argument and the evidentiary material they assemble in defense of it, but the rhetorical approach they employ. Reading carefully and working from such readings in class discussion are both important requirements in this course, and I will base the final grade more heavily than I normally do on whether or not students are reading with the appropriate discipline and depth.

Do not take this class if you are unprepared to engage the material.

Attendance, as per History Department policy, is required. Unexcused absences will have a serious effect on your grade. Participation and evidence of careful reading are important to your grade. There will also be three papers: two of them short, one of them a longer assignment requiring a modest amount of independent research.

Sept 2

“Global history” and “world history” (scholarly standardization of a field; literary breadth of an idea)
The question of “Eurocentrism”
The global and the local; the big picture and the details
The materialist turn in 20th Century world histories

Sept 4
From the particular to the universal: origin narratives and historical thought

*The Old Testament, Genesis
*Pietro Vannicelli, “Herodotus’ Egypt and the Foundations of Universal History”, in Nino Luraghi, ed., The Historian’s Craft in the Age of Herodotus

Sept 9
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqadimmah, pp. Vii-48, pp. 58-68
Mini-lecture: St. Augustine, medieval historians and universal history

Sept 11
Khaldun, Muqadimmah, pp. 91-332

Sept 16
*Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality”
*Georg Hegel, “Introduction to the Philosophy of History”
Mini-lecture: Vico, Kant, Rousseau, Hobbes, Hegel, Marx: The idea of a “universal history” and the European Enlightenment

Sept 18
*Leopold von Ranke, “On Universal History”
*M.C Lemon, “Marx on History”, from Philosophy of History: A Guide For Students
First paper due

The development of world history as a scholarly genre

Sept 23
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, pp. 3-86
Mini-lecture: Toynbee and Spengler

Sept 25
Spengler, Decline of the West, pp. 226-418

Sept 30
William H. McNeill, Rise of the West, pp. Xv-63, pp. 167-248, pp. 295-360
Mini-lecture: The Cold War, geopolitics and world history

Oct 2
McNeill, Rise of the West, pp. 484-507, pp. 565-598, pp. 726-808

Oct 7
Ferdnand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, pp. 23-103, 104-182, pp. 266-333
Mini-lecture: The Annales school and the “longue duree”

Oct 9
Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, pp. 385-564


The idea of world systems

Oct 21
*Immanuel Wallerstein, The Essential Wallerstein, selections

Oct 23
*Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills, “The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand?”

The critique of Eurocentrism in world history: materialist and philosophical

Oct 28
*JM Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World
*Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony

Oct 30
*Ashis Nandy, “History’s Forgotten Doubles”

Why didn’t China industrialize first? A case study of debate in world history

Nov 4
Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence , pp. 3-208
Mini-lecture: Other perennial debates in world history

Nov. 6
Pomeranz, The Great Divergence

Thematic world histories

Nov 11
*Philip Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History
*Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery
Nov 13
*Barbara Freese, Coal: A Human History
*John Keegan, The Face of Battle

Hegel and Kant revisited

Nov 18
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Mini-lecture: World history and the idea of progress

Nov 20
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Second paper due.

Politics and power

Nov 25
*Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?”
*Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Volume 1, pp. 73-178

Sociobiological and materialist world histories

Dec 2
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
Mini-lecture: McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples and other non-Marxist materialist world histories

Narrative world history

Dec 4
Larry Gonick, The Cartoon Guide to the Universe, Volume 3
*Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, short selection

Dec 9
The Once and Future World History
Final paper (genre critique) due December 15th

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22 Responses to History 63: The Whole Enchilada

  1. Liz Lawley says:

    This looks like a fabulous class.

    Makes me wish I was an undergraduate history major again. 🙂

  2. Fantastic course! Have you ever considered teaching or having students present on alternate history fiction with a global scope like Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, which imagines how world history would have been different if the Black Death had achieved new-world-level extinction rates in Europe pre-Columbus, and hence focuses on the development of Buddhist and Islamic civilizations in a non-eurocentric world?

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    Actually, The Years of Rice and Salt was one of the books assigned for a paper topic in this class!

    But I’ve toyed with teaching a class on the counterfactual as an idea and a genre in historical writing. Maybe I could find someone in the Philosophy Department interested in the philosophy of causation and in counterfactuals in logic to teach with it.

  4. kg says:

    This reminds me of a class I taught for at UC San Diego called The Makings of the Modern World. Said class attempts to fuse history and writing in really interesting ways. In my four terms of service, I found that it managed to keep all sides of the religious and political spectrum content, despite its treatment of the bible as literature. Imagine a course like your “Whole Enchilada” as required for all students…

  5. Nicole says:

    That would be a great team taught course. Too bad I neither teach at Swarthmore nor specialize in causation and counterfactuals.

  6. withywindle says:

    Obviously better than standard world histories because it is “an exploration of world history as a form of historical writing” and “not a survey of events in world history.” Some thoughts:

    1) There are Marxists abounding in this syllabus.

    Ye-eah. A case to be made for pruning. See below.

    2) a highly granular difference in pedagogical philosophy.

    I think you have enough granular in your breakfast already. Are granular contributions to the public sphere doubleplusgood? A different set of catch-words, for heaven’s sake!–although I note here that the whole idea of granularity is *itself* a critique of the idea of world history, and I don’t actually see that critique expressed in the readings for your syllabus. (Although I’m not familiar with everything in it, and could be mistaken.) Could you (after pruning away some other week) include something on 1) the justification for microhistory–I’m pretty sure Ginzberg or some such wrote an essay; 2) Miguel de Unamuno’s theory of intrahistoria; 3) an argument on the specificity of a particular history–shall we say the Russian school of Turanian history, and Chaadaev’s letters on the nature of Russian history? Or something of that nature? I suspect you go over this in an early lecture, but I think some readings would help.

    3) You mention Marx in your Enlightenment lecture, and the Lemon article, but why not give them a short extract of Marx’s own writing?–for example, how he considers Asiatic kingdoms in his historical analysis.

    4) Pieter Geyl has a collection of essays on historians, including Ranke, Spengler, and Toynbee. I don’t know whether they would fit into your class, but you might find it interesting to take a look at them.

    5) For extra credit, get the English major in your class to write an analysis of how too much Toynbee made James Blish’s *Cities in Flight* ultimately frustrating and dull.

    6) I confess I haven’t read McNeill’s Rise of the West. Do these readings emphasize the political-intellectual as an explanatory factor? I hope at least one of these readings does. Huntington is insufficient–more on that later.

    7) Speaking of the “longue duree,” there’s Braudel and the time it takes to read on his bricks. I really enjoyed *The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World,* but never summoned up the appetite to read another of his opuses cover to cover. I take it these are good extracts?

    8) So, trimming the Marxism. As you say, you have a number of them, and perhaps in the long run not all are necessary. My nominee to trim one would be Wallerstein–essentially because I read Part I twice–found it wonderfully insightful and thought provoking at the beginning of graduate school–found it somewhat shopworn and full of holes later on, and not wearing its age well. I suspect he will be forgotten relatively soon, and that your students could forego him without harm.

    9) I suspect I might be allergic to some of your later choices if I’d read them, but that’s merely the truculent gut speaking. I’ll presume they’re well chosen, lacking knowledge beyond the gut. Knowledge of the field, grumble grumble grumble.

    10) Keegan’s *Face of Battle* is about the European military experience, not world military experience. You might substitute selections from John Lynn’s *Battle*, a recent response to Keegan that does include fighting from India, etc., in its chapters. Also, an article by Inga Clendinnen that I find deeply, hairpullingly misguided but interesting, on Cortes in Mexico as a signifying conqueror, might be pushed in somehow.

    11) Fukuyama and Huntington. Sigh. I know why you’re doing this, but I have no great compulsion to have them in this course. Fukuyama posits the end of history, and within a decade the WTC has fallen and history is clearly not at an end. Surely his half-life is shorter than Wallerstein’s? And Huntington … I agree with much of what he posits, but it struck me as badly written, popularizing synthesis. Can’t you find anyone better to make his points? Note, incidentally, a paleo-con political project implicit in his book, which you can see in the maps: by his arguments, Israel is not part of “our” civilization, and can be quietly abandoned by the West.

    12) Diamond … I confess to only skimming him in the bookstore, and all I could think was “didn’t Alfred Crosby already do this? And is Diamond giving Crosby enough credit?” I really liked reading *Ecological Imperialism*; any chance for a subsitution? McNeill’s *Plagues and Peoples* struck me as rather tedious, and the whole humans as a plague schtick raises my use-of-Nazi-metaphors-about-Jews hackles; telling the students about it rather than making them read it seems like a good idea.

    13) Hobsbawm … another Marxist with a short half-life. Yeah, yeah, he’s readable, but tendentious and unreliable, particularly in The Age of Extremes. Why not an extract from Paul Johnson’s *The Birth of the Modern* or *Modern Times* instead? Or see how the two of them treat the same incident? When I talk about “soft skew,” the fact that you use a marginally interesting Marxist like Hobsbawn is, I am afraid, a rather good example.

    14) Just for amusement value, stick in a page of Norman Davies’ Polonocentric history of Europe.

  7. Timothy Burke says:

    I like these suggestions and observations.

    However, much as I agree with you about Huntington, there are two reasons to assign him. First, as a matter of responsible intellectual history. If you’re trying to teach intellectual history, you have to teach the texts that fall within particular lineages of debate. Even when you have a preferable alternative that offers some of the same ideas, if everyone is speaking to the text you dislike, you’re obligated to teach students about the work that actually inspired later responses. Second, I’ve discovered over the years that you get much more mileage in a course assigning flawed but conceptually assertive work than “blue chip” scholarship. The more wonderfully craftlike and careful a work of scholarship is, the less of an inspiration to discussion for undergraduates it can be. The kinds of discussions you get from such work end up being, “Well, this must be right!”

    I think the next time I teach this, however, I will use Paul Johnson rather than Hobsbawm–I had thought of doing so last time. Braudel and Wallerstein are too important to skip, though, again in the context of the lineage of “world history”: they launched so much “routine” scholarly work by others. The John Lynn suggestion is great; with The Face of Battle what I was thinking about was less that it was world-historical in scope and more that it was offering a framework for thinking about military history that was world-historically applicable. It would be better to have someone who was in fact using a world-historical scale.

    Having a week where microhistory emerges as a concrete rather than implicit challenge to world history strikes me as great, since my heart is more in microhistorical writing anyway. Ginzberg does indeed have such an essay; several in fact. The Geyl I don’t know; I’ll head off to have a look at it this summer.

    Rather than Clendinnen (who I do like, on both Cortes and the Holocaust) I almost might assign Tzevtan Todorov for a similar reason.

    Diamond annoys me, for many reasons, but I offer him in order to introduce sociobiological ideas about global history, where I do think he diverges some from Crosby, who is much more of a “historian’s historian”.

  8. jgoodwin says:

    The next time you do this you will teach Paul Johnson instead of Wallerstein?

    Excuse me? What manner of depraved lunacy is this? Johnson’s Intellectuals is the worst book ever written, worse than Radical Son or indeed anything you can imagine.

    I’m holding out some hope for irony here, as are all your readers and all freedom-loving peoples.

  9. Timothy Burke says:

    Johnson instead of Hobsbawm. Wallerstein is a fixed presence in this syllabus.

    Not Johnson’s Intellectuals. The Birth of the Modern.

  10. jgoodwin says:

    I was so flabbergasted I lost track of names.

    How would you assess Johnson’s book vis-à-Hobsbawm’s then? You think Johnson’s a more reliable, more interesting historian than Hobsbawm? It’s hard not to recall the camera obscura when reading withy’s proclamation above that Hobsbawm is “tendentious and unreliable” seconds before recommending Paul Johnson.

    And The Great Transformation might work. I also have a theory that no more than twenty people currently alive have read all of The Decline of the West. Are you one of them? Every page?

  11. Timothy Burke says:

    Not much more reliable–I don’t share Withywindle’s negative opinion of Hobsbawm. More that Johnson at that point in the class would be something very different than what the students had seen before.

    Every page of Spengler many moons ago, yes. It’s a hard book to teach in this class, because–if I can be frank–it’s pretty dull. But it’s important and with the limited range that the students read, we can do some things with it.

  12. withywindle says:

    At the very least, I find Johnson more interestingly unreliable. But really, you don’t recollect finding Age of Extremes a teensy, weensy bit, um, off?

  13. jgoodwin says:

    I have read substantial portions of it and am trying to finish it, but I tend to be one of these people who subscribes to the “great unread” thesis: that almost every long and difficult (and boring, yes) book survives through skims and cribs. Whenever someone has read one, it seems like, it was long ago and not much is remembered. Honestly, long ago one was playing Nethack when much of this reading Spengler long into the night was supposed to have taken place. (I kid a little, of course. Perhaps you read at Miriam Burstein-like rates. Perhaps you thought that the Magian cycle was nigh.)

    But the more important point here is that you would have to agree, I suppose, that comparing Johnson to Hobsbawm as historian is mildly obscene. Making that kind of intellectual trade-off for diversity’s sake is a far greater sin than any of the ACTA-chimeras, as far as I can tell.

  14. Timothy Burke says:

    I don’t build undergraduate syllabi to showcase the best historians in the sense of craftwork; I build them to sketch out the boundaries of an intellectual space, to generate discussion, to create tensions and highlight contradictions. If I was choosing the best historians writing about world history from a craftwork standpoint, I’d largely assign folks who do “global history”, current practicioners in that field.

  15. texter says:

    “Global History”? – a few names please, when convenient… Thank you.

  16. Simon Shoedecker says:

    A totally different topic, but I was intrigued by the statement, “Attendance, as per History Department policy, is required.”

    Is this a common policy today? In my day as a major-university history major, 30 years ago, attendance was never required. The only penalty for missing too many classes was getting a poor grade on the class-participation element. Instructors were very strict about assignment deadlines, however.

    Students were pretty conscientious about attendance as far as I observed. But they might skip an occasional lecture class without saying anything to anybody. In some large lectures, discussion sections were where assignments were dealt with, and attendance was very good; in others they were strictly voluntary and couldn’t have held everybody if they’d all showed up. In seminars, one told (not asked) the prof beforehand of a pre-scheduled absence, and explained a sickness absence on one’s return, but politeness, not department rules, enforced this.

    I suspect the subsequent advent of e-mail has done a lot towards creating stricter standards of communication in this regard.

  17. Sam says:

    If I can ask a genuinely ignorant question… (Believe me, I can: there’s ample precedent.)

    I’m curious how a professional historian evaluates the work of Hayden White and the like. As a literary critic, I find his Metahistory profoundly provocative and intriguing (and still packing some punch three decades after its publication), but I’m pretty removed from the world of “actual” historians. (Possibly, and ungenerously to myself, because being a prrofessional historian requires “actual” knowledge.) So: does White’s book, and others like it, have any impact on the way professional historians think about their narrative practice?

  18. Timothy Burke says:

    Simon, the attendance notice in a syllabus was put in by request of my department. The problem that a few faculty in the department got into was that when they based some of their grade on poor attendance, two students complained that they were never told explicitly that attendance would play a role in the grade. So we all put that language in as a way of establishing that attendance *could* be used as an evaluative instrument. For me, I’d say that poor attendance has a way of creating poor performance on papers and exams, so it takes care of itself as a criteria for evaluation in that way. But if someone is chronically absent, I do use that as a way to “fudge downward” a borderline grade derived from performance on assignments. (e.g., a B minus/C plus performance on assignments gets tipped by bad attendance to a C plus). Other faculty in my department are much more exacting in the way they measure and use attendance, but the language is in there to protect our collective right to use it as we see fit in evaluation.

    Sam: That’s a huge topic! But yes, Hayden White had a huge impact on the practice of most professional historians, and Metahistory was a key driver of what is often called “the linguistic turn” in history. I’ll see if I can’t work up an entry on this at some point in relation to a course I’m teaching next spring.

  19. withywindle says:

    I hated reading White in my Intro to Historiography class, but I seem to partake of “the linguistic turn” myself. So even if wary of some (many?!?) of his arguments, as I recollect them mistily, I can’t help but be influenced by him.

  20. Simon Shoedecker says:

    My recollection is that all my professors who used class participation as an element in grading made clear, when discussing their grading policies at the start of the term, that if you weren’t there you couldn’t participate. How much non-participation or non-presence you could get away with was up to you, though guidelines were sometimes offered.

    Nobody ever gave you specific points off for unexcused absences, though, as they would in high school. But that’s what the warning in your syllabus sounded as if you do.

    Fascinating class topic, by the way, and it would have tempted me (as a history major) even though I have little taste for or interest in those giant big-picture stylist historians.

  21. Timothy Burke says:

    That’s the interesting thing for me about this class. I have very strong preferences for microhistorical scales of analysis, but it’s “good to think” at the other end of things for a while.

  22. abstractart says:

    As a student who took this class not so many moons ago, I can say that Spengler is one of the few out of the list of books that were assigned as entire books rather than excerpts where I *did* end up reading the whole damn thing. Him, Fukuyama, our excerpted copy of ibn Khaldun (which still counts because what was excerpted I read from physical cover to physical cover) and whichever book I ended up doing a book report on (I think McNeill, though I could be wrong).

    I have no idea why this ended up being true, since I liked many of the other books far more but never got around to doing more than jumping around within the text.

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