Stanford University


IHUM 69B: Human History part 2

75,000 years ago there were barely 20,000 people on earth and each of them consumed about 4,000 calories of energy each day, half of it for food and half for everything else combined. Today, by contrast, there are 6,000,000,000 people on earth and in the US we each, on average, burn through 230,000 calories per day, for everything from driving Hummers to eating much more than we need. We take for granted things that would have seemed like magic a hundred years ago; we have penetrated every niche on the planet and have even moved into outer space. Yet at the same time, other species are going extinct at the rate of one every 20 minutes and we have poisoned the atmosphere and seas. Depending on how you look at it, people are the greatest success story or the greatest disaster of the last million years. We may be on the verge of an astonishing transformation, transcending biology and making death obsolete; or we may be on the verge of destroying ourselves (and everything else) completely.

How did we get here? And where are we going? This course tries to answer these questions by taking a global approach to the whole of human history.

It looks at every continent, from the Ice Age to the 21st century, asking how and why humans have multiplied so much, spread out so much, fought so much, and consumed so much; why some of their number—chiefly those in Europe and North America—became so much richer than others; and why that is now changing.

The course aims to identify the long-term patterns of history and asking whether we can project these forward into the future to see what will come next. In the process the class focuses on the great global processes that have brought us to this point—the evolution of humans; the creation of art and religion; the origins of agriculture; the invention of hierarchy, gender discrimination, and slavery; the rise of cities and states; the formation of empires; globalization; the scientific and industrial revolutions; and finally the ongoing revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics and the competing revolutions in weapons of mass destruction.

The course aims to provide a framework to make sense of the world and skills to analyze the relevant evidence, including artifacts spanning 15,000 years and written texts spanning the last 5,000. The goal is to provide the tools you need to put the greatest questions of our age into historical context.

Only by knowing where we've come from can we see where we're going.

Freshman lectures
Tuesdays/Thursdays 12.15-1.05; Cubberley auditorium
Postdoctoral teaching fellows: John Corbally, Liz Mullane, Matt Sayle, Maya Soifer Irish, Anise Strong

Classics 311B/History 235B: Ancient War part 2

(with Walter Scheidel)

Ancient historical writers were obsessed with war. Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Caesar took war as their topic; Polybius, Livy, Tacitus, and plenty of others wrote narratives dominated by its presence. The first historians of classical antiquity whom we normally recognize as modern—Gibbon, Stanyan, Grote—were almost equally obsessed by war. In the early twenty-first century, however, war seems to have been stricken from the agenda of professional classicists, even if ancient warfare continues to fascinate a huge non-professional audience.

The classicists' retreat from war parallels similar withdrawals in the last half-century among non-classical historians and anthropologists, but since the 1990s a number of political scientists, game theorists, and evolutionary anthropologists and archaeologists have re-engaged. This two-quarter seminar will look at ancient Greco-Roman war in the light of this new trend. The first quarter will focus on reading and discussion. It begins with three sessions on recent attempts to reinstate the scholarly importance of war among historians, evolutionists, and sociologists, then turns to look at six specific Greek or Roman wars. The second quarter will be devoted primarily to research and writing, beginning with talks by invited speakers and then turning to student presentations.

Graduate seminar
Tuesdays, 2.15-5.05; 110-111O


IHUM 69A: Human History part 1

See above

Freshman lectures
Mondays/Wednesdays 10.00-10.50; Cubberley auditorium

The Greeks: History, Culture, and Society

2,500 years ago, three or four million people scattered round the Mediterranean Sea embarked on a grand experiment. All earlier major civilizations had shared a core idea: that a few people had special access to the gods, and because of this, could tell lesser mortals what to do. The Greeks largely rejected this theory. By doing so they also created a new problem in world history: how do we know what to do, and how to order our society, if there are no god-given rulers to tell us? They sought answers in reasoned, open discussion, pioneering history-writing, rational philosophy, timeless works of art, citizenship, and democracy. But as they developed these concepts in a tough landscape of material scarcity and relentless competition, they also reached previously unknown levels of slavery and misogyny, and engaged in endless, draining wars.

In this course we will follow the Greeks' story across the first millennium BCE, focusing on the interplay between these concepts and the hard realities of economics, politics, and war. We begin with the emergence of city-states that were communities of roughly equal, free (male) citizens, and end with a move back toward accepting godlike great kings. We pass from the Greeks' early struggles against giant, threatening empires to their own imperial triumphs and efforts to live in the multicultural world they made.

Until the eighteenth century, the Greek experiment was perhaps unique in history, and because of that, few people cared about it very much. The educated aristocracies of early-modern Europe's powerful, imperial states found the great empires of Rome, China, and Egypt much more interesting. Greece often struck them as bizarre, and its republicanism seemed downright scary. But as West Europeans and their North American colonists started throwing out their own divine kings and aristocracies between 1750 and 1800 CE and seeking new bases for authority in reason, written constitutions, and even democracy, they found only one historical parallel to help them make sense of the world they were bringing into being: ancient Greece. For the last 250 years, politicians, journalists, and intellectuals have used the ancient Greek experience to make sense of the great events of their day. In this course we'll see just how rich the Greeks' legacy is. It has the power to appall as well as to inspire; but as we move into the twenty-first century, the Greeks remain good to think with.

Undergraduate lectures
Mondays/Wednesdays 11.00-11.50; discussions Fridays 11.00-11.50

Wealthy Hellas part 1 (with Josiah Ober)

Graduate seminar
Mondays 2.15-5.05; 110-111O

Spring quarter, 2011

IHUM 69B: Human History part 2

See above

Freshman lectures
Mondays/Wednesdays 10.00-10.50; Cubberley auditorium