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A Brief History of the World

Take a whirlwind tour of the history of humanity in this enlightening course taught by an award-winning professor of history.
A Brief History of the World is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 168.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Early infection with the woke virus Listening to this in 2023 is fascinating, like standing next to a WIV lab tech just starting to cough in the summer of 2019 after standing too close to the bat cage. The early symptoms of the woke virus are everywhere here in this silliness. He describes the Axial Age precisely but refuses to call it as such (and can seems to fathom how it occurred when it was obviously due to religious memes spreading across the world due to trade). He loonily asserts as fact that women were responsible for starting farming in the Neolithic Era. On and on.... His white male guilt is everywhere on display as twists himself into pretzels to slam European culture at every turn. But since it is early work infection, he then apologizes for every slam. Very nostalgic given what academia later became Glib, and a nice arc to his lectures but so unnecessary and silly.
Date published: 2024-01-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Brief History of the World I have a large library of courses from the Teaching Company, and this has to be the worst. I love history, but Professor Stearns almost makes me change my mind. I found him to be unfocussed, uninformative and boring. After each lecture I asked myself "what did I learn from this?" and the answer was usually "very little". I also hoped, in vain, that it would get better. He is verbose to the point of ridiculous, and I found him very biased in his views. He wasted the whole first 2 lectures trying to explain why he had decided to teach world history instead of the history of Western civilisation, when his listeners have already chosen the course according to its title, and certainly don't need to know why he chose it. He makes generalised statements without any evidence, such as giving the reason for prolonged breast feeding by hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic era as a need for birth control, when I can think of several more pertinent reasons for this activity. I do not recommend this course to anyone with any deep interest in history, and I am returning my copy of it.
Date published: 2023-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Excellent presenter. History how it should be taught in school. Big picture, concepts.
Date published: 2023-06-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Meanwhile, back in China... Dr. Stearns goes through painstaking effort to give a balanced view of world history through the various continents. In other words (worlds?), instead of just focusing on China, Europe, etc, he discusses what what going on at the same time in other parts of the world, and how each culture influenced the other. Dr. Stearns is agonizingly balanced, giving his opinion as only his opinion, and deferring to conflicting concepts. He admits its impossible to go too deep into the topics he brings up due to the wide range of cultures, but gives a good overview. This is a fairly new way of presenting history, so the bugs are still not worked out, but if you hang in with them, there are rewards
Date published: 2023-02-06
Date published: 2022-08-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Brief History of the World SAVE YOUR MONEY! I've completed 6 lectures and haven't learned what I'd hope to. The information is often contradictory and muddled with few if any examples or suggested supplemental readings given. The instructor is beyond boring. I never feel engaged or excited by the subject matter which is a reflection of how the instructor presents the material. I've taken other Great Courses which I have always enjoyed. Skip this one!
Date published: 2022-06-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not What I expected or wanted I bought this to supplement an online world history course for high school students. Teaching online is never as dynamic as in the classroom- but these are challenging times. I was hoping for a lecture/pictures/examples/reenactment video style course and this is lecture only. The topics are dead on, but the presentation is stifling . While the information may be worthwhile, I wish I'd been more careful about spending the money on this as I would have made a different choice. I have to say, I would return this if I could.
Date published: 2021-10-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very polarised view I have bought many of the Great Courses - and think them literally 'GREAT' This one however is very pro US and anti UK (not ideal for a course on the History of the World) In addition the lecturer is hesitant and old fashioned
Date published: 2021-07-30
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In A Brief History of the World, you'll apprehend "the big picture" of world history from the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic era to the urbanized, technological world of the 21st century. It's a compelling overview of the human experience presented by an award-winning teacher, Professor Peter N. Stearns. You'll examine and compare the peoples, cultures, and nations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to understand how, throughout history, peoples all over the world have connected and interacted, traded goods and technology, and conquered and learned from each other.


Peter N. Stearns

It is more important for American students to learn something about the world as a whole, including how the West fits into larger world patterns, than it is to learn about the Western tradition more narrowly.


George Mason University

Dr. Peter N. Stearns is Provost and Professor of History at George Mason University. He earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude, master's degree, and doctorate in history from Harvard University. Professor Stearns has written widely on world history, including two popular textbooks. Other books include The Industrial Revolution in World History, Gender in World History, Consumerism in World History, Western Civilization in World History, Childhood in World History, and Global Outrage: The Evolution and Impact of World Opinion. He edited the Encyclopedia of World History, 6th edition. He has also written books and articles on emotions, dieting and obesity, old age, and work. Before coming to George Mason University, Professor Stearns taught at the University of Chicago, Rutgers University, and Carnegie Mellon University. While at Carnegie Mellon, he won the Smith Award for Teaching and Educational Service in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as the Spencer Award for Distinguished Teaching. From 1996 to 2006 Professor Stearns chaired the committee that devised the Advanced Placement world history course. He served as vice president of the American Historical Association, Teaching Division, from 1995 to 1998. He is also founder and editor of the Journal of Social History.

By This Professor

What and Why Is World History?

01: What and Why Is World History?

Over the past 20 years, world history has been gaining ground as a way to understand the human experience. In this opening lecture, we review the basic tenets of this discipline and outline its main subjects of inquiry: comparison of civilizations, contacts among societies, and the large-scale forces that shape these interactions.

33 min
The Neolithic Revolution

02: The Neolithic Revolution

The rise of agriculture was one of the great changes in the human experience. This lecture explores the causes and ramifications of this remarkable breakthrough, as well as other forces that influenced the early development of civilization.

31 min
What Is a Civilization?

03: What Is a Civilization?

After agriculture, the next step in world history involves the emergence of civilization as a form of human organization. This lecture reviews the key technological, cultural, and political innovations that accompanied the development of civilizations in regions as diverse as Central America, Asia, and the Middle East.

32 min
The Classical Period in World History

04: The Classical Period in World History

The period from 1000 BCE to 600 CE saw the development of a few great civilizations located in China, the Mediterranean region, and India. These cultures expanded on the innovations of earlier River Valley civilizations, but also forged some new elements that would persist throughout world history.

32 min
Cultural Change in the Classical Period

05: Cultural Change in the Classical Period

Creating large and durable cultural systems was one of the hallmarks of Classical civilizations. This lecture examines some of the most influential and enduring examples, including religious systems—Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity—as well as philosophy and art in the Mediterranean.

32 min
Social Inequalities in Classical Societies

06: Social Inequalities in Classical Societies

Although each of the Classical civilizations developed distinct social systems, what they had in common was a general belief that social inequality in class and gender was not only inevitable, it was desirable and necessary to ensure the stability of society.

33 min
The Roman Empire and Han China

07: The Roman Empire and Han China

While the Roman Empire is more familiar to most Western students than Han China, these two societies, for a span of several centuries, were remarkably similar in some basic achievements. Those similarities give us an opportunity to look closely at how Classical societies operated in comparable contexts.

30 min
The Silk Road; Classical Period Contacts

08: The Silk Road; Classical Period Contacts

The classical period is defined not only by regional history but also by patterns of connections among large regions. This lecture examines the two main conduits for contact, the Silk Road trade route to Asia, and the trade nexus centered on India.

29 min
The Decline of the Classical Civilizations

09: The Decline of the Classical Civilizations

This lecture explores the contributing factors that led to the fall, within a short time span, of several major Classical societies: the Roman Empire, the Han Dynasty in China, and the Gupta Empire in India.

33 min
The Post-Classical Period, 500–1450

10: The Post-Classical Period, 500–1450

The Postclassical Period has been a subject of debate among scholars of world history. The traditional view of this era as "The Middle Ages" assumes a European focus and ignores the striking vitality of the era. This lecture explores a more useful definition of the period, which focused on the spread of world religions and the emergence of a world network.

32 min
World Religions and Their Consequences

11: World Religions and Their Consequences

The Postclassical period saw the crucial geographical expansion of Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the origins and expansion of Islam. This lecture takes a look at the causes for this expansion and its effects, both for world societies and for the various belief systems.

34 min
The Impact of Islam

12: The Impact of Islam

While the spread of Islam fits within patterns of expanding world religions, Islam and the Arab society involved with it clearly gained particular importance and a position of power during the Postclassical period.

33 min
Postclassical Trade and Contacts

13: Postclassical Trade and Contacts

The increase of interregional trade in the Postclassical centuries brought many changes, including innovations in shipping technology and mapping, new opportunities for venturesome travelers, the development of missionary activity, and the exchange of new technologies.

31 min
Postclassical Patterns of Imitation

14: Postclassical Patterns of Imitation

Japan, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe offer examples of relatively young societies that copied key aspects of culture, technology, and social structure from neighboring societies.

29 min
Western Civilization in World Context

15: Western Civilization in World Context

This lecture explores the questions raised by traditional concepts of Western civilization. Is there a straight line of influence from the early high civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Western tradition? What are the distinctive features of Western civilization, and when do they appear?

30 min
The Mongol Years

16: The Mongol Years

World history between the early 13th and the mid-14th century was dominated by the conquests of the Mongols. Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty conquerors, world history has rehabilitated the Mongols and brought to light their tolerant—even enlightened—policies of rule.

29 min
Civilizations in the Americas and in Africa

17: Civilizations in the Americas and in Africa

Because of its isolation, the New World does not fully fit the larger patterns of the period and, because of later cultural devastation, the heritage of these civilizations had limited impact. African kingdoms, on the other hand, were deeply connected to the large world network of the time.

33 min
The World in 1450

18: The World in 1450

A number of crucial changes, including explorations by European down the African coast, explorations by China, and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, set the stage for the next period in world history.

30 min
The Early Modern Period, 1450–1750

19: The Early Modern Period, 1450–1750

For the first time, international trade encompassed the entire globe, including new contacts with the Americas, Pacific Oceania, and Australia. Results included the emergence of Europe's overseas colonies and the rise of several large "Gunpowder Empires" in Asia.

31 min
The World Economy, 1450–1750

20: The World Economy, 1450–1750

During this period, world trade increased and became literally global as the West took an increasingly dominant role in exploration and conquest. This lecture uses sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein's theories of core and peripheral societies to understand these developments.

31 min
Transformations in Western Europe

21: Transformations in Western Europe

This lecture examines pivotal changes that occurred in Western civilization during the postmodern period, and focuses on the features that had the most impact: growing commercialization, the emergence of the nation state, and the rise of new cultural products such as scientific thought and activity.

32 min
The Rise of Russia

22: The Rise of Russia

Early modern Russia is a special case in world history. The dilemma of its status—independent civilization or part of Europe—is continually debated, and because of its durability and influence in Middle Eastern, Asian, and European societies, it warrants special attention.

31 min
Asian Empires and a Shogunate

23: Asian Empires and a Shogunate

This lecture reviews major changes during the early modern period in Asian societies including the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires, the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, and Japan.

32 min
The Long 19th Century

24: The Long 19th Century

European domination through growing military and manufacturing power advances the industrial revolution and increased levels of international connection, which might be called the first stage of contemporary globalization.

33 min
Abolition of Slavery and Serfdom

25: Abolition of Slavery and Serfdom

Formal systems of coercive labor were largely abolished around the world during the Long 19th Century, giving way to new humanitarian thinking. Other factors, including changes in world demography and migration, also affect this global shift.

33 min
Modernization and Nationalisms

26: Modernization and Nationalisms

This lecture examines the emergence of two trends that will continue to influence world history: modernization and nationalism. These trends result from growing political and economic rifts among societies.

33 min
Formation of Latin American Civilization

27: Formation of Latin American Civilization

Crucial developments in Latin America in the 19th century included many nations establishing independence and the political problems that followed, and the blossoming of a distinctly Latin American culture.

32 min
China and Japan - 19th-Century Pressures

28: China and Japan - 19th-Century Pressures

China and Japan shared many characteristics, yet their reactions to new Western pressure and the dynamics of the world economy were strikingly different, setting up two separate East Asian models whose impact is still strong today.

29 min
The 20th–21st Centuries as a New Period

29: The 20th–21st Centuries as a New Period

Enormous changes transpire over the 20th century. World wars dilute Western dominance and Pacific Rim nations gain economic power. Political change occurs as well—monarchies topple and are replaced by new forms of rule.

31 min
The World Economy—Change and Continuity

30: The World Economy—Change and Continuity

Many economic themes of earlier periods continue in the 20th century—including unequal relationships in world trade—but changes occurred as well, such as the emphasis on high-tech, service, and entertainment products in dominant economies.

32 min
An Age of Revolutions

31: An Age of Revolutions

The 20th century saw an unprecedented number of political and social revolutions. This lecture reviews this trend for revolution as it occurred in Russia, China, Mexico, Iran, and elsewhere.

33 min
The United States in World History

32: The United States in World History

Was the 20th century "The American Century," as some pundits claim? Is the United States a civilization all its own—or is it part of Western civilization? This lecture explores issues that arise when the United States is seen in the context of world history.

32 min
Contemporary Democracy

33: Contemporary Democracy

Traditional political forms—monarchy, empire, colony—decline in the 20th century as democracy spreads from its base in Western Europe, the United States, and Australia. Despite this spread, many societies resist or adapt democratic models of government.

33 min
Contemporary Cultural Change

34: Contemporary Cultural Change

The contemporary period has seen sweeping changes in peoples' belief systems with the rise of new ideologies: nationalism, Marxism, consumerism and science. Traditional religions have also gained believers, as seen in spread of Christian and Muslim fundamentalism.

32 min
Gender in Contemporary World History

35: Gender in Contemporary World History

There have been far-reaching changes in gender relations and conditions for women, with many reforms supported by nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. There are also, however, many forces eager to maintain traditional gender roles.

32 min
Globalization and World History

36: Globalization and World History

The most exciting development in social science in the 1990s was the concept of globalization, which focuses on the intensification of contacts among societies in the world. This wide-ranging summary of the course places the concept of globalization in a historical context and speculates on the future of this trend.

36 min