Watch Foundations of Western Civilization II: A History of the Modern Western World

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More than just a history of Western civilization, Foundations of Western Civilization II is a course about the meaning of civilization itself. Taught by Professor Robert Bucholz, it promises profound rewards for students of history at every level, a grand narrative of the past five centuries - of social progress, political evolution, industrialization, and other economic factors.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 41 Episodes
April 10, 2006
Cast: Robert Bucholz
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Foundations of Western Civilization II: A History of the Modern Western World Full Episode Guide

  • At the dawn of the 21st century, the European legacy of democracy, capitalism, and relative freedom for the individual is challenged by internal and external movements, including the rise of religious fundamentalism, international terrorism, tensions over immigration, and integration into a global economy. Will European ideals survive?

  • After the fall of the Soviet Union, the nations of Europe form a European Union with an aim to reshape the politics and economics of the region and the world, even as it deals with many new challenges.

  • The great nations of Europe are forced to re-evaluate their positions. Gradually, often reluctantly, and sometimes violently, they divest themselves of overseas colonies, accommodate themselves to a precarious existence between the superpowers, and concentrate on rebuilding their economies.

  • The two undisputed superpowers threaten each other with nuclear arsenals and fight proxy wars for global dominance. Americans use their leadership and wealth to establish democracies in Germany and Italy and to restore Western European economies through the Marshall Plan. This lecture doesn't address the end of the Cold War.

  • This first lecture on World War II begins with Hitler's Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland and continues until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States.

  • In both the Far East and Europe, aggression brings the world closer to war. Following its earlier invasion of Manchuria with an invasion of the rest of northern China in 1937, Japan has joined the Axis powers, and Hitler marches a rearmed Germany into the Rhineland, Austria, and then Czechoslovakia.

  • The Nazi regime embarks on the extermination of Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" in Europe. The lecture concludes with a meditation on the meaning of this crime and its implications for the concept of Western civilization.

  • The disillusionment in Europe with democracy and, later, capitalism following the Great War and the Great Depression make alternatives seem reasonable. Mussolini and Hitler seize power and create states that boast full employment - at a price.

  • Lenin's early experiments with forced collectivization at home and revolution abroad are disastrous for the Soviet Union's domestic and foreign policy and even worse for its people. When Lenin dies, a vicious power struggle results in the rise of Josef Stalin.

  • The world economy only slowly recovers from the Great War. America emerges as both Europe's creditor and the world's wealthiest nation, with the collapse of the stock market having a disastrous ripple effect.

  • Its final effort to win the war thwarted, and facing food and fuel shortages, Germany finally agrees to an armistice. The ensuing peace conference produces a treaty that will weaken the German economy and breed tremendous resentment.

  • The most backward and repressive nation in Europe, terribly overmatched in the war, experiences the overthrow of both its czar and the republican government that succeeds him before suing for peace with Germany and establishing the world's first Communist government.

  • The rapid mobilization of Russia and the determined resistance of France ruin Germany's plans for quick victory. The new inventions of the second Industrial Revolution give the defensive side all the advantages, and the armies of Europe are locked into a bloody stalemate of trench warfare.

  • The start of the Great War is greeted by cheering crowds and floods of volunteering men all over Europe. For some the reasons involve nationalism and patriotism; for others it's a chance to flee a stagnant economy or find answers for a society and culture in flux.

  • A series of interlocking treaties devised by Otto von Bismarck to ease conditions in the Balkans prevents nationalistic and economic pressures from exploding into full-scale European war, but new tensions eventually grow to overwhelm it.

  • The European powers, as well as the United States, seek new empires overseas. The resulting competition for colonies breeds conflict between nations that otherwise have no reason to fight, a factor that in the long run contributes to World War I.

  • The Industrial Revolution is primarily a northern and western European phenomenon. Elsewhere, the big issue is nationalism, and the failure of the Congress of Vienna to take nationalism and liberalism into account leads to revolutions across Europe throughout the next 30 years.

  • The urgings of early Socialists for voluntarily sharing wealth eventually give way to the demands of Marx and Engels for more radical action. Though Marx's critique is influential, several factors prevent industrial Europe from ever experiencing the revolution for which he calls.

  • In the face of half-hearted or partial solutions to the problems of the Industrial Revolution, Romantic writers such as Wordsworth, Blake, and Shelley urge revolution, forever altering how Europeans and, later, Americans, perceive the world.

  • The appalling conditions of life and work for the working class produce a series of intellectual and political reactions in Western Europe, with the best routes to reform the subject of wide-ranging debate among liberal thinkers.

  • The consequences of the first Industrial Revolution do more to create today's world than any other development studied in this course. But its innovations have a dark side that draws multiple responses from European intellectuals - which we examine in the next three lectures.

  • Despite a succession of brilliant victories, Napoleon's efforts to conquer Britain and force the nations of Europe into his system meet with eventual defeat. Nevertheless, the sense of nationalism spread by France has changed the political climate, as the Congress of Vienna learns in attempting to restore the Bourbon monarchy.

  • As the king - urged on by monarchs elsewhere - refuses that new role, the Revolution turns violent, unleashing a Reign of Terror that eventually brings about war with virtually every other monarchy in Europe, a new nationalism, and the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte.

  • The American Revolution becomes a fight over Enlightenment ideas. The new republic and its constitution represent the first comprehensive attempt to put those ideas into practice and become a model and inspiration to Europeans who want reform.

  • European thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Rousseau expand the ideas of Locke and others in a movement that comes to be known as the Enlightenment. When even enlightened monarchs fail to change their societies, some Europeans begin to consider an alternative: revolution.

  • Thanks to commercial and financial revolutions, the middling orders of merchants and professionals are growing in numbers, wealth, and political savvy - and will be key to the coming revolution in European social and economic relations.

  • Most of Europe, and France in particular, emerges from two decades of warfare exhausted financially and militarily, but the peace is temporary. A new round of conflicts leaves Britain the undisputed master of the Canadian and Eastern seaboards of North America.

  • The Revolution of 1688-89 precipitates a series of general European wars pitting the French against the British and Dutch for mastery in Europe and control of trade with colonies in America and Asia.

  • The Stuart monarchs of England struggle with Parliament and their own foibles and extravagance. The resulting English Civil Wars culminate in the trial and execution of King Charles I in 1649.

  • Following the disasters of the Wars of Religion, the monarchies of Europe experience a crisis of authority. The French response - ultimately perfected by Louis XIV - of an absolutism that makes the king a virtual god on Earth becomes an object of envy and imitation for nearly every monarchy on the continent.

  • Beginning with Copernicus in the 15th century, European thinkers such as Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, and Newton question old views on how the world works, pioneering the Scientific Method.

  • The Reformation splits Europe into opposing camps, producing a series of bloodbaths culminating in the Thirty Years' War, the near-bankruptcy of Spain, and the eventual conviction that perhaps religious matters are best settled peacefully.

  • The rise of literacy and the development of the printing press make possible the dissemination of powerful new ideas - particularly those of Augustinian priest and reformer Martin Luther.

  • The exploration and exploitation of Africa and Asia by the Portuguese, and of the Americas by first the Spanish, then the French and English, change the economies, cultures, and political makeup of these regions forever.

  • The Humanist emphasis dovetails with the rise of a new kind of ruler, with expanding powers in every area of life and seeking to pay for their ambitions by claiming trade routes to the Far East and the Americas.

  • A revived interest in the literary and historical works of classical Greece and Rome unleashes new ideas about the qualifications of a gentleman, the role of women, and the expectations of a prince - with a resulting emphasis on textual accuracy, literacy, education, and the human and practical.

  • The "Great Chain of Being" assumed an ordered, hierarchical universe in which humans - like angels, animals, plants, and even stones - were placed in a particular rank by God. As Europe emerges from the Middle Ages, that concept is challenged and strained by forces in politics, society, religion, and culture.

  • We look at how the physical realities of Europe and the Atlantic world - its geography and climate - shaped its destiny by affecting patterns of population, immigration, diplomacy, war, and political and cultural divisions.

  • This lecture is an overview of the past 500 years of European history and culture - the system of government, economic structures, science and technology, and much of the literature, art, and music. #History

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