Vigorous scholarly debate backed by new research is shaking up our traditional view that the early modern centuries from 1450 to 1750 can be tidily summed up as "the rise of the West." Instead, historians are taking a more global perspective, which opens up new ways to understand this seminal time period, grounded in a realistic appraisal of the new sources of the West’s strength, as well as its limits. Peter N. Stearns, a professor of history at George Mason University, offers a sweeping view of the significant events in Europe, Russia, Asia, and the Americas in an era of unprecedented change.
March 9: Defining the Period
The Americas were included in global interactions for the first time after 1492. This played a vital role in expanding new trade levels, and also resulted in a series of exchanges of peoples, foods, and diseases. One key result was a set of regional imbalances, the remnants of which still affect our world today.
March 16: Two Rising Regions: The West and Russia
With the expanding geography of the West and the rise of Russia, both societies took on new contours that have shaped their identities ever since. But the perspective of world history also suggests some cautions, for example in distinguishing between fundamental change and exploring the limits of Russian Westernization. Familiar developments such as the Renaissance are revisited in the context of world history.
March 23: Empires, Cultures, and the “Problem” of Asia
A host of new “gunpowder empires” arose both in overseas colonies and large stretches of Asia and Eastern Europe. New concerns emerged about what might be called regional identities, as well as some new challenges to toleration. Japan closed itself to the West, but the development policies of India and China were more welcoming. This was also a key period in Islamic political history.
March 30: The 18th Century as Turning Point
With our advantages of hindsight, it became obvious that the early modern period generated economic forces that inevitably would lead to further change. The midcentury Seven Year’s War was arguably the “first” world war, and its consequences are discussed. Though debates hover around pinpointing 1750 as the end of this age of global change, the date offers a perspective from which to assess the early modern legacy and how it still shapes key aspects of the world in which we live.