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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Daniel Chirot
JSIS 200
Seattle Campus

States and Capitalism: The Origins of the Modern Global System

Origins of the modern world system in the sixteenth century and its history until World War I. Interacting forces of politics and economics around the globe, with particular attention to key periods of expansion and crisis. Offered: A.

Class description

The second part of the course title is a better description of what it is about than the somewhat misleading first part because what the course will try answer is this: How did the modern world come into being? The rise of a world filled with sovereign states that claim to be nations is part of the story, as is the rise of a capitalist world system that today covers almost the entire globe. But trying to find answers to how this came to be will necessarily take us to other aspects of social change over many centuries. We will try to understand how human societies function and change over thousands of years to see how great agrarian empires grew and became so dominant. Then, starting in about 1500, in one part of the world, Western Europe, there began a momentous transformation that gradually changed everything. New ways of thinking about the natural world, new political and moral philosophies, and new technologies gave this small part of the globe unparalleled power, so that within a few centuries it conquered almost all of the rest of the world. An important part of the change that occurred was the creation of new types of nation-states that claimed to be more democratic than the old aristocratic monarchies that had previously included most of humanity. The American and French Revolutions and their consequences were a key part of what created our modern world, and knowing how these took place will provide more parts of our answer. Another crucial change was the industrial revolution that began in Great Britain. That in turn produced new ways of understanding progress and how change occurs. By the end of the nineteenth century all these transformations had produced a Western dominated globe that seemed reasonably secure in its power and march toward greater rationality, democracy, and progress. The rest of the world, generally resentful of Western domination, especially in the vast colonial holdings of the West, seemed unable to break loose and match Western power. Then, Europe embarked on a series of wars and internal conflicts that came close to destroying it. These set the stage for a successful series of revolts by the non-Western world that continue to this day. But this course will stop with World War I and its effects. SIS 201 will pick up the story after that. This is not a history course because it emphasizes global interactions and general ideas about change more than specific histories of particular periods or places; however, much of the assigned reading is by historians. We will also read works by a sociologist of science and by an economist who specialized in economic history. There will be some movies to illustrate some of the important themes of the course. Most are documentaries, but one is actually a fictional comedy that is more tragic than funny in its portrayal of European colonialism and World War I. By the end of the course students will have a better idea of how our world changed until the early twentieth century, and how that has shaped events even today in the early twenty-first century. This is meant to provide students with some tentative answers to the original questions: how did all this come to happen?


How evolutionary social change occurs. From early societies to agrarian empires: Rome and China. Islam, Mongols, Ottomans, and the rise of Iberia’s overseas empires. The birth of a modern world system. Continental empires in Eurasia. From empire to nation in the West. The scientific Enlightenment. The philosophical and political Enlightenment. The American Revolution: liberty, slavery, and arguments about the state: the Jefferson - Hamilton debate and its continuation in our times. The state and religion: the modern and persisting conflict about the Enlightenment. The French Revolution and the paradox of the Enlightenment: liberty or tyranny? The Industrial Revolution and cycles of boom and bust from the 1780s to the 2040s. Europe and its new empires take over the world. Nationalism, imperialism, and militarization: the origins of World War I. The birth of modern social science and of economics. The study of economies and their problems in the 20th century. The dark side of progress: the consequences of World War I. The fall of Empires and the unmixing of populations in Europe: setting the stage for more conflict and foreshadowing a dismal future for the rest of the world. The Communist Revolution in Russia and its long-term consequences. Anti-colonialism and the beginning of the end of European hegemony.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Lectures or films three times a week, M - W - F

Meetings in sections with TAs twice a week, T - Th

Recommended preparation

None -- this is an introductory course

Class assignments and grading

Reading assignments, films, and dates of exams

Five books have been assigned. These are available in the University Book Store and are also on reserve in the Odegaard Undergraduate Library on 4 hour reserve.

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires In World History, Princeton University Press 2010

Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution, University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters, Penguin, 2006.

William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University, Press, 2001

Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

September 24-30, read Empires in World History, pp. 23-148.

October 1-7, read Empires in World History, pp. 149-250.

October 8-14, read The Scientific Revolution.

On October 10 there will be a film about Isaac Newton.

October 15-19, read Revolutionary Characters, pp. 1-118.

October 20-24, read Revolutionary Characters, pp. 119-202.

On October 22 there will be a film about Thomas Jefferson.

October 24 will be a review class for the mid-term exam on October 26.

October 29-November 4, read The French Revolution.

On October 31 and November 2 there will be a film about the French Revolution.

November 5-11, read Empires in World History, pp. 251-330.

November 12 is a holiday with no classes.

November 14-18, read The Worldly Philosophers, pp. 13-135.

On November 14 and 16 there will be a film about European colonialism and World War I.

November 19—26, read The Worldly Philosophers, pp. 136-212.

Class is optional on Wednesday the 21st as some students will have left for the Thanksgiving holiday that runs from November 22 to 25.

The paper will be due on November 27 or 29, but no later than the 29th under any circumstances.

November 28-December 5, read Empires in World History, pp. 331-393.

December 7, the last day of instruction, will be a review class for the final exam.

The final exam will be on Wednesday, December 12, as the University’s official exam calendar mandates. There can be no early exams given and the date cannot be changed.

Do the assigned reading each week. Most of the discussion of the reading will take place in the sections of this course. The lectures will also discuss the reading, but also try to place them in a larger context. Make sure you attend both the lectures and the section meetings. There will be a midterm exam on October 26, at the end of the fifth week. There will be no other time scheduled for the midterm, so everyone is expected to take it then. The final exam will be on December 12 from 2:30 to 4:20 in the same room as the lectures, Kane 220. University rules prohibit the giving of final exams at any time other than the officially scheduled time, and there will be no exceptions for any reason. Please plan ahead for this. The last class will be only 5 days earlier, on Friday the 7th of December.

Along with the exams, students will write a paper that will be between 2000 and 2500 words long. The choice of topics from which students will be able to choose will be spelled out early in the course. Discuss your proposed topic with your section head and get it approved before you start writing your paper! The paper is due on Tuesday, November 27 or on Thursday, November 29 in your section meeting of that day. No paper can be handed in later than November 29. Make sure that your section head’s name is on your paper as well as you own. Paper copies are required, not electronically submitted ones, unless your section head tells you otherwise. In any case, make sure you keep your own electronic copy of your paper.

Grading will be based on the following percentages: Midterm = 25% / Final exam = 50% / Paper = 25% The maximum score obtainable on the midterm will be 25 points, on the final 50 points, and for the paper 25 points. Therefore, the top possible score will be 100. The following chart indicates how grades will be determined. 99-100 = 4.0 72-73 = 2.6 97-98 = 3.9 70-71 = 2.5 95-96 = 3.8 68-69 = 2.4 93-94 = 3.7 66-67 = 2.3 91-92 = 3.6 64-65 = 2.2 90 = 3.5 62-63 = 2.1 88-89 = 3.4 60-61 = 2.0 86-87 = 3.3 I do not expect anyone to get less than this, but if 84-85 = 3.2 papers are not handed in, or if someone does not 82-83 = 3.1 do the reading and attend classes, it is possible 80-81 = 3.0 that this might happen. If so, 59 = 1.9, 58 = 1.8, 78-79 = 2.9 and so on down to 50 = 1.0 and 47 = 0.7. Any 76-77 = 2.8 grade below that is a 0. No one who does the 74-75 = 2.7 work should get any of these low grades!

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Daniel Chirot
Date: 08/03/2012