Today, I got an email from Jeremy Adelman, who teaches an excellent MOOC on world history at Princeton.
The MOOCs are changing the landscape of higher education. It is here that the dominant institutions are staking their ground. The History department at Princeton is saying to every other history department in the entire world “Beat this, if you can!” Princeton is not interested in making money – but in achieving dominance – the same motivation that is behind Amazon and Google.
This is from today’s email to its students:
We are now turning to the twentieth century in this course. Finally. I know that many of you have been waiting patiently to get to more recent developments. It is important, however, to dwell on more distant times; they give us perspective on our age, the age of people we have known, our great-grandparents, our grandparents, and our parents – even some of us! Specifically, we reached back to the 14th century for two reasons. The first, is to recover the multiple roads that globalization has taken. The institutions, the actors, the technologies, and the ideologies of integration and disintegration have varied. Why is this important? Because it reminds us – and it has been said by a great historian, Eric Hobsbawm, that the role of the historian is to remind societies of things they would rather forget – that our globalization is just one more experiment among many. There is little that is natural or predestined about it; globalization has taken many forms and scales.
The second reason we go so far back is to explore the making of the concepts and categories that shape the way we understand our world. In some respects our history of the world in this course is also a history of concepts that have made our world a world – like the idea of universal rights, notions of discovery, divisions of labor, scientific knowledge, and concepts of “others,” have all come from global interactions. We need to understand where these ideas came from if we are to understand our age as the product of history. As we will see, the twentieth century was a clashing of these contradictory motives and understandings. It helps to know where they came from.
This week’s lectures leave us in 1914. The long processes unleashed by the age of revolutions, of national integrations, free trade, new forms of capital flow and accelerated migration, came to a climax – and a collision! How? Explaining this requires understanding what was happening globally. Accordingly, this week’s lectures look more closely at how people began to think about land in deeply cultural ways, with profound environmental effects of the enclosure of the world (lecture 15); we also look at the discontents and troubles brewing simultaneously around the world on the eve of the First World War (lecture 16).