History 110B-01: World Civilizations II Syllabus

The Creation of the World

The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1445. Giovanni di Paolo (Italian [Sienna], ca. 1400-1482) Tempera on panel; 18 5/16 x 20 1/2 in. (46.5 x 52 cm). Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.31). www.metmuseum.org

This course introduces students to the history of world civilizations from roughly 500 to 1600 CE. Our analysis will focus on two principal themes: (1) the evolution of leading civilizations and (2) the frameworks for contact among these different civilizations. The first theme will identify major stages in the development of dominant civilizations: an Islamic civilization in the medieval period and a largely Christian European civilization in the later, early modern period. The second theme will emphasize major stages in the interaction between and among different peoples and societies around the globe.

This course also invites students to examine world history at close range by relying on a variety of primary source materials, both textual and visual. In this way, students are exposed to the analytical process that is a large part of the historian's craft. Students are encouraged to draw their own well-reasoned conclusions from these materials.

Required Readings

  • Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, eds., The Human Record: Sources of Global History, 4th ed., vol. 1: to 1700, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
  • Husain Haddawy, trans., The Arabian Nights, New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1995.
  • Glyn Burgess, trans., The Song of Roland, New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
  • Miguel Leon-Portilla, The Broken Spears: the Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Boston: Beacon Press, 1992 [1962].
  • Provided by instructor: How to Prepare Textual Primary Sources
  • Provided by instructor: How to Prepare Visual Primary Sources

Note: The required textbook is somewhat unusual in that it is a collection of primary sources. For those students who would like to supplement this reading with a more familiar narrative history (especially valuable for those who have had to miss a class), I have placed a more traditional textbook on Reserve at the library. It is Peter Stearns et al., World Civilizations: The Global Experience, vol. 1.


  1. Class participation (10%)
  2. Two 1-3 page papers based on analyses of visual primary sources due during the quarter (10% each)
  3. In-class midterm exam (30%)
  4. Take-home final exam (40%)


I have made class participation mandatory because I believe that listening and speaking in class are among the best ways for students to increase their understanding of the material and to develop ideas of their own. Students should be prepared when they come to class: they should have read the assignments, thought about the readings and formulated questions and comments. Advice on how to prepare will be covered at the first class meeting and can be accessed on the class Web site.

Midterm and Final Exams

A closed-book, closed-notes midterm exam will be given. The exam will be comprised of essay questions only. Study questions will be provided in advance. The final exam will also be comprised of essays but be take-home (i.e., open-book, open-notes). The essay questions and instructions for successful completion of the final exam will be handed out on or before the last day of class. The final exam will cover the second half of the course (including Broken Spears) plus one course-cumulative essay.

Schedule of Lectures and Assignments

Class 1: Introduction

Class 2: The Rise of Islam
A & O p. 232-41 (The Qur'an, Imam Nawawi)

Class 3: World of the Arabian Nights
The Arabian Nights

Class 4: Islamic Empire: Islam in Africa and India
A & O, p. 445-50, 321-25 (Ibn Battuta, Abu'l Raihan al-Biruni)
Visual Primary Sources Exercise 1: Islamic Art begin

Class 5: Medieval China
Exercise 1 paper due

Class 6: Buddhism in Medieval China and Japan
A & O, p. 297-307 (Han Yu, Zhi Xi and Dogen)

Class 7: The Byzantine Empire and the Feudal West
Visual Primary Sources Exercise 2: European Art begin

Class 8: Western Europe: The Feudal World of Roland
The Song of Roland

Class 9: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire
Exercise 2 paper due

Class 10: Comparing Cultures: Review for Midterm

Class 11: Midterm Exam

Class 12: From Medieval to Early Modern Europe

Class 13: Early Modern Europe and Asia
A & O, p. 481-85 (Matteo Rici)

Class 14: The Americas before 1492

Class 15: The Spanish Defeat of the Aztecs
The Broken Spears

Class 16: Iberian Conquests Among the Incas
A & O, p. 453-457 (Vazquez de Espinosa)

Class 17: Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade
A & O, p. 471-74, 478-79 (Mbemba, Barbot)