The study of the Western past has seen many shifts in perspective over time, from triumphal to tragic. This shift in perspective was documented in two influential surveys published in 1987 and 1991: The Legacy of Conquest by Patricia Limerick and It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own by Richard White. These two books synthesized scholarship from the 1960s and 1970s to assert that conquests brought misfortune to both the conquered and the victors.
While this course emphasizes the role of religion in Western civilization, it is still lacking in many other important topics such as technology, gender roles, and economics. For example, the Crusades are given less than a single lecture, despite being considered foundational to Western Civilization. The Inquisition is barely mentioned, but the course does address this aspect of history. Nevertheless, this textbook does provide an excellent basis for a discussion of Western history.
While men are often celebrated as the proponents of democracy during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, women played a crucial role in both the streets and salons. In October 1789, women led demonstrations against the French monarchy, protesting high bread prices and widespread hunger. The French crown eventually succumbed to their demands. The depiction of the French Revolution by Janinet is a powerful testament to the strength and vigor of the women who led these protests.
Historians of the West, in particular, have turned to a new perspective on the American West. While the “winning of the West” was viewed as a triumph of civilization over savagery, the newer studies have stripped this romanticism and exhumed the environmental costs of American expansion. This shift in perspective has resulted in the loss of much of the glory of western civilization. But it is also necessary to remember that many people fought for the rights of native peoples and made the lives of their descendants even more miserable.
The Renaissance is another period in western history that marked the beginning of the modern world. The end of the Middle Ages is typically considered the beginning of the Renaissance, which saw artistic, scientific, and social changes across Europe. These changes shaped European civilization. For example, the birth of the modern art movement influenced the development of the European language, notably the Renaissance. The development of science, medicine, and religion all ushered in the modern era.
The Code of Hammurabi was created in the Babylonian Empire, establishing the first written laws with strict punishments. The Roman Empire falls to the Turks, but the legacy of Roman influence continues to be felt today. In Rome, the emperor Nero burns most of Rome, blaming Christians for its destruction. This eventually leads to persecution of Christians. So, what happened in the Middle Ages? There are many reasons why Western Civilization should not begin with the Greeks and Romans.
The traditional story also distinguished between Western Civilization and the rest of the world. This was done to reinforce the intellectual dividing lines established centuries earlier. It also helped reinforce the idea that only Europeans had a significant historical role. But the traditional story also portrayed despotism and stagnation outside the West. The West, as it turns out, was never a single group. Instead, it is a hybrid of diverse peoples. But what’s more, it had its share of failures and successes.