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Western civilization refers to a group of European civilizations with common cultural goals, intellectual foundations, and ancestral values. The idea is that those civilizations have a common past that has impacted their emergence. This concept is often used in contrast to the supposed Eastern civilization to highlight the basic differences between Asian and European cultures. The most important element of Western civilization is that it is delineated by the impression of a collective heritage or cultural origins. The two main forces that created the heart of Western civilization are Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian factors. The Greeks and Romans, two of Europe’s oldest major, founded civilizations were the very first powerful factors on what would constitute Western civilization. This paper seeks to delve into the reason why Western Civilization has been so productive and dynamic by going through the major periods we have covered and identifying the important concepts and occurrences that have aided Western Civilization’s advancement.
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The Classical Period encompasses the interwoven cultures of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, referred to as the Greco-Roman civilization, from the 8th century BC to the 6th century AD, and is focused on the Mediterranean Sea.
Unique talents thrived in Greece at this time. Pericles, a great general and statesman was voted into power in 443 B.C., and Athens attained the pinnacle of cultural splendor during his rule (Drogin, 2008). The Parthenon, for example, was built during Pericles’ reign, and it represents the Greek concepts of reason, moderation, order, and beauty. Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles composed their dramas and comedy throughout this time, setting patterns for centuries of artists. Many of their storylines were inspired by tales about legends and gods, however, their works tackled important moral problems and dealt with universal topics (Sunshine, 2009). Their plays are so ageless that you may see one on Broadway or in London almost every evening.
For the first time in the West, Herodotus, known as “the father of history,” chronicled occurrences, including the Persian wars. Thucydides, a younger colleague of Herodotus, wrote about the Peloponnesian War and became the first historian to objectively examine his sources with a view to the future (Sunshine, 2009). The civil war between Sparta and Athens was chronicled by Thucydides. These ancient Greek authors were the first genuine historians of Western culture when they collaborated.
Great philosophers arose as well, including Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, who posed such fundamental issues as “What is happiness?” “What is truth?” and “What is the ideal form of government?” (Drogin, 2008). Socrates (469-399 B.C.) seldom wrote down his insights, which he conveyed most frequently in his discussions with others—hence the term “Socratic dialogue.” Plato (427-347 B.C.) was his disciple who recorded Socrates’ discussions. Plato thought that everything is a flawed mirror of the ideal concept that lies behind it. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), Plato’s most famous student, may be considered the first scientist who utilized experience and thought to better comprehend the physical universe.
Early Modern Period (1300-1600)
The late Middle Ages of the post-classical era are followed by the early modern period of modern history. Historians divide it into four periods: the Ottoman conquering of Constantinople in 1453, the Renaissance in Europe and Timurid Central Asia, Muslim conquests in India, and the end of the Reconquista and the Age of Enlightenment (particularly Christopher Columbus’ adventures starting in 1492 and also Vasco da Gama’s exploration of the sea route to India in 1498).
Historians have claimed in the past few decades that the most significant characteristic of the early modern era from a global perspective was its expanding globalizing nature (Sunshine, 2009). Over the course of the era, new industries and structures arose, becoming increasingly complex and internationally defined. In the west, this dynamic started in the medieval North Italian city-states of Milan, Venice, and Genoa. The early modern era also saw the development of mercantilism as the dominant economic philosophy (Drogin, 2008).
The Aztec Empire, the Inca civilization, the Maya civilization, and its cities, and the Muisca civilization were all constructed by pre-Columbian citizens in America. During the early modern era, European colonization of the Americas started, as did the development of European trade centers in Africa and Asia, both of which gave rise to the spreading of Christianity across the globe (Sunshine, 2009). The emergence of persistent connections between formerly separate regions of the world, particularly the Columbian Exchange, which connected the Old and New Worlds, had a significant impact on the natural surroundings. During this time, the Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of Native Americans both started. Southeastern Europe, as well as portions of West North Africa and West Asia, were overrun by Turkey.
Modern Period (1700-1900)
The Modern Period is a lesser-known period that encompasses the time between the early modern and current periods. It starts about 1750 with the advent of European industry and is characterized by a series of political upheavals. It comes to a close around 1945, with the relative progress of industrialization in Europe, America, Russia, and Japan, as well as the conclusion of World War II.
Between 1760 and 1820, in Europe and the United States, the Industrial Revolution was a time of the shift to innovative industrial techniques (Sunshine, 2009). The shift from manual to machine production, new chemical and the iron production techniques, increased use of water and steam energy, the invention of industrial machinery, and the emergence of the industrialized factory structure were all part of this transformation (Drogin, 2008). The Industrial Revolution also ushered in a period of unparalleled population increase. It was a watershed moment in history, affecting virtually every area of everyday life in some manner. Standard population particularly started to increase at an extraordinary speed.
The French Revolution, which started in 1789 and concluded with Napoleon Bonaparte’s ascent in the late 1790s, was a remarkable event in modern history. Throughout this period, the French people demolished and recreated their country’s political system, eliminating centuries-old establishments such as feudalism and absolute monarchy (Drogin, 2008). The turmoil was prompted by widespread disgruntlement with the French monarchy and King Louis XVI’s controversial economic practices which resulted in his and his wife Marie Antoinette’s executions. Despite the fact that the French Revolution did not reach all of its ambitions and often degenerated into a scene of carnage, it was contributory to the formation of modern countries by showing the power of the people’s determination (Sunshine, 2009).
The Second World War was the most recent occurrence in the modern era. The instability that the First World War (1914-18) created in Europe set the stage for a far more devastating global war, Second World War, to burst out two decades afterward (Drogin, 2008). Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party’s leader, got into power in a politically and economically unstable Germany, successfully conquered the nation, and formed key ties with Japan and Italy to further his worldwide domination ambitions. Following Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, France and the United Kingdom launched the war on Germany igniting World War II. In the next six years, the conflict killed too many people and destroyed more property and lands across the globe than any other war. Six million Jewish people were part of the 45-60 million people killed in Nazi concentration centers as an element of Hitler’s heinous “Final Solution,” today recognized as the Holocaust or Shoah.
Contemporary Period (1900- Present Day)
The contemporary period is a subsection of recent history that encompasses the time span from 1945 to the present. The Cold War (1945–1991) between the United States and the Soviet Union overshadowed contemporary history, and its consequences were experienced all over the globe (Drogin, 2008). Following the Revolutions of 1989, the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union were disbanded in 1991, and the conflict was mostly waged via indirect wars and involvement in the internal affairs of smaller countries. Much of Europe, Africa, and Latin America were able to become democratic in the wake of the Cold War.
Between the 1960s and 1980s, countercultures arose and the sexual revolutions altered social interactions in Western nations, exemplified by the 1968 Riots. Due to the extreme postwar economic upswing, which saw advanced economies like Japan and West Germany rise, standards of living increased dramatically across the industrialized world (Drogin, 2008). The culture of the United States, particularly consumerism, was extensively disseminated. Many western nations had started to deindustrialize by the 1960s, and globalization had resulted in the development of new industrial hubs, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and subsequently China, that supplied consumer products to advanced nations (Drogin, 2008).
After 1945, science produced breakthroughs in spaceflight, nuclear capabilities, laser, and semiconductor technologies, as well as genetic biology and genomics, particulate physics, and quantum field theory’s Standard Framework (Sunshine, 2009). Simultaneously, the Information Age began with the creation of the very first computers, accompanied by the Internet.
During this time, personal computers developed as a new society-changing phenomenon in the West. In the 1960s, experimentation on computer networks started, and the World Wide Web developed out of these trials. Through the late 1990s and into the early twenty-first century, the internet revolutionized communication systems and enabled the development of new social media, which had far-reaching effects, connecting the globe like never before. The internet provided unfettered accessibility to enormous quantities of information in the West, whereas beyond the democratic West, such as China and Middle Eastern countries, a variety of censorship and surveillance methods were implemented, creating a new socio-political divide (Sunshine, 2009).
Conclusively, Western civilization has shown to be effective and has progressed significantly. Western Civilization is demarcated by a variety of legislative, literary, philosophical, and artistic concepts and cultures, as well as the contributions of Latin, Slavic, Jewish, Hellenic, Germanic, Celtic, and other indigenous and linguistic groups. Christianity has also shaped Western civilization for the longest time. Additionally, a legacy of rationality in many areas of life, established by Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, humanism, Scholasticism, and Hellenistic philosophy contributed to Western thinking in ancient times and later in the Middle Ages and Renaissance onwards. European culture developed with an all-encompassing desire to absorb, adapt and eventually influence other cultural movements across the globe as a result of its worldwide connectedness.
Drogin, S. S. (2008). Spare Me the Details!: A Short History of Western Civilization. iUniverse.
Sunshine, G. S. (2009). Why you think the way you do: The story of western worldviews from Rome to home. Zondervan.
For your Capstone Project, you will write a 5-6 page paper (1600-1700 words) where you will answer the question: Why has Western Civilization been so productive and dynamic? You should base this paper on the weekly summaries that you submitted throughout the course. Try to piece these summaries into something of an organized overview of the entire course. Not everything will fit, but you will find surprising continuities from one period to the next. This paper does not require additional research, because you have the notes taken throughout the course. This paper should be organized according to the required format, spellchecked, and proofread. Use the rubric below to help you guide your paper.
Really at its heart this question is seeking to answer Why has Western Civilization worked and survived as long as it has? So when we break that down what we want to do first is define what is Western Civilization? What are its central ideas (i.e Christianity, Democracy)? Next you should go through the main periods we have studied to pull out 3-4 of the key ideas and events of that time that have helped advance Western Civilization (i.e big cultural shifts such as the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, key Revolutions—both political and social, major conflicts, technological advancements ). As you go from each era you should also be looking to connect these key ideas to one another.
To write an effective essay, you should include the following in your answer and consider this an excellent outline for your final:
Introduction – Includes a good attention grabber and that clearly states your main argument (or point) you will be trying get across (thesis statement) and how you intend to get this point (i.e. I intend to prove X by showing you A,B,C,D, ect.) You should also include a good definition of what exactly is Western Civilization and its key characteristics
Key ideas and events from the Classical period: Greece and Rome (Drogin 1-3)
Key ideas and events from the Early Modern period: 1400-1600 (Drogin 6-9)
Key Ideas and events from Modern period 1700-1900 (Drogin 10-13)
Key idea and events from the Contemporary period 1900-present day (Drogin 14-20)
*Tip: you should write about ½-1 page for your introduction, 1 page for each period listed above 1-3, and ½ page for your conclusion—that would get you to roughly 5-6 pages).
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