Modern Civilizations

Ages 14+


Required.   Approximately 2 hours / week

Students will show mastery of their chosen topics through essays, presentations, Zines, videos, cartoons and more!

The objective of the Modern Civilizations class is for students to study the major turning points that shaped the world into the place we see today.   How did we become so globalized?  How did we become so industrialized?   Why do countries chose isolationism?   What gave rise to democracies, socialism, or communism?  What brought down epic societies and brought new ones to light?   


Because these are big questions, we will focus our studies on events from the late eighteenth century through the present.  We will look at international events, and how America interacted with them.   While all students should have a good grounding in the World Wars, we need to look further than our Westernized view of the world and look into South America, The Middle East and South East Asia to see what happened there to bring about the world we see today.  


Because this is a broad historical study, it will also be a broad geography study.  


We will study a core question;


what is it that determines whether democracy is alive and well?  


To know this, we have to understand what democracy means, and how it can be measured. 


As with all of my history classes, students are able to choose topics to research that are related to what we are studying at the time, or they can use the suggestions that will be given to them.   Each of the following units are designed to last approximately one month.


We will not use a textbook in this class.   Rather we will be reading excerpts from books, novels, periodicals like The Economist and Foreign Policy as well as several websites.

  1. What is “right” and how do we organize ourselves to achieve this “rightness”?

    • How do people determine what is the right thing to do?From theories of utilitarianism to liberalism, from philosophers like Plato and Kant, we will wrestle with the idea of how we determine whether something is “right” or not.   This is a core question that we need to wrestle with as we move through history and make determinations of the decisions that have been made in the past, and what should be done about these decisions today.

    • Readings will include “Allegory of the Cave”, excerpts from Thucydides, Adam Smith, Aristotle, as well as more modern discourses including.   We will read "Why War?", a letter between Freud and Einstein, along with many other Great Works to help us settle upon ideas that help us organize information and query it to see what it means.

    • In each unit, we will include one debate so that there will be one topic within the unit where students will be required to do additional research and be willing to voice their perspectives.

    • We all know about our own Revolution, but in this unit we will look at several revolutions and practice our compare and contrast abilities.  We will study what people were revolting against, what the politics of the time were and what ordinary citizen’s lives looked like.

    • We will look at totalitarianism, its rise after WWI along with religious based extremism in history and current events

    • Revolutions that we will study include the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, as well as the more recent Arab Spring.  Students will choose one additional 20th century revolution and compare it the revolutions we have studied, looking for common causes and new causes to help ferret out the root of revolution.

    • We studied both the English and American Industrialization in our US History class, but in this class we will look at the effects of industrialization globally and focus our lens on the rise of the unionization of workers, along with countries that are either recently industrialized or in the process of industrialization and look at how this is effecting their world.

    • We will look at migration trends and their push-pull factors, population trends, and environmental trends that are associated with industrialization.  During this study, we will look at Malthusian and other population growth models as they relate to industrialization and environmental issues.

    • We will also look at how class structure shifts with industrialization. 

    • Is Industrialization the true catalyst to equality?  How much inequality is regularly endured to reach equality?  What types of structures lead to equality, and what types do not?  Is foreign aid a part of the solution, or part of the problem?

    • The emergence of democracy and comparisons to Utopianism, Social Democracy, Socialism, and Communism.

    • Again, we will read excerpts from the ancients as well as current experts including (but not limited to!) Adam Smith’s , Dambisa Moyo’s, Thomas Moore’s , and Upton Sinclair’s .These readings will help us bring up the differences between industrializing and natural resources, and how these two types of equity building exercises are treated differently by countries struggling to achieve parity.  

    • In this unit we will look at the areas of colonization from the major colonizers; English, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the US

    • We will look specifically at the effects of Imperialism in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, and leaders within each country’s history as well as their current landscape.

    • We’ll answer the question of what’s the difference between colonialism and imperialism, what the Age of Imperialism was all about and what were the lasting effects on Africa, SE Asia and Latin America.As we look at these three geographic areas, we’ll look at their natural resources, standard of life, type of government, amount of corruption, amount of outside interference, and their current events.


    • We’ll look at the catalysts for each World War, major turning points in each war, major military decisions and players in each war, human rights violations and finally, how peace was achieved.

    • We’ll look at the failure of the League of Nations as well as the creation of our current United Nations, and look at its successes and failures, as well as current debates on the effectiveness of the P5, and how that should change.

    • Biographies of famous politicians and diplomats, and their contribution in these wars, including Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Emperor Hirohito, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower.

    • Post WWII events; the creation of a Jewish State, the Marshall Plan

    • Was that a war????    We'll look at When we go to war but no one dies vs When we go to someone else’s war vs When we influence and aid someone else’s war.  Why do these things happen, and where have they happened?   We’ll look at The Cold War, the Vietnam conflict, Iran Crisis, China’s Cultural Revolution, the Crimean crisis and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

    • The economic solutions to any war in many ways determines the future.  We’ll look at the Marshall Plan and the Yalta Pact as well as other forms of aid and recovery from post-war countries.How has aid been used differently in Africa and Western Europe?

    • The split up of the Soviet Union

    • Power Shifts; where has the power shifted over time?And what is power?  Is Korea a major power due to their implied willingness to use nuclear weapons?  In this unit, we will look at the idea of POWER, and determine who has had it in the past, how it was lost, and who has it now.

    • Economic Recoveries; how do nations recover from war?How did Western Europe recover while Africa never has?How did Japan recover to become a world power, and what is their political stance today?

    • Our readings in this unit will come from The Economist, Foreign Policy and other current periodicals.


    • Current events are actually embedded in each unit to make history relevant.   But if we have time, we’ll look at challenges being faced in the European Union, the Soviet Union, China and South America, and the American response to these challenges.

    • Our readings in this unit will come from The Economist, Foreign Policy and other current periodicals.