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The Roman orator Cicero once remarked that "History is the witness of the times, the torch of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity." In spite of these noble words, historians have often labored under the burden of justifying the value of studying events that are over and done. Humankind is practical, more concerned with its present and future than with its past. And yet the study of history provides us with unique opportunities for human self-knowledge. It teaches us what we have done and therefore helps define what we are. On a less abstract level, the study of history enables us to judge present circumstance by drawing on the laboratory of the past. Those who have lived and died, through their recorded attitudes, actions and ideas, have left a legacy of experience.
One of the best ways to travel through time and space and perceive the very "humanness" that lies at the root of history is through the study of primary sources. These are the documents, coins, letters, inscriptions and monuments of past ages. The task of historians is to evaluate this evidence with a critical eye and then construct a narrative that is consistent with the "facts" as they have established them. Such interpretations are inherently subjective and are therefore open to dispute. History is thus filled with controversy as historians argue their way toward the "truth." The only way to work toward an understanding of the past is through personal examination of the primary sources.
Yet, for the beginning student, this poses some difficulties. Such inquiry casts the student adrift from the security of accepting the "truth" as revealed in a textbook. In fact, history is too often presented in a deceptively objective manner; one learns "facts and dates" in an effort to obtain the "right answers" for multiple-choice tests. But the student who has wrestled with primary sources and has experienced voices from the past on a more intimate level accepts the responsibility of evaluation and judgment. He or she understands that history does not easily lend itself to "right answers," but demands reflection on the problems that have confronted past societies and are at play even in our contemporary world. Cicero was right in viewing history as the "life of memory." But human memory is fragile and the records of the past can be destroyed or distorted. Without the past, people have nothing with which to judge what they are told in the present. Truth then becomes the preserve of the ruler or government, no longer relative, but absolute. The study of history, and primary sources in particular, goes far in making people aware of the continuity of humankind and the progress of civilization.
Aspects of World Civilization offers the student an opportunity to evaluate the primary sources of the past and to do so in a structured and organized format. The documents provided are diverse in nature and include state papers, secret dispatches, letters, diary accounts, poems, newspaper articles, papal encyclicals, and propaganda flyers. Occasionally, the assessments of modern historians are included to lend perspective. All give testimony to human endeavor in world societies. Yet, this two-volume book has been conceived as more than a simple compilation of primary sources. The subtitle of the work, Problems and Sources in History, gives true indication of the nature of its premise. It is meant to provide the student with thoughtful and engaging material, that is focused around individual units that encompass time periods, specific events, and historical questions. Students learn from the past most effectively when posed with problems that have meaning for their own lives. In evaluating the material from Aspects of World Civilization, the student will discover that issues are not nearly as simple as they may appear at first glance. Historical sources often contradict each other and truth then depends on logic and one's own experience and outlook on life. Throughout these volumes, the student is confronted with basic questions regarding historical development, human nature, moral action, and practical necessity. The text is therefore broad in its scope and incorporates a wide variety of political, social, economic, religious, intellectual, and scientific issues. It is internally organized around eight major themes that provide direction and cohesion to the text while allowing for originality of thought in both written and oral analysis:
1. Imperialism. How has imperialism been justified throughout world history and what are the moral implications of gaining and maintaining empire? Is defensive imperialism a practical foreign policy option? This theme is often juxtaposed with subtopics of nationalism, war, altruism, and human nature.
2. Church/State Relationships. Is there a natural competition between these two controlling units in society? Which is more influential, which legacy more enduring? How has religion been used as a means of securing political power or of instituting social change?
3. Beliefs and Spirituality. The diverse religious heritage of world civilization forms the basis of this theme. In particular, the text covers the primary tenets and historical development of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also focuses on the impact of ideas and philosophical movements on society. How have religious values and moral attitudes affected the course of world history? To what extent have spiritual reform movements resulted in a change of political or social policy? Are ideas more powerful than any army? Why have so many people died fighting for religions that abhor violence? Does every society need a spiritual foundation?
4. Systems of Government. This theme seeks to introduce the student to the various systems of rule that have shaped world civilization: classical democracy, representative democracy (republican government), oligarchy, constitutional monarchy, divine-right monarchy, theocracy, and dictatorship (especially fascism and totalitarian rule). What are the advantages and drawbacks to each? This rubric also includes the concepts of balance of power and containment, principles of succession, geopolitics, and social and economic theories such as capitalism, communism, and socialism.
5. Revolution. This theme seeks to define and examine the varieties of revolution: political, intellectual, economic, and social. What were the underlying and precipitating causes of political revolution? How essential is the intellectual foundation? Are social demands and spontaneity more important elements in radical action?
6. Propaganda. What is the role of propaganda in history? Many sections examine the use and abuse of information, often in connection with absolute government, revolution, imperialism, or genocide. How are art and architecture, as well as written material, used in the "creation of belief"? This theme emphasizes the relativity of truth and stresses the responsibility of the individual in assessing the validity of evidence.
7. Women in History. The text intends to help remedy the widespread omission of women from history and to develop an appreciation of their contributions to the intellectual and political framework of world civilization. At issue is how women have been viewed--or rendered invisible--throughout history and how individually and collectively their presence is inextricably linked with the development and progress of civilization. This inclusive approach stresses the importance of achieving a perspective that lends value and practical application to history.
8. Historical Change and Transition. What are the main determinants of change in history? How important is the individual in effecting change, or is society regulated by unseen social and economic forces? What role does chance play? What are the components of civilization and how do we assess progress or decline? Are civilizations biological in nature? Is a crisis/response theory of change valid? This theme works toward providing the student with a philosophy of history and against the tendency to divide history into strict periods. It stresses the close connection between the past and the present.
The overriding theme that provides a foundation and overall unity to the text is that of cultural interaction. How have the diverse cultures of the world been linked by political systems, economic contact, social and religious movements, philosophy, art, literature, and such variables as disease and war? In what ways have world civilizations over the centuries struggled with similar challenges and contributed to the progress or destruction of humanity? How has the world community become increasingly dependent on cooperation and international understanding in achieving domestic stability, security, and prosperity?
STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK
Each chapter begins with a timeline chronology so that students may visualize the historical parameters of the chapter. This is generally followed by a series of quotations from various historians, diplomats, philosophers, literary figures, or religious spokespersons who offer insight on the subject matter of the chapter. These quotations may well be used in conjunction with the study questions at the end of the unit. After the quotations, chapter themes are listed and framed by several questions that direct the reader to broader issues and comparative perspectives with ideas and events in other chapters. This feature acknowledges the changing perspectives of different eras while linking historical problems that emphasize the continuity of history. A general introduction then provides a brief historical background and focuses the themes or questions to be discussed in the chapter.
Following this general introduction, the primary sources are presented with extensive direction for the student. A headnote explains in more detail the historical or biographical background for each primary source and focuses attention on themes or interrelationships with other sources. Each chapter concludes with a chronology designed to orient the student to the broader context of history, and a series of study questions that can form the basis of oral discussion or written analysis. The questions do not seek mere regurgitation of information, but demand a more thoughtful response based on reflective analysis of the primary sources.
This analysis is even more specifically focused by the inclusion of Timelink chapters throughout the sectional divisions. These chapters function as assessments of particular eras or historical problems that are connected intimately to the subject matter in the section and provide a direct comparison between societies. TimeLink chapters frame the readings with initial questions to consider and follow-up questions that provide links to visual and written sources in previous chapters. Each volume also contains eight to ten comparative sources in a feature called The Historical Intersection. These readings provide the student with an immediate opportunity to compare two documents, which, although from different eras and societies, are linked through one of the historical themes mentioned above. This interactive feature will help students analyze the continuity of the past and appreciate the relevancy of historical inquiry.
USE OF THE BOOK
Aspects of World
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