Understanding the Modern World

Understanding the Modern World

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This course is being offered to members of the University of the Third Age in Worthing. Please feel free to use the material on your own courses. I can also supply you with the primary sources that go with the sessions.

1. Introduction: What is History?

2. The Romans in Britain

3. The Dark Ages and Alfred the Great

4. The Battle of Hastings

5. William the Conqueror and the Feudal System

6. The Struggle for Power: The Sons of William the Conqueror

7. The Monarchy, the Church and the Barons

8. The Economic Consequences of the Black Death

9. The Peasant's Revolt and the end of Feudalism

10. The Tudors and Religious Reforms

11. The English Bible

12. Mary and Elizabeth: Catholics and Protestants

13. The English Civil War

14. The Commonwealth and Restoration

15. The Birth of Capitalism: Richard Arkwright and Robert Owen

16. James Watt and Steam Power

17. Transport and the Industrial Revolution

18. The British Empire

19. Parliamentary Reform

20. Marxism and the 19th Century

21. Life in 19th Century Britain

22. Political Parties in the 19th Century

23. The Struggle for Women's Rights: 1500-1870

24. Emancipation of Women: 1870-1928

25. The Growth of Liberalism: 1880-1910

26. Political Crisis in Britain: 1910-1914

27. Outbreak of the First World War

28. First World War: 1914-1916

29. The Romanov Dynasty

30. Russia in Revolution: 1890-1918

31. The United States and the First World War

32. The First World War Peace Settlement

33. Russia: 1918-1924

34: Britain: 1918-1924

35. The Birth of Modern Capitalism

36. John Maynard Keynes and the Wall Street Crash

37. The Great Depression in Britain

38. Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt

39. The New Deal

40. Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky

41. Adolf Hitler (1889-1924)

42. Adolf Hitler (1924-1928)

43. Life in Nazi Germany: 1933-1939

44. Hitler and the Night of the Long Knives

45. Anti-Semitism in Britain

45. Fascism in Britain in the 1930s

46. Fascism in Sussex

47. Spanish Civil War

48. British Foreign Policy: 1919-1939

49. Winston Churchill: 1874-1906

50. Winston Churchill: 1906-1916

51. Winston Churchill: 1916-1926

52. Winston Churchill: 1927-1939

53. Clement Attlee: 1883-1918

54. Clement Attlee: 1919-1939

55. Stanley Baldwin

56. Appeasement: 1935-1938

57. Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

58. Britain at War: 1939-1940

59. Finland, Norway and Dunkirk

60. Operation Sea Lion and the Battle of Britain

61. The Blitz: September 1940 - May 1941

62. Bomb Disposal Unit, Air Raid Wardens and the British Media

63. Nazi Germany Invades the Soviet Union

64. The British Security Co-Ordination and Pearl Harbor

65. War in the Far East: 1941-1942

66. Adolf Hitler and Anti-Semitism

67. Jews in Nazi Germany

Understanding the Modern World PDF

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3.1.1 Paper 1: Understanding the modern world

There are four modern world period studies to choose from.

Each period study has a focus of one country over a period of around 50 years. The period studies are national in their focus, allowing students to study the domestic history of a country and its people in a period of change. They are all based on an unfolding narrative of two substantial and related developments and offer students the opportunity to study the impact these developments had on people. Students will gain a coherent understanding of these developments and their impact on people through a variety of perspectives: political, social and cultural, economic, the role of ideas and the contribution of individuals and groups.

The assessment will enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. Students will also apply their knowledge and understanding to second order concepts such as causation, consequence and change. Students will also evaluate interpretations.

Section B: Wider world depth studies

There are five modern European/wider world depth studies to choose from.

Each depth study investigates international conflict. Students will be able to deepen their understanding of the modern world. In each study, the conflict studied requires a focus on a complex historical situation and interplay of different aspects within it. Students will gain a coherent understanding of how and why conflict occurred and why it proved difficult to resolve the immediate issues which resulted from it. As part of the study the role of key individuals and groups is considered as well as how they were affected by and influenced international relations.

The assessment will enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in relation to second order historical concepts such as causation and consequence. There will be an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to create structured analytical narrative accounts of key events. They will also be able to demonstrate their ability to understand, analyse and evaluate a range of sources.

AQA GCSE History: Understanding the Modern World

Create a stimulating, well-paced teaching route through the 2016 GCSE History specification using this tailor-made series that draws on a legacy of market-leading history textbooks and the individual subject specialisms of the author team to inspire student success.

- Motivate your students to deepen their subject knowledge through an engaging and thought-provoking narrative that makes historical concepts accessible and interesting to today's learners

- Embed progressive skills development in every lesson with carefully designed Focus Tasks that encourage students to question, analyse and interpret key topics

- Take students' historical understanding to the next level by using a wealth of original contemporary source material to encourage wider reflection on different periods

- Help your students achieve their potential at GCSE with revision tips and practice questions geared towards the changed assessment model, plus useful advice to aid exam preparation

- Confidently navigate the new AQA specification using the expert insight of experienced authors and teachers with examining experience

This single core text contains all four period studies and the following wider world depth studies:

The Modern World View vs The Traditional World View A brief introduction

There are only two fundamental ways, because all ways are variants on one of these two.

The first – the traditional world view – is the way that humans have looked at the world since the beginning – it is certainly the way that all known human societies have looked at the world: native Americans, Australian aboriginals, the Chinese Empire, the Indian empire (not the later British Raj), the Persian Empire, the ancient Egyptians, the Incas, the Aztecs, the Inuit, the Moslem civilization, Christendom (before the so-called "Enlightenment") and all other known human societies.

The second way – the modern world view – is the way people in Europe began looking at the world after the seventeenth-century "Enlightenment".

This movement actually began in Periclean Athens and gained momentum throughout the "Classical" civilization. But it did not develop into a truly modern world view – that is, to the point where people were no longer thinking in the way that all humans have thought through almost all their history.

With the fall of Rome, that "Classical" outlook largely died and was not resurrected until the Renaissance – which means "rebirth" and refers precisely to the rebirth of the Classical civilization. It was at this point that the modern world view began to take shape.

But even during the Renaissance people still largely held to the traditional world view. The real modern world view did not begin until the so-called "Enlightenment" of the mid 17th century.

What is the traditional world view?

This is a large subject, but to summarize a little of it, one salient characteristic that all the diverse traditional civilizations have in common is that they saw the universe as an intelligent and intelligible whole. They would not say, for example as a typical product of the modern world view recently said to us:

The traditional world view held that all things had meaning, and that the sun and moon represented primary principles that govern all being.

Was this ignorance? Was it that they did not understand about gas and satellites? That, of course, is what post-"Enlightenment" propaganda teaches. Many traditional societies did not know much about the physical properties of the universe, because that is not what primarily interested them. On the other hand, quite a few of them knew a surprising amount about the physical "facts" but understood that they were only the outward signs of eternal Principles – not mere physical "accidents" as the modern mind imagines them to be.

The "Enlightenment" brought in a new doctrine, which truly began the modern world view. This was the doctrine that the physical senses are our only source of sure knowledge. In doing this they turned their backs on the wisdom of the whole of humanity before them. They believed that physical facts and "evidence" are our only way of knowing.

Descartes was one of the earliest proponents of this new skepticism, and he was a very radical thinker. He said that ultimately we can be sure of nothing, not even the evidence of our senses. All we can know for certain , without any reliance on traditional wisdom, is cogito ergo sum – "I think therefore I am". He was quite right. If we are genuinely skeptical, we should not logically make a special exception for the sense-data and their supposed "evidence". But, of course, without "cheating" and making a special exception, there could have been no further thought.

So the "empirical" doctrine was born, in which material "evidence" became the only basis for any acceptable knowledge and the aggregate wisdom of millennia was arrogantly cast aside.

This was purely an arbitrary decision. It has become a faith. It is not the only way the world can be seen, and it is not the "obvious" and "transparent" way that modern people seem to imagine it is. It is one particular way that is so ingrained into the modern consciousness that for the most part they can conceive of no other way, and when they see another way, they demand that it prove itself by satisfying the demands of their way. Demanding material evidence of non-material things is like asking chess to prove itself by scoring a touchdown.

If anyone seriously wants to learn more about this way of looking at things I strongly recommend that you read this. We think it is the best introduction for anyone who really wants to understand the two ways of looking at the world.

5. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn created one of the most important American history books of all time, and it should be read by anyone who wants to know the real history of the US from the point of view of real people, such as factory workers, immigrants, African-Americans, Native Americans, and many other groups of people that were neglected and marginalized for years. A People’s History of the United States is an exceptional history book, but because it was one of the first books in the US to tell its history from a different perspective, it often stirs up controversy even today.

99 Free Courses to Teach Yourself World History

With new technology making the world more interconnected every day, it can be beneficial no matter what field you work in to have a good idea of the history of not only your own country but those around the world. These open courses will help you to learn about history in diverse countries and time periods to give you a well rounded knowledge of the social, political and intellectual history that has shaped the modern world.

These courses cover world history as a whole or address multiple areas under their topic of study.

  1. The World Since 1492: This course focuses on four major areas of world history: the struggles between Europeans and colonized peoples the global formation of capitalist economies and industrialization the emergence of modern states and the development of the tastes and disciplines of bourgeois society.[MIT]
  2. The Economic History of Work and Family: Check out this course to learn about the changing roles of men and women in labor, in the factory and in the home. The course focuses on Europe and America, but addresses these issues in non-Western areas as well. [MIT]
  3. Econ and World History: In this course, you will learn about both the historical and the economic changes in the world since ancient civilizations first began trading and selling goods. [WGU]
  4. Monarchs, People and History: This course will help you learn about the origins and reasons for the monarchy and the role it played in the history of Europe and around the world under European imperialism. [UMass Boston]
  5. A Comprehensive Outline of World History: Use this course to learn about world history from 8000 BC to 1900. [Connexions]
  6. Topics in Culture and Globalization: Here you'll learn about the impact of globalization and how it has affected nations around the world, in the past and today. [MIT]
  7. Economic History: Take a look at this course to examine important elements of economic history from the rise of industrialization to the movement into consumer culture today. [MIT]

These helpful courses will give you a good background on American history, from its discovery to its present day role in the world.

  1. American History to 1865: Check out this course to learn about American history from the colonial period to the Civil War. [MIT]
  2. The Emergence of Modern America: 1865 to Present: This course examines the events that shaped and influenced the emergence of modern America. [MIT]
  3. Riots, Strikes, and Conspiracies in American History: These events can be traumatic ones. Take this course to learn how they impact American history politically and socially. [MIT]
  4. The American Revolution: Here you'll get a focused education on the intricacies of the American Revolution from beginning to end. [MIT]
  5. The Civil War and Reconstruction: Learn more about this particularly tumultuous period in American history, from the events that brought it about to the eventually reunification of a nation. [MIT]
  6. The Places of Migration in United States History: Through this course you'll learn not only about the U.S. but about the experience of immigrants from all over the world as they arrived and began new lives. [MIT]
  7. America in Depression and War: Take this course to gain a better understanding of the events of the Great Depression and World War II. [MIT]
  8. Gender and the Law in U.S. History: If you're interested in learning more about the relationship between women and the legal system, you'll get a great survey in this course. [MIT]
  9. American Urban History I: Through this course, you'll examine the importance and growth of urban centers in the U.S. from 1850 to the present. [MIT]
  10. American Consumer Culture: Ever wonder how today's consumer culture and the idea of the "good life" came to be? Check out this course to examine the process historically and thematically. [MIT]

Give these courses a try to gain a better understanding of the history of Europe as well as its interactions with the rest of the world.

  1. The Emergence of Europe: 500-1300: This course will cover a wide range of European history, including the crusades and various other conquests. [MIT]
  2. The Renaissance: 1300-1600: Learn more about this period in European history when the arts and intellectual pursuits flourished. [MIT]
  3. France 1660-1815: Enlightenment, Revolution, Napoleon: This course can be a great way to learn more about the history of France, with lessons in changes in intellectual and political thought. [MIT]
  4. The Royal Family: Through this course, you can learn a great deal about the British royal family from 1714 to the present. [MIT]
  5. The Age of Reason: Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries: Here you will learn more about the emergence of science and mathematics in Europe. [MIT]
  6. European Imperialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Check out this course to learn about British imperialism from Polynesia to India. [MIT]
  7. The Making of Modern Europe, 1453 to the Present: From the age of Machiavelli to the fall of the Soviet Empire, this class will give you a good overview of European history. [Berkeley]
  8. The Rise and Fall of the Second Reich: Take this course to learn about German history in the period between the Holy Roman Empire and WWI. [Berkeley]
  9. Nineteenth Century Europe: This course will take you through European history from 1815 to 1900. [UMass Boston]
  10. Modern Irish History from 1800 to Present: Give this class a try to learn about the rise of Irish nationalism and the eventual establishment of national independence. [UMass Boston]
  11. Welsh History and Its Sources: Through this course, you'll learn about Welsh history and learn what institutions are responsible for discovering and preserving this information. [OpenLearn]
  12. Arthurian Literature and Celtic Colonization: This course will focus on the mythology of King Arthur but will also show how these legends relate to the very real historical events happening in England, Brittany, Wales and Scotland. [MIT]

USSR and Russia

These courses will help you learn more about Russia, from the medieval era all the way up to the 1990's.

  1. The Making of Russia in the Worlds of Byzantium, Mongolia, and Europe: This course will delve into the influences that shaped Medieval and early modern Russia. [MIT]
  2. Imperial and Revolutionary Russia, 1800-1917: This course analyzes Russia's social, cultural, political heritage. [MIT]
  3. Soviet Politics and Society, 1917-1991: Through this class, you will learn about the Soviet empire, Communism, and the shift to democracy. [MIT]
  4. Cold War Science: Look through the material provided by this course to learn more about the science that helped foster the space race and nuclear paranoia during the Cold War. [MIT]

Ancient and Medieval

Travel far back in time with these courses that focus on history from ancient civilizations and those during the dark ages.

  1. The Ancient World: Greece: This course will examine the history of Greece from the Bronze Age up to the rule of Alexander. [MIT]
  2. The Ancient World: Rome: Examine the rise and fall of the Roman empire through the use of primary sources and other historical documentation. [MIT]
  3. The Making of a Roman Emperor: Here you can learn more about the Roman emperors Augustus and Nero. [MIT]
  4. The Ancient City: This course will focus on urban architecture in Greece and Rome, using current and past archaeology as a starting point. [MIT]
  5. Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective: Learn more about the social and economic changes in medieval Europe and its connections to Islam, China and central Asia. [MIT]
  6. History of the Roman Empire: Trace the history of ancient Rome from its beginnings to its downfall in this course. [Berkeley]
  7. The Ancient Mediterranean World: This course will address the early civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Babylon. [Berkeley]
  8. The Dark Ages: Here you will learn about Europe and the near East from the fall of the Roman Empire until 1000 AD. [UMass Boston]
  9. Introduction to Ancient Greek History: Through this course you'll learn about Greek political, intellectual, and creative achievements from the Bronze Age to the end of the classical period. [Yale]

With some of the largest economies in the world and billions of inhabitants, Asian countries can't be ignored. These courses will help you learn more about them to help you become more culturally and politically savvy.

  1. East Asia in the World: Check out this course to learn about the interactions of east Asian countries (Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam) with the rest of the world and each other. [MIT]
  2. Japan in the Age of the Samurai: History and Film: Here you will learn about Japan from the 12th to 19th centuries and the many films that use samurai culture as a subject. [MIT]
  3. Smashing the Iron Rice Bowl: Chinese East Asia: This interesting course will help you to learn more about the everyday experience of Chinese people living through the changes that took place during the 19th and 20th centuries. [MIT]
  4. The Making of Modern South Asia: This course is a survey of Indian culture and history from 2500 BC to the present. [MIT]
  5. Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present: Learn more about the experiences of women in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka throughout history. [MIT]
  6. From the Silk Road to the Great Game: China, Russia, and Central Eurasia: In this course you will learn about the interactions across the Eurasian continent between Russians, Chinese, Mongolian nomads, and Turkic oasis dwellers during the last 1,500 years. [MIT]
  7. A Passage to India: Introduction to Modern Indian Culture and Society: Using films, short stories and novels, this course will attempt to give students a better understanding of the origins of modern Indian culture from the development of a caste system to the effects of globalization. [MIT]
  8. East Asian Cultures: From Zen to Pop: This course will examine the historical and contemporary culture of East Asia, including performance, manga, cuisine and more. [MIT]
  9. International Relations of East Asia: Learn about the effects of nuclear firepower and large scale economies in East Asia's power players relations with the rest of the world through this course. [MIT]
  10. Japanese Politics and Society: Here you will get a fundamental understanding of Japanese history, culture, politics and economy. [MIT]
  11. Government and Politics of China: Through readings and other materials, this course will help students gain a better understanding of modern China, both in the pre-Communist years and today. [MIT]

The Middle East

Because of its role in recent conflicts and dominance in the production of oil, many people have a lot of preconceived notions about the Middle East. These courses will help you learn about this region more fully, to gain a better understanding about its history and cultural influence.

  1. Islam, the Middle East, and the West: Here you can get a good overview of the major events from the rise of Islam to the present day, with lectures on the interactions with the Middle East and the West. [MIT]
  2. The Middle East in 20th Century: If you want to understand more about this region, including Egypt, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula and the Fertile Crescent, you'll get a great background from the Ottoman Empire up to the attacks of 9/11. [MIT]
  3. Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times: From the beginnings of Judaism to the present day, you'll learn about numerous aspects of Jewish history from this course. [MIT]
  4. Anthropology of the Middle East: Through this course, you will learn about traditional performances in the Middle East as well as historical perceptions of the Orient, religion, politics and more. [MIT]
  5. Islamic Societies of the Middle East and North Africa: Religion, History and Culture: Ranging from the Middle East to North Africa, this course will examine the spread of Islam and its impact on past and present politics, culture and society. [Notre Dame]
  6. Seminar on Politics and Conflict in the Middle East: Here you'll get an in-depth discussion on the evolution of the current political and power structures in the Middle East. [MIT]
  7. Women in Islamic Societies: This course will address both the historical position of women in Islamic societies as well as that which they hold today. [Notre Dame]

Latin America

These courses will help you to understand the emergence and political structure of today's Latin American countries.

  1. Modern Latin America, 1808-Present: Revolution, Dictatorship, Democracy: Check out this course to learn more about the history of Latin America, including its role in the global economy, indigenous cultures and more. [MIT]
  2. Political Economy of Latin America: In this course, you'll learn about the politics of economic reform in Latin America, with lessons on places like Venezuela, Mexico and more. [MIT]
  3. Introduction to Latin American Studies: Read through the materials offered by this course to learn about the history, culture and lived experiences of the diverse people in Latin America. [MIT]

Learn more about this large and diverse continent through these free courses.

  1. AIDS and Poverty in Africa: This course addresses the emergence of the AIDS virus in Africa and its present day impact as well as the overwhelming poverty that afflicts many areas. [MIT]
  2. Dwellings for Africa:Learn more about the history and contemporary existence of dwellings in South Africa through this course. [Connexions]
  3. Exploring a Romano-African City: Thugga: Go back to Roman Africa with thiscourse that provides historical and archaeological information. [OpenLearn]
  4. Information and Communication Technology in Africa: Through this course you'll learn about the emergence of technology in Africa and the effects it has had on urban life. [MIT]
  5. Medicine, Religion and Politics in Africa and the African Diaspora: You'll not only learn about contemporary African beliefs in this course, but the history of many groups of African people and their interactions with western medicine. [MIT]

Scientific History

These courses will help you to learn more about the emergence of modern science and technology.

  1. Introduction to Environmental History: Through this course, you will learn how people have interacted with their environment in the period after Columbus. [MIT]
  2. Modern Physics: From The Atom to Big Science: Learn how physics has played a role in politics and world history through this free course. [Berkeley]
  3. History of Public Health: This course will help you to learn about ideas and policies in public health have changed over the years. [Johns Hopkins]
  4. People and Other Animals: Gain a more thorough understanding of the interactions between man and other species through this course that examines current and past conflicts and events. [MIT]
  5. Nature, Environment, and Empire: This course addresses the relationship between the study of natural history by Europeans and Americans, and concrete exploitation of the natural world at home and in colonies. [MIT]
  6. Psychology History Timeline: Learn more about the evolution of the study of psychology in this course. [OpenLearn]
  7. EngineeringApollo: The Moon Project as a Complex System: In this class, you'll get a chance to learn about the historical events that led up to the successful moon landing. [MIT]
  8. Environmental Conflict and Social Change: Check out this course to learn how environmental issues have impacted cultures around the world. [MIT]
  9. Toward the Scientific Revolution: Here you can learn about the theories, thinkers and discoveries that preceded the scientific revolution. [MIT]

History of Art and Thought

Through these courses, you can gain a better understanding of the origins of modern theories, politics, art and more.

  1. History of Western Thought, 500-1300: This course will help you to learn more about intellectual traditions from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages. [MIT]
  2. From Print to Digital: Technologies of the Word, 1450-Present: Trace the history of the written word from the earliest printing presses to today's web technology. [MIT]
  3. Musée du Louvre: Learn more about how the impressive collection at the Louvre came to be through this course's historical exploration. [OpenLearn]
  4. History of Western Art and Civilization: Going country by country, this course will discuss the artistic and intellectual movements of Europe from the Roman era forward. [OpenLearn]
  5. Ancient Philosophy and Mathematics: Try out this course to learn about the foundations of ancient mathematics and to examine ideas of reason, logic and rationality. [MIT]
  6. European Thought and Culture: Ideas like religion, independence, capitalism and more are examined in this course that focuses on the modern era. [MIT]
  7. Foundations of Western Culture I: Homer to Dante: This course will provide an extensive reading list that will help you understand the cultural and political underpinnings of western culture from the Roman empire to the Renaissance.[MIT]
  8. Foundations of Western Culture II: Modernism: Part two of this course focuses on literature from the 17th to 20th centuries, examining the changes that occurred and the intellectual shifts. [MIT]

War and Revolution

Wars and revolutions have played a major role in shaping the world as we know it today. Learn more about these events, their causes and even how to possibly prevent them from happening again in these courses.

  1. Comparative Grand Strategy and Military Doctrine: This course looks at the military strategies of Britain, France, Germany and Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. [MIT]
  2. How to Stage a Revolution: This course examines the reasons why and the methods by which a society stages a revolution with nations around the world used as examples. [MIT]
  3. Civil War: Through this course you will learn about the origins and effects of civil war in places like the Balkans, Africa and more. [MIT]
  4. World War II: Check out this course to educate yourself on the causes and events of WWII and the eventually beginnings of the Cold War in the post-war era. [UW]
  5. War and American Society: Find out about the various ways that war has affected American citizens and culture through this course. [MIT]
  6. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: If you want to learn more about the reality of the National Socialist Party, this course is a great way to dive into issues of which you may not have been aware. [MIT]
  7. Civil-Military Relations: This course will lay out some of the basic tensions that arise between citizens and military past and present. [MIT]
  8. Causes and Prevention of War: Using World War I, World War II, Korea, Indochina, and the Peloponnesian, Crimean and Seven Years wars as examples, this course will look at ways that war can be avoided. [MIT]
  9. French Revolution: Here you can learn about the origins of the French Revolutions and the bloody aftermath that followed. [OpenLearn]

Group Specific

These courses focus on a specific group within a larger area to give you a focused view of their historical experience.

Two different types of "Hittites" are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament): the Canaanites, who were enslaved by Solomon and the Neo-Hittites, Hittite kings of northern Syria who traded with Solomon. The events related in the Old Testament occurred in the 6th century BCE, well after the glory days of the Hittite Empire.


1. Tony Judt, "The Story of Everything," New York Review of Books, September 11, 2000, and David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998).

2. Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

3. Carol Gluck (Columbia Univ.). Paper given at plenary session, "Consigning the Twentieth Century to History," 2000 annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

5. Caroline Walker Bynum, "The Last Eurocentric Generation," Perspectives (February 1996).

6. Omer Bartov, AHR (June 1998) Timothy Gilfoyle, AHR (February 1999) Celia Applegate, Kären Wigen, Vicente Rafael, and Michael O'Brien, AHR (October 1999).

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is acting editor of the American Historical Review and an associate professor at Indiana University.

Magic Has Shaped Our Understanding of the World

Traditional recipes and ancient "women's magic" have informed contemporary science and medicine — like the now-popular proposition that the use of turmeric may help curb the development of prostate cancer and other conditions.

"Until the university trade doctors arrived, it was all about women's magic — women were mostly in charge. It was mostly women who declared mythical visions and having direct connection to the gods through their spiritual experience," said University Distinguished Professor Albrecht Classen, specifically addressing the medieval era.

"Then came a power struggle as the mid-15th-century Catholic Church came down on things like this, saying that this was dark and evil. But these magicians, including others, served as the foundations for modern chemistry and medicine. The 16th-century Paracelsus was famous as an alternative medical researcher, but he was also maligned as a magician, like many other innovative scientists at that time."

The history of magic and how it has informed scientific research and advancement is a fairly new area of research, and it will be explored during the 13th annual International Symposium on Medieval and Early Modern Studies, to be held at the University of Arizona on Friday and Saturday. Organized by Classen, the conference, under the topic of "Magic and Magicians in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age," has pre-session events on Thursday.

The conference brings together dozens of medieval and early modern experts from the U.S., Germany, Mexico, France, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic, Finland and elsewhere to speak on issues related to the interplay of magic on scientific and humanistic domains.

Conference participants also will contribute to the planned next volume of "Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture," set for release in spring of 2017 by publisher Walter de Gruyter (located in Berlin and Boston), with Classen and Marilyn Sandidge of Westfield (Massachusetts) State University serving as co-editors.

"It is an absolute privilege and a huge honor that so many people from around the world are attending the conference," Classen said. "We are producing fundamental research. There is so more about heaven and earth than what science tells us."

In advance of the conference, Classen answered some of our questions:

Q: How do you define "magic"?

A: Magic, you could say, is associated with the devil. That's the Christian approach to condemning necromancy. The folkloric approach draws on driving forces in nature and by appealing to certain gods, formulas and magical charms which are thereby used to harness powers. There is a third approach — relying on necromantic forces not associated with the devil. Ultimately, to achieve their own goals, people hope and dream and pray. They believe they can use these appeals, or evoke powers. Whether it's necromancy or faith doesn't matter. Throughout time, people have done this all the time. Even with traditional medicine — sometimes it just doesn't help. But sometimes, a miracle happens. So we expand the concept of magic to mean anything anyone does to appeal to a higher power, an alternative episteme, as we might say.

Q: Why focus on the issue of magic, and why has it emerged as a topic for research?

A: Magic and magicians is a fantastic new topic, which is presented in the overall agenda to explore and discuss fundamental aspects of human life: the sciences, arts, culture. Our modern perspectives lay a groundwork for fundamental research in the future. Magic and necromancy, which were not approved by the church, were significant avenues to understand this world. This conference does not intend to fantasize about magical things, in a pretense world, but wants to uncover profound aspects of medieval and early modern epistemology. Magic and necromancy were significant avenues to understand this world, and they held tremendous sway in many different areas of human sciences and religion.

Q: Please explain further: How has magic shaped our understanding of the world?

A: Human life is determined by uncertain things we cannot control. Everyone knows the phrases "knock on wood" and "break a leg" to wish you good will and good luck. We have all of these odd ways of expressing ourselves to try to overcome the material and physical limitations of this world. With that, there is so much more about heaven and earth than what the sciences tell us.

Q: How are magic and science connected?

A: I don't want to say that magic is science, but there are some intriguing parallels. Magic is and was simply an attempt to understand the world, but in different ways and with different means that are not always tolerated by the authorities because they are not subject to verification and falsification.

Q: While not the central theme of the conference, can you speak to areas where there is evidence of magic in our contemporary lives?

A: Particularly in Arizona, a lot of people believe in earth forces. For example, people travel to the Sedona area, believing in the power of its springs and other water, and in earth lines. You have people in Tucson who believe there is evidence of a circle of stars being reflected throughout parts of the city and in areas like the Rillito River. Then, of course, there are people who believe in astrology, which is in a large sense magic through the belief in the power of the planets and an understanding that constellations have a direct impact on human life. Then there are the countless forms of folk beliefs that carry over today.

Q: What new or different understanding do you hope will come out of the investigation of magic?

A: We need to understand today our assumptions about religion as the dominant form of culture — be it Catholic, Protestant, Islam or Judaism. Those are just the dominant institutions when, really, there are thousands of different forms of faith, beliefs and superstitions, and they continue to constitute a subsurface of our modern-day lives. This, in some ways, reflects our power structures: who gets to dominate the discourse and who is in charge of the standard paradigm. It's not simply about magic it is really about our politics, science, the history of religion, the history of literature, the history of medicine and so forth. It's one of the most fascinating topics, and it's so much fun to explore the foundation of everything we know about premodern culture and history.

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