HIST 1020
Western Civilization

Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjic

Office Hours:
By Appointment


Course Description:


This course is about our age, the Modern Age. More precisely, it is about Modernity or the spirit of our time. It explores how did the modern world come to its present condition, what are its defining characteristics, its outcomes, its aspirations, questions and problems. It deals primarily with the presuppositions and consequences of the two "cumulative and mutually reinforcing processes": (1) Rationalization (development of market economy coupled with the rise of state bureaucracy and political participation), and (2) Secularization (disintegration of religious world view and creation of autonomous spheres of science, morality and art).

The secular character of our age and culture has brought about a rational attititude toward the past and an unprecedented openess toward the future. Everything in the modern era seems to be in motion, change and transition toward the future. Our age is by far the most complex period in human history and the most dynamic at one. While Modernity is just a small fraction in the whole history of mankind it is certainly the age that has brought more rapid change in human life than any previous in human history (this relentless acceleration is both its essence and fate). There is a strong feeling of advancing and speeding up in the constant search for renewal. The perpetual transformations that supersede every achieved stage of development affect everything, from life style and the way how we work and govern ourselves up to the way how we think and express ourselves.


In its content the course basically offers a brief survey of our Western Civilization from the 15th through the 20th century. In other words it covers the developments from the Renaissance (early modern age) and Reformation, over the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution (Modern Times in the narrow sense) up to the most recent modern history (Globalization). It focuses on the emerging awareness of a universal history that generates global crises as well as the pressure to solve them. It demonstrates how Modernity creates its problems along with its achievements and how it finds resourses and means to keep running within its self-transcending enclosure (the "iron-cage" of Modernity).

The course runs across many disciplines and areas of study in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Modern age and its many facets and trends. While trying to show the variety of developments that make up our age it focuses more on the ideas and achievements that provide the underpinning for the functioning of our civilization than on particular social events, military conflicts, economic fluctuations and political arrangements that externally delineate the unfolding of modern history. We are interested in uncovering the fundamental world views and operating principles that profoundly influence the world today - not in narrating the story of particular regions and periods ofWestern history. Thus this course belongs rather to the History of mentality than to the traditional political history.

Course Objectives:

The primary objective of the course is to master some fundamental facts about our age and to acquire at least a general knowledge of the main components of its current stage. The participants are expected to learn the basic concepts of modern history, economics, sociology, politics, science, technology, philosophy, art and spirituality. By realizing that these areas of pursuit develop simultaneously, that they influence each other while retaining their specific autonomy, the participants should get a grip of the complex developments that make up our age in its fascinating multiplicity.

The secondary (albeit no less important) goal of the course is to avail an understanding of our age by understanding its leading ideas. This course will focus on these ideas in order to make them explicit and intelligible in their practical ramifications. The ideas that have shaped our age are the ideas that help understand it better. They shape the information we receive every day, they inform our actions and provide directions in our lives. Owing to the complexity and constant transformations it is often difficult to understand what is going on let alone to explain the trends and anticipate the future of our age. All too often we forget that behind all impressive accomplishments we witness there are some driving patterns that are deeply imbedded in our culture although we are not necessarily aware of them. However, only by recalling the deeper sources of our present world and our world view can we understand our culture's intellectual and real history.

Finally, the third objective follows from the preceding. Since Modernity is the first age that has attained the self-awareness of its position within the whole of human history it is critical that we perform the same self-reflection for ourselves as its individual subjects. Therefore, by providing insight into the main currents of our age this course makes an attempt at self-understanding - it raises the questions as to who we are, where are we coming from, where are we going. By getting a better grasp of modernity we may put ourselves in a better position to deal more effectively with our current dilemmas and perpetually recurring crises.

Course Schedule:

We would cover the ideas that define Modernity its various aspects: Philosophy (the assertion of Subjectivity and the Search for Method), Science (Striving for Advancement of Knowledge and Progress), Technology (Innovation and Application), Economy (Needs, Wealth, Equilibrium), Art (Avant-garde and Popular Culture), Religion (Authority and Conscience), Politics (Freedom and Democratic Procedures), Society (Individualism and Mass Society). Each class should tackle one aspect or development from the Renaissance, through Enlightenment up to Industrial Revolution and the current state of affairs.

Individuals, Concepts
Week I:

Introduction - The Notion of Modernity

What is Modern?

The New, Open Universe, Superseding, Acceleration

Innovations, Discoveries

Why innovate or perish?

Clock, Firearms, Printing Press, Telescope, Microsope, glasses,
Week II:


How we conquered the World?

New World, Columbus, Colonization, Pisaro, Cortes, Magelan
Space Travel


The Renaissance - Renovation.

Rebirth - of the classical?

Individualism, Humanism, Proportions, Human Perspective, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Erasmus
Week III:

The Advancement of Sciences

Has science solution for our age?

Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton
Mapping Nature


Reformation - Counter-Reformaton

Has God withdrawn himself or is he dead?

Conscience, Scriptures, Secularization,
Luther, Calvin, Nietzsche

Week IV:

Social Changes

What sets the process of rationalization?

New Class, Urbanization, Modernization, Social Utopia, Mass Society


Can supply meet the growing demand?

Money, Banking, Commerce, Growth, Market Forces, Post-industrial Society, Globalization
Week V:


What is the foundation of knowledge?

Representation, Dualism, Subjectivity, Foundationalism, Quest for Certainty, Empiricism, Criticism

The Enlightenment

Can reason rule?

Rationality, Progress,

Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot

Week VI:


Is a society of fairness and justice possible?

Nation-State, Absolutism, Democracy, Revolutions, Socialism, Machiavelli, Hobbes, More, Marx

Industrial Revolution

Will machines replace man?

Mass Reproduction, Assembly Lines
Week VII: The Arts. Postmodernity.

Why we do not understand Modern art?

Popular Culture, Kitsch,
Death of Art, Museums

  End of our era?  
Week VIII: Review  
  Final Exam  

Course Format:

There is no text-book for this course; no single book available at this point could avail us the scope and the angle that we are looking for. Therefore, course materials will be provided by the instructor in the form of primary sources and documents pertaining to particular topics or in the form of relevant illustrations and short overviews. The course involves both lecturing and class discussion. We will be fully engaged in an ongoing dialogue about the presented material and the issues raised in class. Everyone is expected to actively participate and no one should feel embarrassed because of their personal expressions.
Grades will be based on attendance (20%), class participation (30%) and a final exam (50%).


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