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The Core

Civilization Studies Core

The history of formulating Civilization Studies core courses at UChicago goes back to the 1950s when Robert Redfield initiated the Comparative Civilizations Project to enhance the understanding of multiple cultures and traditions in the world. Spurred by Redfield’s project, the College incorporated the study of Non-Western Civilizations courses that offer an in-depth analysis of a civilization’s historical social emergence, its institutions, and ideas that propelled social change in its historical framework. These courses encourage students to construct a historical narrative based on the study of primary sources.

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Civilization Studies Sequences

    America in World Civilization examines foundational texts in American history and politics from early European incursions to the New World through the early republic of the United States. Thereafter the sequence delves into analyzing the history of slavery, the civil war, and emancipation. It concludes in the twentieth century with the examination of the politics of race, gender, and ethnicity, and the rise and decline of new social movements.

    Ancient Empires introduces students to the differences and similarities between the great empires of the ancient world, primarily the Hittite and the Egyptian empires, and explores the aspects of conquest, military expansion, and foreign policy as modulated by the notion of empire.

    Ancient Mediterranean World centers on the socio-economic and political history of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great, segues into the emergence of the Roman Republic, and ends with late antiquity.

    Ancient Near Eastern History and Society explores the political, social, and economic history of ancient Egypt, ancient Anatolia, and Mesopotamia through a careful examination of archaeological and historical records.

    Ancient Near East Thought and Literature examines the Gilgamesh, and the Hittite traditions, and the ancient Egyptian literary texts to understand the genres, conventions and techniques deployed in ancient literary thought.

    This three-quarter sequence critically unsettles the concept of ‘civilization’ by focusing on the histories and discourses of power, resistance, and political possibility that have given shape to the modern world. We explore modern forms of colonialism across the globe: their dynamics of dispossession, exploitation and domination; their contradictions and unforeseen consequences; their relationships with processes of resistance, revolution, freedom and independence; and their legacies in the present. The sequence also centers colonialism’s fundamental entanglement with capitalism and with the processes of race/racialization, labor/class, gender, and sexuality that have come to configure political identities today.

    Energy in World Civilizations explores the historical roots of climate change and other global environmental problems by focusing on the social use of energy over time. Part I covers energy systems across the world from prehistory to the end of the nineteenth century. Part II investigates global energy systems from the early twentieth century to the present. 

    Gender and Sexuality in World Civilization addresses the question of the formation of gender and sexuality in the social, political, and cultural matrix of different civilizations.

    History of European Civilization calls into question the very construction of the notion of European Civilization by focusing on the early Middle Ages to the present, and takes into account a variety of genres: biography, letters, property records, and memoirs, to understand the historical transformations in Europe.

    History of Western Civilization introduces students to some of the important epochs in the development of Western civilization since the 6th century BC to the rise of liberal and post-liberal societies in the 20th century.

    Human Rights in World Civilization sets up the conceptual problem of human rights in the universal context. While the first half of the sequence keys into the revolutionary eighteenth century rights in France, the United States and Haiti, the latter half explores thematic clusters of migration, minorities, and refugees.

    Introduction to African Civilization offers an in-depth analysis of historical transformations in Africa from the early Iron Age through trans-Atlantic slave trade, the effects of colonialism, and the impact of the Islamic reform movements.

    Introduction to the Civilizations of East Asia introduces students to the history of China, Japan, and Korea focusing on some of the major transformations in these societies and cultures from the Middle Ages to the present.

    Introduction to the Civilizations of South Asia examines the advent of Islam in South Asia, Hindu-Muslim cultural exchange, segues into the study of the Mughal rule, and concludes by analyzing the history of colonialism leading up to the independence and partition of India.

    This course introduces the history and cultures of Latin America (e.g., Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean Islands).

    Introduction to Russian Civilization provides an interdisciplinary account of Russian civilization from the 9th century to the 20th century tracking the evolution of Russia through the lens of different social and political orders.

    Islamic History and Society focuses on the economic, social, and intellectual history of Islam from the ancient period to the rise of the Islamic empire in the Middle Ages, and concludes with the emergence of the modern Middle East after World War I.

    Islamic Thought and Literature explores key aspects of Islamic intellectual history: scripture, law, theology, philosophy, literature, and archaeology.

    Jewish Civilization explores Jewish culture through its ancient moorings to medieval and modern transformations by engaging biblical, Talmudic, philosophical and historical texts.

    Music in Western Civilization concentrates on classical western musical works from the standpoint of style, politics, intellectual and cultural history.

    Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization investigates the development of science in the West by focusing on the biological, psychological, historical, natural and cultural matrices that influenced the evolution of sciences.

    Semitic Languages, Cultures, and Civilizations analyzes the historical and cultural developments of Semitic languages in the ancient period, and their transition into modern languages of the Middle East.

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