Western Civilization: A Social and Cultural History, Volume A: To 1500 (2nd Edition)

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9780130450012: Western Civilization: A Social and Cultural History, Volume A: To 1500 (2nd Edition)

These Western Civilization, Second Edition books explain why western civilization is worth knowing about. Taking a topical approach, they stress social and cultural themes, they ask, “What is the West?”, and incorporate significant discussion of peoples and civilizations outside the boundaries of the West. Provides a more coherent introduction to global issues than a world history presentation. Western Civilization, 2/e is accompanied by rich visual images, numerous textual excerpts, provocative special features, and timelines, charts and maps that make the narrative even more accessible. Each chapter now includes internet resources for research. Examines the French Revolution and 19th-century social and political movements in depth. Discussion of religion now occurs at key junctures in each chapter. Updated first chapter reflects the latest findings in paleoanthropology. Epilogue includes recent events such as global terrorism. Covers Social/economic history—e.g., gender roles, family and children, elite groups, urban/rural contrasts, cities and associations, commerce and manufacturing, and technological innovation. Non-Western (including North and South American) issues are discussed. Historians or anyone interested in a social, topical approach to Western Civilization with a global perspective.

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On September 11, 2001—a day that the citizens of the United States of America will not easily forget—four planes, hijacked by four squads of suicidal terrorists, were piloted deliberately toward four monuments that symbolized the achievements and strivings of our society. Three hit their targets; one crashed before it could do so, probably because of the prompt and courageous intervention of some of the doomed passengers. Nearly 4,000 people died in the four incidents, including hundreds of citizens of foreign nations resident in this country.

As these horrific events were pondered, while grief subsided and understanding dawned, the concept of "Western civilization" was mentioned rather more than it usually is in our bold and boisterous national discourse. Somehow, it was felt by many, these attacks had to be attacks on the fundamental structures of Western society: not just objections to American foreign policy, or resentment of American success, but a more basic blow to the values that sustain the democratic societies of the Western world. It is possible that some good will proceed from the great evil of September 11, and that one of the consequences of that day's events may be a renewed interest in the development of the West.- The second edition of this book therefore begins with some very basic questions: where, and what, is the West?


When I teach the introductory history course at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, I start each semester by asking my students "Where is the West?" I send an unfortunate victim to the map of the world mounted on the back wall of the room. A finger roams around the continents of the globe. The class suggests many possibilities: western Europe? The western hemisphere? The wild west? The search goes on all semester—a search of special complexity for the many students who, speaking tens of languages, professing all the world's major religions, and hailing from all its inhabited continents, have no association by birth with Western civilization. To begin, I tell my students about Greenwich, England, where the Prime Meridian begins.

Visitors gathered outside the gates of the old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, may read a sign announcing that they now stand "at the center of time and space." From that spot an imaginary line circles the earth from pole to pole, slicing the globe in half. The two halves are the Eastern and the Western hemispheres. The line is the Prime Meridian, the first and last of the infinite series of lines of longitude by which any location on the globe, East or West, can be accurately denoted by its precise variation in hours, minutes, and seconds from Greenwich time.

The packs of schoolchildren who come to Greenwich are often photographed grinning as they stand astride the Prime Meridian—each with one foot in the East and one in the West. Yet both feet are in England, in Europe, and in the zone of Western Civilization. Part of England and most of Europe (and all of Australia and New Zealand) lie in the Eastern hemisphere. Yet they belong to the West. A good fraction of Africa lies in the Western hemisphere. Yet it does not belong to the West. The people of the nations of Latin America lie in the western hemisphere, accept an official language which is European, and adhere for the most part to the Roman Catholic Church—is their civilization "Western?" Or does a struggling economy, or a large population of peoples of mixed indigenous and African heritage, mark them as non-Western?

What is the West? It isn't the "west" of the old movies, where for a brief moment cowboys prowled the frontier, and the native peoples of North America resisted the incursions of Europeans arriving from the East. It isn't the "west" of the Cold War era (1945-1991; see Chapter 30) when eastern and western zones of Europe adhered to different ideologies, and the boundary between their mental and political battles was designated by an Iron Curtain in part mythical, in part real. It is not only the zone of western, Catholic Christianity (which includes Poland, a nation solidly in "eastern" Europe), but embraces also the nations whose majorities embrace eastern, Orthodox Christianity: Greece, Serbia, perhaps even Russia. The West is not defined by any number of terms which contain, in their designations, the word "west": the Western hemisphere, the North American West, or Western Europe. What is the West? It is not, in fact, a place.

Neither is the West a specific people, or race, or set of nations. Although all of the nations of Europe are Western, so too are other nations far away—the nations of the Americas, Australasia, and the Asian zones of Russia—that were settled by Europeans who bore with them, along with their tools and skills, the elements of their civilization. In these scattered zones of Western civilization, and in the European homeland now as well, as migrations of peoples have altered its original population, people of greatly different origins—Asian, African—have adopted aspects of Western civilization. Just as anybody may learn French, or become a Methodist, anyone who so chooses may adopt and transmit the civilization of the West. Although at times in the Western past, theorists argued that civilization was linked to what was then, erroneously, called "race," the events of the last century have at long last obliterated those notions. Among the millions destroyed in the maelstrom of genocidal war were those considered to be by race outside the bounds of Western civilization; but their language and values were solidly Western, and their appeals for justice recapitulate the patterns of Western thought.


The West is a body of ideas, values, customs, and beliefs. These were forged over a period of centuries on the continent of Europe, which lay to the west of the then more advanced civilizations of the East. They triumphed during the centuries of European expansion: from approximately 1000 to 1900 of the Common Era, when Western values followed Western merchants, travelers, armies, and governors into every other corner of the inhabited globe. They are what the West means, and they are truly the meaning of the West.

Here are a few of the many concepts that have made the West and that constitute its core meaning:

  • The principle of human dignity: that all human beings are equal in worth (if not in talents, beauty, or size), that they possess rights which cannot be taken away, and that to the greatest possible degree they are free.
  • The ideal of justice: that no person should be unfairly privileged above another.
  • The value of democracy: that the power to shape the future of a community belongs to its people as a whole and not to arbitrarily selected leaders.
  • The method of rationalism, which assumes that all phenomena (even those pertaining to God, essence, or spirit) may be subject to the critical scrutiny of the human mind.
  • The inclination to progress, to work toward goals to be achieved in the future.
  • The habit of self-examination, which encourages human beings to examine themselves seriously and often to test whether they have fulfilled their promise and their responsibilities.

These, among others, are the habits and values that together characterize Western civilization, and which have caused it to develop in the directions it has—the very habits and values that have provoked the enemies to strike cruelly and violently against the innocent citizens of New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001.


We learn more about the Western world when we also examine the rest of the world. Some features of Western civilization are not unique to the West. They appear also in the cultural systems of other people around the globe, although not all of them appear in the same way in any other civilization. In many cases, particularly in the era of its origins, the West borrowed customs and ideas from the civilizations of Asia and Africa. More recently, a fully developed Western culture has lent, shared, or imposed its values on those civilizations and the newer ones of the Western hemisphere (see map, facing page).

This book will frequently pause in its narration of Western development to consider key aspects of non-Western civilizations, in the past and now. The ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean region, which confer upon the later West its first patterns of urbanization and political rule, its religious traditions and its alphabet, are, of course, considered. But so, too, are the ancient and medieval civilizations of China, India, Africa, and the Americas (Chapters 1, 2, 8, and 16). In the modern era, this book considers at length not only the process by which Western nations came to control much of the globe in the nineteenth century (Chapter 24), but also how colonized regions freed themselves from that domination in the twentieth (Chapter 29). To isolate the West from other regions which have helped shape it, and upon which it has impacted, makes no sense—especially in an age which is now no longer dominated by the West but is truly global.

A global perspective transcends any claims for the superiority of one civilization to another. The civilization of the West is the focus of this book not because it is better (arguable) or because it is ours (it is not "ours" to many Americans by virtue of birth), but because it embodies principles of permanent value that will survive as long as there are those who learn them, reflect on them, and teach them to future generations, in the West and elsewhere in the world.

It is hoped that this Second Edition of Western Civilization: A Social and Cultural History will help introduce students of the post 9/11/2001 world to the civilization that we all, whatever our origins or ethnicity, now share, and which can only be more treasured than it had been before. Please see the...

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King, Margaret L.
Published by Prentice Hall (2002)
ISBN 10: 0130450014 ISBN 13: 9780130450012
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1

Book Description Prentice Hall, 2002. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 2. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0130450014

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