A social Scientific Approach to the Making of the Modern World

The Making of the Modern World:

A Social Scientific Approach to the Making of the Modern World

Caveat emptor: These lectures have sometimes been written and typed in haste so I hope they aren’t too poorly written and too confusing. Additionally, since I grew up, in part, in Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe (where English is often translated into English not American English) they contain spellings more consistent with English, Canadian English, and Australian English rather than American English. Finally, I consider myself just as much a European as American historian so I have tried to link developments in the US to developments in Europe and other Settler Societies (like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) if far too briefly. Enjoy.

Forward

The social sciences including history are not, in my opinion, hard or positivistic sciences (though we can get them closer to or further away from “hard science”). That doesn’t mean that they aren’t “scientific and that there aren’t facts, however. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963. There is such a thing as the Methodist Church. But not every analyst agrees on why Kennedy was assassinated: did a lone gunman do it? Were there several shooters? Was Lee Harvey Oswald a patsy? Nor do all analysts agree on the reasons for the assassination of Kennedy: was Castro paying back Kennedy for the CIA attempts to assassinate him? Was it the mafia who assassinated JFK? Was the CIA behind the assassination attempt? Is there any unquestionably right answer here?

The social sciences and history then are interpretive disciplines, perhaps even art forms. Social scientists have long disagreed with each other about the stuff of human history. And social scientists have long been impacted by their own social and cultural contexts both of which influence how they read or interpret history. Me included. My “job” in this class is to teach you the facts and to interpret those facts through the lens’s social scientists and humanities scholars have normally approached human life—economics, politics, cultural, demography, and geography. You don’t have to agree the perspectives I take. However, In this class I expect that you, if you are going to argue against my perspectives, will ground your criticisms in the best available empirical evidence and I expect that you will debate with me not ignore what I say or write. So if you don’t agree with my interpretations critique my approach and offer an alternative approach as long in empirical terms. Remember, this is a social science class not a theology class.

So what do I mean by grounding your criticisms in empirical facts? To give you an idea of what I expect I want to talk for a bit about how we analyse and define college towns. For many college towns are any town that has a college in it. The problem with this perspective, however, is that it is in the final analysis meaningless. And meaningless categorizations are not what the humanities and social sciences are all about. It is meaningless because it assumes that all towns with a college in them are alike and this assumption doesn’t allow us to distinguish between towns with colleges like New York City, New York, home to Columbia, NYU, CUNY, and other colleges, and Ithaca, New York. Are these towns really all the same or do they differ in some way?

I want to argue that there are differences, important differences, between these towns. Anyone who has ever been to Albany, New York and Ithaca, New York and gained an understanding of them knows that there is a difference between Ithaca and Albany. Ithaca is a college town. Cornell University dominates the city economically (Cornell employs one out of every three persons in Tompkins County), culturally (Cornell’s concerts, talks, exhibits dominate the city’s cultural life), demographically (those who go to Cornell and work there comprise a significant segment of the population of Ithaca and Tompkins County), geographically (Cornell constitutes a significant proportion of the geography of Ithaca), and politically (Cornell plays an important role in Ithaca politics).

Albany, New York, is not a college town. Albany is not dominated geographically, demographically, politically, economically, or culturally by the University at Albany, Saint Rose, or the professional schools of Union University near Albany Medical Center. It is a political town (the state is the city’s largest employer), a regional medical centre (Albany Med is the hospital for this region of upstate New York), and a regional shopping centre (people come from all around to shop at Crossgates Mall and Colonie Center).

The factors that I have looked at Ithaca and Albany through--geography, demography, economics, politics, and culture—are all the factors that the social scientists, including historians, look at the human world around them through. They are the factors that we will be looking at the stuff of this class through.

Fundamental to the social sciences and history (and academia in general) is being familiar with what you are analyzing. In this class I want us to closely analyse the stuff of history (and sociology, anthropology, geography, biology, and so on for that matter) before we make normative (whether ideological, theological, metaphysical, or aesthetic) claims about them. Taking on a dispassionate perspective is important in the social sciences and in this class. Looking at the stuff of human history as through the lenses of economics, politics, culture, demography, and geography factors allows us to be disspassionate. One also, however, has to be familiar with what they are studying. In order to analyse towns one must be familiar with specific towns. In order to analyse Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance, as a product of specific historical, social, cultural, and economic moments and longer historical, social, cultural, and economic factors we have to explore the institutional and economic contexts in which Buffy was made, what those people who made Buffy thought they were doing, and what the people who watch Buffy think they were doing.

This class is an introductory class in Global Comparative History from the “discovery” and settlement of new worlds by Europeans to today so this class is pretty basic. It is a class on the making of the modern world you and I live in and how that modern world all of us live in came about. I want to introduce you to Comparative history. I want, in particular, to introduce you to historical theories (economic, political, geographic, cultural, demographic) historical themes (imperialism, colonialism, nationalism, the Atlantic World, America in Global Context), and historical methods (history as selective, primary sources, secondary sources, oral histories) and I expect you to bring these to bear on class materials throughout the course of the term. I also expect you to bring these critical perspectives to bear on things we read and things we watch throughout the course of this class after being introduced to them in the first weeks of class.

There is a lot of information in the lectures below. I don’t expect you to memorise each and every thing I write or what I say in class. What I expect you to do is focus on the forest, the forces that we will talk about which help to make or create the modern world (capitalism, consumerisim, industrialization, the coming of capitalist booms and busts, the rise of new modern bureaucracies, the decline of monarchies and the rise of republicanism, nationalism, colonialisation, imperialism, modernization or westernization, centralization (bigger states, bigger business, bigger armies), the rise of the isms (liberalism—laissez faire—modern conservativism—and progressive, communism, socialism, anarchism, the rise of the national security state, for instance) and how the many facts I reference provide examples of the role these broader forces, factors, or processes played in the making the world “modern”.

My lectures have a point of view. Each chapter deals with some factor, force, or aspect of the modern world. I then flesh out, with historical and empirical analysis, each of these forces that created or made the modern world. It is these general forces and the process by which they came to be which I expect you to focus on and which will be emphasized in our exams.

So off we go but before we go let me give you one more caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. It is not my portfolio to teach you civics, to teach you about how wonderful the US, Canada, NZ, Belgium, or any other country is. My “job” is to teach you the facts and to interpret those facts through the lens’s social scientists and humanities scholars have normally approached human life—economically, politically, culturally, demographically, and geographically. If you don’t agree with the facts I present, do some research and double-check me. If you don’t agree with my interpretations critique my approach and offer an alternative approach as long as it is empirical. Remember, this is a history class not a theology class. And in my estimation nationalism and patriotism are not empirical issues they are the products of belief and valuation. Again if you disagree with this statement debate me, debate me empirically.

Viewings and Listenings: Thinking about History

200 Countries, 200 years, The Joy of Statistics, BBC

/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo

Morphing Map of Europe over ten centuries

/watch?v=DrZvn1qckIs

Viewings and Listenings: Thinking about History

History as Detection

History Detectives, PBS

/opb/historydetectives/

Michael Penn, “Try”

/watch?v=oivI6HCEPt0

1997, Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Talking History: Who Owns History, 1 July

http://www.albany.edu/talkinghistory/arcH3004july-december.html

Talking History: Historical Lies and Distortions, 27 June

http://www.albany.edu/talkinghistory/arcH3007jan-june.html

Talking History: Teaching History in Schools, 22 September

http://www.albany.edu/talkinghistory/arcH3005july-december.html

Introduction

Though I am going to start this class in the year 1400 that doesn’t mean that the modern world came into existence at that point or that the modern world had been fully made by 1400 or 1450, another important starting date for this class. The modern world has been a long time in the making and it isn’t fully made even at this point. Human life is dynamic and thus human institutions are dynamic. Human history, in other words, continues to be made.

One problem in starting this class at 1400 and 1450, and I do this for convenience and because of time limitations, is that a number of things that went into the making of the modern world get lost. Religion is one of those human phenomena that get lost by starting the class after 1400.

When one looks at the modern world it is clear that religion, specifically Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are important factors in the making of the modern “West”, the industrialized worlds of Europe, North America, and the Antipodeans (Australia and New Zealand), the modern “East”, India, China, and all of Asia and sometimes both, the Islamic Empire stretched from what its today Spain to what is today Indonesia. The Judeo-Christian tradition had a major infuence on and some would argue played a major role in the making of “Christendom”, Europe, and its settler societies, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brasil, from the fourth century CE when Christianity became the state religion of Europe on. Islam, after it arose in the sixth century CE, played a similar formative role in those parts of the world that came to be dominated by Islam: Arabia, the Near East, North Africa, India, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. Hinduism was a major factor in the creation of India, which, like Hinduism itself, was diverse and only loosely bound. Buddhism, though it eventually largely died out in its hearth of India, played a major role in the making of Asia. So did, of course Chinese culture the great hearth of “Far Asia”, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and so on.

There were, of course, other factors that played a role in the making of the modern world. I have already mentioned Chinese culture. Greek and Roman culture, Greek and Roman myth, theatre, literature, poetry, rhetoric, politics, and intellectual culture, played a major role in the making of the West and the Islamic worlds. China’s inventiveness—China invented fireworks, gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press—would be a major factor in the making of the West and the world as each of these were disseminated from East to West along trade routes. And trade itself, particularly trade in the Mediterranean and trade between East and West, would help create the modern world by creating global trading networks including a trade in culture. Some argue that Socrates (or Plato) was influenced by Indian ideas of rebirth in his notion that we forget about our previous existence when we enter this world by passing through the river of forgetfulness.

For those of you who don’t have a background in global history before 1400 Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 give you this background. I am not going to be giving these lectures in class so those of you who want to know more about this background and its influences on the making of the modern world might want to read them on your own.

Part One:

Backstory

Chapter One:

The West: The Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Christian Background to the Making of the Modern World

No understanding of the modern world, or at least the modern “West”, is possible without an understanding of the impact of the Israel, Judea, the Jewish and Christian Bible, and Ancient Greece and Rome on it.

Israel, Judea, and the Torah

One of the small kingdoms that came into existence in the Ancient Near East, one that is particularly important for European and Western History, is Ancient Israel. Israel may have been small in size but it was big in cultural influence thanks to the Roman adoption of Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century CE.

In the traditional tale Israel came into existence after God forced the Egyptian Pharaoh to let his chosen people, the Israelites, go. After a period of wandering for forty years—this was a punishment for disobedience—God guided his chosen people (note the ethnocentrism common to all social and cultural groups here) into the “promised land” (note the ideologies of peoplehood and soil here). Since this “land of milk and honey” was already occupied God—Yahweh seems to be a tribal god of Israel only at this point—helped his people cleanse the land of Canaanites turning Canaan into the land of Israel (an early form of ethnic cleansing and genocide?). In another tale, this one in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible too, Israel simply migrates into Canaan and lives amongst those Canaanites who were already there.

Not all scholars of Ancient Israel accept the first of these traditional tales. Some regard the Hebrews as the habiru of ancient texts. In this scenario the Hebrews represent nomadic Canaanites. In a variant of this theory Biblical scholar Norman Gottwald, influenced by the politically radical liberation theology of the 1970s, argues that Israel originated out of a successful revolt of Canaanite poor in “the land of Canaan”.

Regardless of which of these stories are true and regardless of how the Hebrews got to the “chosen land” one thing is clear, the period around 1200 and 1100 BCE, when the Israelites were supposed to have entered their “holy land”, was a catastrophic one for many empires in the Ancient world. The Hittite Kingdom fell around the same time in 1200 BCE. Egypt was invaded by the mysterious “Sea People” around the same time. Mycenaean Greece fell around the same time.

Ancient Israel was very different from the powerful Hittite, Egyptian, and Mycenean kingdoms. Ancient Israel was essentially a cat’s-paw to whichever great power happened to exist in the Tigris and Euphrates, Anatolia, or Nile areas of the Ancient Near East part of the Mediterranean. The history of Ancient Israel was not static. Around 920 BCE Israel divided into the kingdoms of Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BCE. Judah would fall to the Babylonians in 587 BCE, the Persians in 550 BCE, the successors of Alexander the Great in the 300s BCE, and the Romans in 63 BCE. One of the few times, in fact, that Israel was autonomous was during the reign of Kings David and Solomon and some of their successors.

More than anything else it is the Tanakh, the Bible, that has been Israel’s legacy to the Western world. For many, the first five books of the Bible, which are attributed to Moses—Jews refer to these as the Torah, the five books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Christians call it the Pentateuch—tell us about the creation of the world, the early history of the world, and the early history of the Hebrew and Jewish people. The Bible contains various types of writings—myths of origin, epic myths, history, prophecy, wisdom literature, poetry, including sexual poetry (the “Song of Songs”)—and is full of writings about Israel and Judea as a chosen people, i.e., as a people in an exclusive covenant with Yahweh, Israel and Judea’s god. The Hebrew Bible, in other words, contains a healthy dose of ethnocentrism. Many have and many continue to regard the Bible as literally true.

For many it was the monotheism that developed in Ancient Israel that was the most important influence of Israel on the modern world. When this monotheism began is uncertain. There are some scholars who maintain that Israel’s monotheism had been there from the beginning. Others argue that Israel’s monotheism developed between 1200 BCE to 546 BCE. There are after all, they point out, different names for God in the Hebrew Bible including YHWH, Elohim, and El Shaddai. Regardless of who is right, and we will likely never know since origins are lost in the fog of prehistory, the years before the appearance of written history, monotheism was certainly important by the time of David (1012 BCE-972 BCE) and Solomon (972 BCE-932 BCE), a rare period in Judea’s history when that nation was, as I mentioned earlier, relatively autonomous from the great powers around them.

Central to early Hebrew religion was the notion I mentioned earlier, that Israel was God’s chosen people as a result of a covenant made between God and the Hebrews, a covenant in which Israel, after some discussion and debate (see the Abraham and Isaac tale where Abraham argues with god) agreed to follow the commandments of God, commandments that are now found in the Torah. As long as Israel followed the covenant, it was believed, god would keep Israel safe.

Very early on a problem with this ideology became apparent: why are Israel and Judah,if they are god’s chosen people, so powerless relative to the great powers around it like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians. The conquest of Israel and later Judah by these great powers eventually led to a crisis in the Hebrew religion. Why, Judahites asked, did God allow Judah to be conquered again and again. Religion, of course, is fundamentally about why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. And eventually Judah’s prophets thought they had the answer to this conundrum: Judahites were not living up to their covenant with god so god was using the powers around Judah to punish Judah for failing to live up to the covenant.

Eventually, the Torah, the Nevi’im, the Prophets, and the Ketubim, the writings, would be collected into the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible in the first century of the current era. The Torah, in particular, has proven to be quite controversial in intellectual circles beginning with the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. Beginning with Baruch Spinoza, a philosopher of Jewish birth living in Holland in the seventeenth century, however, another way of looking at the Torah arose. Spinoza questioned whether Moses actually wrote the books of the Bible as tradition in Jewish and Christian circles claims. By the nineteenth century under the impact of Darwinian evolutionary theory a number of scholars, many of them German, came to the same conclusion. Arguing that the Bible could not have been written until urbanism, the monarchy, a priestly caste, and writing had developed in Ancient Israel they suggested that the five books of Moses were actually derived from several previous sources not authored by Moses: the J or Y document—a source which used Yahweh for god, the E document—a source which used Elohim for god, the P document—the priestly document which contained regulatory and ritual sources relating to the priesthood in Ancient Israel—and the D document—a source discovered by King Josiah in the 600s BCE in the temple in Jerusalem. Scholars date these sources to no earlier than the rule of King David. However, it is likely that these sources draw on earlier oral tales making the early parts of the Bible akin to the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer which likewise began as oral tales.

Greece and Rome

Ancient Greece influenced the West in a variety of way as the Modern West continues to remind us. The West has long claimed that it is the political and cultural heir to Ancient Greece and Rome.

For many it was democracy that Ancient Greece, specifically Ancient Athens, bequeathed to the Western world. Ancient Athens was in a way democratic. After the reforms of Cleisthenes if the 500s BCE, which were an attempt to deal with class or status tensions between elites which controlled Athens and the mass of middling and poor Athenians all Athenian males who were part of Athens’s tribed did take part in Athenian government. This democraticness hid, and this may be important for understanding Western History as well, the fact that Ancient Athens was only a “democracy” of males. Women, slaves, and “foreigners”, non-Athenians played no role in the political life of the Athenian polis. It should also be remembered that though there was a democracy of males in Ancient Athens demagoguery was thought by some a means to manipulate the votes of the masses. And perhaps this last is important for understanding the “democracy” in the modern world as well.

Culturally Ancient Greece gave the West history, philosophy, theatre, mathematics, and science. Ancient Greece was home to prominent historians like Herodotos, Thucydides, Xenophon. It was home to prominent philosophers like Anaxagoras (500-428 BCE), Empedokles (c.493-c.433 BCE), Leukippos (first half of 5th century BCE), Demokratis (ca. 460-ca 377 BCE), Hippokrates (c460-ca. 370 BCE), Sokrates (ca. 469-399 BCE), Plato (428 or 427-348/347 BCE), and Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and prominent philosophical schools such as Sophism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, Skepticism, and NeoPlatonism. It was home to prominent dramatists like Aeschylos (525-456 BCE), Sophokles (c.496-406 BCE), Euripides (c.485-c.406 BCE), and comedians like Aristophanes. Ancient Greece gave us sophisticated mathematics including the Pythagorean theory and scientific concepts like atoms.

Rome gave the West Greek culture, republicanism, and concrete. Rome continued to be dominated by the Greek philosophies of Stoicism, which preached detachment from the physical world, Epicureanism, which emphasized the materiality of all things, and Neo-Platonism, which argued that all reality preceeded from the one and would influence Christian theology. Roman Republicanism was deeply admired by many including many of America’s “founding fathers”. Romans invented concrete and used it extensively to build its monumental buidings.

The Rise of Christianity

Perhaps most importantly, for Western history anyway, Rome gave us Christianity.

Christianity, of course, arose out of Judahism, the religion of Judea. The earliest sources we have for Christianity are the letters of Paul and references to Yeshua, Jesus, contained in the writings of the Romanised Jewish historian Josephus (the authenticity of which have long been questioned by scholars). The synoptic gospels or good news of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, and the very hellenised, influenced by Greek philosophy, gospel of John with its emphasis on logos, appeared wrote after the destruction of the Judean Temple and were likely written between 74 and 95. The tradition that they were written by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, by the way, isn’t found until the first half of the second century in Papias’s Interpretation of the Sayings of the Lord and probably is more myth than history.

Some scholars argue that an early sayings of Yeshua source, oral and then written, circulated among early Christians in the years before Paul. They call this source Q after the German word quelle or source. Whether it really existed and was used by the writers of Matthew, Luke, and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, is another matter since the only evidence for Q are the sayings of Jesus in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

So what do we know about early Christianity and its messiah or Christ Yeshua or Jesus? We know from the earliest Christian sources, the letters of Paul, that the earliest brand of Christianity was Jewish and that what distinguished Christians from Pharisees, one of the major Jewish religious groups or sects of the first century CE in Palestine. We know that these Jewish Christians were distinguished, for the most part from the Pharisees, by their belief that Jesus was the messiah because he rose from the dead. We know that Paul had a conversion experience of the “risen Christ”, an experience he equated with the Apostles—Jesus’ close disciples—which granted him, he claims, the same authority as the earlier apostles such as Peter and John. We know that Paul felt he was “called” to convert the Gentiles to the “good news” We know that for Paul this good news taught that Christ had risen and set men free and that Jewish laws— the law of circumcision and the laws of avoiding certain types of meats, were no longer in effect, at least for “gentile” Christians. We know that Paul and others were spreading the gospel across Judea, Syria, Anatolia, Greece, and even Italy. And we know that early Christians were apocalyptic.

Judaism and Christianity Go Their Separate Ways

It was only after the destruction of the second Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 CE that Judaism and Christianity began to separate and develop in distinct ways. After their defeat at the hands of the Romans (the Jewish Revolt of 66 to 70) many Jews were forced or chose to leave Judea yet again, and they began to settle particularly around the Mediterranean world. It was in this Jewish Diaspora that Judaism developed. This Talmudic Judaism may have originated before the Diaspora but it really flowered in the Diaspora as the Mishnah (complied around 200), the Jerusalem Talmud (redacted at the end of the fourth century), and the Babylonian Talmud (third to fifth centuries) took shape creating, in the process, Talmudic Judaism, a form of Judaism that would come to dominate, for a variety of different reasons, Jewish life particularly in the West down to today.

  1. Of english words and phrases (1)

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    2. Inexistence N. inexistence†; nonexistence, nonsubsistence; nonentity, nil; negativeness &c adj.; nullity; nihility†, nihilism; tabula rasa [Lat.], blank; abeyance; absence &c 187; no such thing &c 4; nonbeing, nothingness, oblivion.
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