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Turning Points in Modern History

Get a unique view of world history by immersing yourself in the fascinating story of the discoveries, inventions, upheavals, and ideas that shaped the modern world.
Turning Points in Modern History is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 83.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good course Professor Liulevicius is one of my favorite professors. I think because he is a great story teller. One might quibble with the selection of specific "turning points", but it is probably impossible to satisfy every point of view.
Date published: 2024-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course Design and Delivery I've taken many, many excellent history courses on TGC/Wondrium. This course is one of my very favorites. Each lesson was very well selected and presented in a most interesting and articulate fashion. They all held my interest a great deal, and I spaced them out to prolong my enjoyment. Dr. Liulevicius is a top-notch speaker. I'm very excited to see that he has other courses available here.
Date published: 2024-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely fascinating. An intelligent professor Absolutely fascinating. An intelligent professor with an interesting view of history. Very well presented. My favourite course this year. Had to ration myself to one lecture every few days.
Date published: 2023-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Unfortunate Bias Despite the following critique, I highly rate this editorial-style course and recommend most of the thought experiments Liulevicius provides. Unfortunately several lectures of this 2013 course are deeply one-sided and another is outdated according to other Great Courses. This review illustrates how learning from multiple professors (before final conclusions) makes The Great Courses such a potent force in education. This course was a gift. ONE-SIDED: The sadly common university tool of abusing only one party in historical conflicts (almost always white Europeans) is used or implied in several lectures. Sometimes Liulevicius freely gives away his bias. For example, Lecture 12 (L12) on the Opium Wars applies the term “Imperialism" only to European militaristic expansionism. Unfortunately, in the same lecture there is video map graphically illustrating the massive militaristic expansion of China through Mongolia, Manchuria, etc. without ANY recognition of this as Chinese Imperialism. Then via the incredibly arrogant rejection by the Manchu emperor of British trade offers (shown word for word on the screen) the Chinese created a horrendously antagonistic relationship. This hubris directly led to the vindictive British opium trade enforced by British imperial guns that won out over less effective Chinese imperial guns. DIVISIVE: At other times, neglecting facts villianizes one party. Sugar was once affordable only to the extremely wealthy until Caribbean sugar cane fields existed. The L11 video states that some Quakers in the colonies and England gave up sugar in protest of slavery. But Liulevicius ignores the fact that prior efforts to harvest cane in Saint-Domingue using other races had failed: white prisoners died from tropical disease & local natives escaped (TGC African Experience_Vickery L13&14). Because of tropical diseases Europeans never entered central Africa until after the Civil War: thus whites bought BUT DID NOT enslave blacks. As Liulevicius admits, there was only a 10% European survival rate even on the African coast. Black chiefs enslaved not only “war prisoners” (from the Ashanti/Fanti and other tribal wars) but also their own countrymen. A well-documented example given by Vickery is Chief Kzinga (later titled “King Afonso” by his patron - the King of Portugal) of what is now the Congo. You can Google a picture of the dapper Afonso as “der Konig in Congo Fig. L”. After the British outlawed slavery, Afonso is reported to have had “regret" over the depopulation of his territory. Vickery's Great Course also uncovers the hushed up Islamic trade of blacks. When the British outlawed slavery In the 1830s, it forced Tippu Tip (Hamed bin Muhammed) to stop exporting ivory and African slaves to areas that included Arabia, Persia, East Africa & Zanzibar. Haven't heard of what happened to the slaves sent East? It wasn't nice: check out Vickery’s L19. Making one race solely responsible for slavery inaccurately leads to today’s divisiveness. OUTDATED: Despite Darwin’s clever idea of evolution via "natural selection” Liulevicius credits over 30 people (including his grandfather) with preceding this idea (see L13). Sutherland's Great Course "Introduction to Paleontology" discusses Hunt’s study of “251 data sets of the morphological characteristics from 53 different evolutionary lineages…” Directional trends (chance and/or Darwinian mechanisms) accounted for a tiny 5%, 45% remained static, and 50% were random (ie. non-linear, chaos driven) “random walks”. Similarly, those familiar with complexity theory, (see TGC “Chaos" by Strogatz) have enormous difficulty with “phyletic gradualism” (changes in evolution due solely to Darwin’s natural selection) as a major evolutionary force. ? ONE-SIDED: Turning points are tricky: My mother was a WW2 mathematician. I have multiple accomplished daughters. So the standard Turning Point conclusion of L15 on New Zealand feminists resonated. But a Turning Point is not gospel. Yes, U.S. women have benefited. But the N.Z. opposition prophetically feared: “…women and men would become unsexed and society would collapse.” Recently the U.S. opened its borders to millions because American women have not achieved replacement birth rate. Without enough workers, the $32 trillion federal debt is unsupportable (TGC Unexpected Economics by Taylor). Is this a death knell for Liulevicius’ "Westphalian order of territorial sovereignty"? We’ll see.
Date published: 2023-08-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Missed Opportunity for Audio-Visual For a video course- you kind of expect more use of audio-visual supplements to enhance what the lecturer is discussing. Not only to help keep your attention but to deepen your understanding of a cultural issue or turning point. I found myself falling asleep in every lecture- they just were not engaging. I also can't remember half of what was discussed. Maybe I'll read the guidebook instead of watching the lectures- they have the same information.
Date published: 2023-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and always interesting Very informative. The instructor was enthusiastic and held my attention throughout.
Date published: 2023-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent discussions While reviewers might quibble about the particular historical instances selected, they were all significant. The professor used each turning point to discuss events leading up to the point and its effect. I found it very interesting. I learned!
Date published: 2023-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from enjoyable, but not pleased with a few choices the Prof is excellent; but i found some of his choices - intended as Turning Points - unsatisfactory. Specifically, #8 Diderot i believe overvalued the situation; #15 Women Voting (in NZ) similarly gave too much weight to a really minor aspect; #21 Walking on the Moon was hardly a turning point; & #22 Nixon to China had good intentions, but would have been much more on point if it focused several years later when Mao died, thus ridding China of an incompetent tyrant, & opening it up to the real cchnages that have made it a powerhouse.
Date published: 2023-01-04
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Turning Points in Modern History takes you on a far-reaching journey around the globe-from China to the Americas to New Zealand-to shed light on how two dozen of the top discoveries, inventions, political upheavals, and ideas since 1400 shaped the modern world. Taught by award-winning history professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, these 24 thought-provoking lectures start in the early 15th century and culminate in the age of social media to reveal astounding threads that weave through the centuries. You'll also witness turning points with repercussions we can only speculate about because they are still very much in the process of turning.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

To study the deepest impulses in human nature, we see the lure of wealth and conquest, the deep-seated urge for fame and glory, the quest for higher ends, a basic human determination.


University of Tennessee

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
The Secret World of Espionage
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
Turning Points in Modern History


1433-The Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He

01: 1433-The Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He

Explore the idea of modernity and define "turning point." Then, consider why Chinese admiral Zheng He's voyages promoting the power of China's authority did not continue as part of a larger campaign of discovery-and what the consequences might have been had he reached the Americas.

32 min
1453-The Fall of Constantinople

02: 1453-The Fall of Constantinople

Although many educated people think they know about the fall of the Roman Empire, Professor Liulevicius says the end actually happened 1,000 years later with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. Delve deeper into this event and learn the trauma the loss created for Europeans.

31 min
1455-Gutenberg's Print Revolution

03: 1455-Gutenberg's Print Revolution

Trace how Johannes Gutenberg's introduction of a press with movable type sparked a print revolution, becoming a key factor in the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the standardization of vernacular languages.

32 min
1492-The Columbian Exchange

04: 1492-The Columbian Exchange

Without intending to, Christopher Columbus's search for Asia initiated an event that has been called the most important historical turning point of modern times. Investigate how Columbus's encounter with the Americas brought distant peoples together politically, culturally, and environmentally in ways that were simultaneously productive and deeply destructive.

31 min
1600-The British East India Company

05: 1600-The British East India Company

The English and Dutch East India companies coexisted in the Spice Islands as they worked to outflank the Portuguese, but their rivalry soon escalated into war. Examine the founding and meteoric growth of the East India Company and the violence that ultimately led Britain to establish an empire on which the sun never set.

31 min
1648-The Treaty of Westphalia

06: 1648-The Treaty of Westphalia

The Thirty Years War involved some million soldiers and mass civilian casualties. Explore the significance of the Peace of Westphalia, the settlement that ended the war in 1648-a vital turning point that still shapes how international politics are handled.

31 min
1676-Van Leeuwenhoek's Microscope

07: 1676-Van Leeuwenhoek's Microscope

Trace how Anton van Leeuwenhoek's striking discovery fit into the larger Scientific Revolution and shifted intellectual authority from classic texts to that which is observable and measurable.

31 min
1751-Diderot's Enlightenment Encyclopedia

08: 1751-Diderot's Enlightenment Encyclopedia

The Encyclopédie was the most ambitious reference work and publishing project of its time. Discover how the editors made knowledge accessible to a mass audience and championed the Enlightenment's progressive, secular message, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church.

31 min
1787-The American Experiment

09: 1787-The American Experiment

Learn how America's founders established a model of a republic through debate, compromise, separation of powers, and a flexible Constitution.

31 min
1789-The French Revolution

10: 1789-The French Revolution

How did France's fight for liberation from royal authority lead to Napoleon's rise and even greater despotism? Contrast events in America with those in France to see how attempts at creating modern republics radically diverged.

31 min
1838-The British Slavery Abolition Act

11: 1838-The British Slavery Abolition Act

Confront the harsh realities of the African slave trade and consider the role social mobilization played in eradicating the institution across the British Empire.

30 min
1839-The Opium War in China

12: 1839-The Opium War in China

Delve into the causes, conflicts, and consequences of the Opium Wars, in which China was psychologically devastated and subjugated by British imperialism.

30 min
1859-Darwin and the Origin of Species

13: 1859-Darwin and the Origin of Species

Discover how a simple observation inspired Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection, and why his Origin of Species was eagerly accepted by much of Victorian society. Then, look at how the Nazis and others distorted Darwin's ideas.

31 min
1869-Binding Continents

14: 1869-Binding Continents

In 1869, two events connected the world through modern technology, giving science vast significance as a source of authority. Learn how the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the United States and the Suez Canal in Egypt revolutionized the way people perceived space and time.

30 min
1893-First Women Voters in New Zealand

15: 1893-First Women Voters in New Zealand

Follow the fight for women's suffrage in New Zealand and America, as two global trends-the demand for women's political voice and the growth of settler societies-intersected.

31 min
1896-The Invention of Motion Pictures

16: 1896-The Invention of Motion Pictures

Motion pictures revolutionized people's view of the world. Survey early movie culture, along with the contributions of Thomas Edison, Georges Méliès, and others, then see how the medium became "weaponized" by Bolsheviks in Russia and Nazis in Germany.

31 min
1903-Kitty Hawk and Powered Flight

17: 1903-Kitty Hawk and Powered Flight

Witness the dawning of the air age and meet the Montgolfier brothers, the Wright brothers, and others who brought humanity's dream of flying to fruition. Then, explore how aviation shaped the experience of modernity, from the relative ease of travel to the stark reality of "total warfare."

31 min
1904-The Russo-Japanese War

18: 1904-The Russo-Japanese War

To the world's surprise, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Learn how this conflict fought with industrialized weapons reconfigured world politics by igniting the process of global decolonization, establishing Japan as a great power, and setting the stage for two world wars.

31 min
1928-The Discovery of Penicillin

19: 1928-The Discovery of Penicillin

The advance of antibiotics occurred amid the larger context of the development of germ theory. Trace how scientists' understanding of the mechanisms of infection and disease evolved during the 19th century-and see how Alexander Fleming stumbled upon his life-saving discovery.

30 min
1942-The Dawn of the Atom

20: 1942-The Dawn of the Atom

When German physicists split the atom, Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt of the potential for "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." Chart the course of the nuclear bomb from this letter through the first nuclear chain reaction led by physicist Enrico Fermi, the Manhattan Project, and devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

30 min
1969-Walking on the Moon

21: 1969-Walking on the Moon

The moon landing expanded humanity's sense of the possible. Learn how the space program grew out of advances in rocketry during World War II and advanced rapidly due to cold war paranoia exacerbated by the launch of Sputnik.

30 min
1972-China Enters the World Balance

22: 1972-China Enters the World Balance

Nixon's meeting with Mao shifted the cold war's balance and returned China to the world stage. Learn the reasons for Nixon's trip, the consequences of which still reverberate, and plot the rise of Mao and communism in China. Then, see how Deng Xiaoping's promotion of private enterprise began a trajectory of growth that continues.

30 min
1989-The Fall of the Berlin Wall

23: 1989-The Fall of the Berlin Wall

How did a bureaucratic blunder by a Politburo member lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall? Find out as you examine the surprisingly peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.

30 min
2004-The Rise of Social Media

24: 2004-The Rise of Social Media

Are the Web and social media making us more globally connected or locking us into niche societies and creating an epidemic of loneliness? Probe both the power and the perils of the Internet-from aiding popular uprisings to rewiring our brains.

33 min