21H.009 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

The World: 1400-Present


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There is no prerequisite for this course.


This course surveys the economic and political evolution of societies and cultures from 1400 to the present. It studies the increasing interaction between communities as the barrier of distance succumbed to both curiosity and new transport technologies. It explores the rise of Western Europe and the United States in the period, as well as the great divergence in material, political, and technological development between Western Europe and East Asia after 1750 and its impact on the rest of the world. It examines a series of evolving relationships: human beings and their physical environment; religious and political systems; and subgroups within communities as sorted by race, class, and gender. It introduces historical and other interpretive methodologies using both primary and secondary source materials. It considers architectural, musical, and visual evidence, in addition to textual sources.


Active class participation is central to our work together. Attendance is mandatory, and students are expected to arrive in class on time and prepared to discuss common readings. Students will prepare ten short assignments spaced evenly throughout the term, and one five page paper due at our final class meeting. We will conduct two in-class debates during sessions 9 and 17. Each student will have a central speaking role in at least one of these debates. Instructions for the short assignments, the five page paper, and the debates will be distributed later in the term. There will be no midterm and no final. Each assignment will be weighted in the calculation of the final grade, although these calculations will also take into account improved performance during the course of the semester.


Class Participation 15
Debates 20
5 Short Written Assignments 25 (5% each)
3 Visual Exercises 15 (5% each)
Final Assignment (5-page paper) 25

Course Materials

Relevant chapters from this textbook are required, or in some cases recommended, on the Readings schedule:

Tignor, Robert, et al. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. Vol 2: From 1000 CE to the Present. 4th ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2013. ISBN: 9780393922097.

HEX Subject

21H.009 is a HASS Exploration (HEX) subject. HEX subjects are team-taught courses that explore a major concept or topic from multiple viewpoints found across or within disciplines in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. By showcasing the generative value of dialogue and debate among diverse disciplines, specials, theoretical frameworks, or methodologies, HEX subjects allow students to approach a given problem, phenomenon, or topic from multiple vantage points. Emphasizing close interaction with faculty, the courses encourage the development of foundational skills such as critical reading and analysis of primary materials. More broadly, they provide a pathway into modes of thinking that are central to the HASS curriculum and offer students an opportunity to explore concepts, topics, and histories that are crucial to understanding and inhabiting the complex world in which we live.


The web now hosts many sites which offer college level papers of varying quality on a variety of topics. We are well acquainted with these sites, and with others that offer detection services to professors. Buying a paper and submitting it as your own work is cheating. Copying sections from someone else’s print or online work into your own without an acknowledgement is plagiarism. MIT has strict policies against both activities that we will fully enforce. For the appropriate MIT definitions and policies, visit the following website, Academic Integrity at MIT. If you are uncertain about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, please contact one of the instructors before submitting the work in question.


In most weeks, the class met twice. Professors McCants and / or Ravel led lectures, unless otherwise indicated.

Week 1
1 Introduction I. Time: World History and Deep History  
Week 2
2 Introduction II. Space: “Reading” Maps In-class: Map Exercise with MIT Museum materials.
3 The Big Picture I: From Afro-Eurasia to the World, ca. 1200 to 1700 First Visual Exercise due
Week 3
4 Medieval Travelers (Professor McCants & Professor Christopher Leighton, History, MIT)  
5 Contact and Conflict in East Asia First Written Assignment due
Week 4
6 Contact and Conflict in East Asia—Discussion  
7 Contact and Conflict in the Americas Second Written Assignment due
Week 5
8 Contact and Conflict in the Americas—Discussion  
9 Debating World History, 1300–1600 First Debate
This week included a trip outside of normal meeting times.—eds. Class Visit to the U.S.S. Constitution  
Week 6
10 The Big Picture II: Global Trade, Empire, and Industrialization, 1600–1870 Third Written Assignment due
11 Empire, Ideology, and Architecture: Eighteenth-Century Global Examples  
Week 7
12 The Atlantic Revolutions in Global Context  
13 Visit to MIT Museum  
Week 8
14 Revolutions - Industrial and Industrious, Not Political Second Visual Assignment due
15 Consumption  
Week 9
16 Porcelain in Asia, Europe, and Museums Today (Professor Kristel Smentek, Architecture, MIT) Fourth Written Assignment due
17 Debating World History, 1600–1870 Second Debate
Week 10
18 The Big Picture III: Imperialism, Nation-States, Colonialism, 1815-1914 & Beyond  
19 Exchanges in the Americas in the Nineteenth Century: Commodities and Music (Professor Ravel & Professor Charles Shadle, Music and Theater, MIT)  
Week 11
What would have been a class session was a holiday. There was no lecture, but an assignment was due.—eds. No Class Fifth Written Assignment due
20 Imperialism in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century South Asia and East Africa (Professor Sana Aiyar, History, MIT)  
Week 12
21 1918: The Wilsonian Moment in the Middle East (Professor Lerna Ekmekcioglu, History, MIT)  
22 The Era of Mass Society and Total War (Professor Hiromu Nagahara, History, MIT)  
Week 13
23 Ideology and Practice: The Cold War as a Way of Life (Professor Chris Capozzola, History, MIT) Third Visual Assignment due
24 Debate: Globalization, 1870-Present Third Debate
Week 14
25 Migrations, Citizenship, and Identity in the Post-World War II Era (Professor Emma Teng, History and Foreign Languages and Literature, MIT)  
26 Final Discussion: Do We Live in a Smaller World? Final Assignment instructions distributed in class

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments