This course explores the course of world history from the starting point of our biological and cultural evolution.
We will begin by examining the origins and development of the universe and the solar system. Then we will explore the formation of the Earth and the emergence of life in its diverse forms, including our species. Following on from this, we will examine what recent research suggests were influential factors in our evolution as social animals with remarkable, and possibly unique, mental powers.
After considering how evolutionary processes made us recognisably human, we will turn to survey the course of world history over past 15,000 years, focusing in particular on how our life-ways, forms of social organisation and culture have been determined by our biology and the play of large-scale and long-term natural forces, notably the atmosphere and its various affects on our planet's weather and ecological systems. Among other things, we will consider how population size, the need to secure food, our uses of energy and innovations in technology have greatly determined what life was like at different times in different parts of the world.
As well as attending to important continuities in human experience, we will also consider what historians generally agree have been the most significant changes in world history over the past fifteen millennia. We will spend some time exploring the causes and consequences of these "turning points" in world history. Among other things, we will examine how the course of world history was changed by phenomena such as the adoption of agriculture, the emergence of the first cities and states, the growth of networks of commerce and exchange, the exploitation of new sources of energy, industrialisation and consumerism, and the development of our modern form of society.
In a mere thirteen weeks, we cannot hope to do more than touch upon key aspects of world history. Nonetheless, this course will provide you with foundational knowledge of great value to your future studies in history and other disciplines in the humanities. It will also introduce you to the essential attributes of historical research and interpretation of the surviving record of past human experience.
Importantly, while this course explores continuities and changes in world history that have greatly determined how we now live, we will also consider what we can learn from studying world history that may prove useful in addressing future challenges.
Historical research is about investigating the record of human experience so as to enable us to think more wisely about ourselves, and hopefully learn from our past achievements, and our failings. Historians interpret and evaluate our intelligence and creativity in forming our identities, our values and relations with others. And they do so from intellectually diverse perspectives, often disagreeing with each other about the causes and consequences of human thought and action. However, they generally agree on one thing: in addressing problems of national and global significance we now face, such as resource depletion, climate change and terrorism, there is much to be learnt from studying how we have responded to these or similar problems in the time we have been on Earth.