The Modern World: Global History since 1760

Philip Zelikow, University of Virginia

This is a survey of modern history from a global perspective. It begins with the revolutions of the late 1700s, tracks the transformation of the world during the 1800s, and analyzes the cataclysms of last century, concluding with the new phase of world history we are experiencing today.

This is a survey course in modern world history for students, beginning or advanced, who wish to better understand how the world got to be the way it is today. In order to understand modern history, a global perspective is essential. This is true whether you are interested in economics, warfare, philosophy, politics, or even pop culture. This course can therefore be essential for students in many fields, a base equipping them with tools for lifelong learning. 

In its current form, this course on Coursera is not offered for college credit. But it is a vital part of the for credit course on this topic being offered at the University of Virginia in the spring semester of 2014. Both the Coursera and the UVA students use the same online material as a common foundation for their different learning experiences.  This is the material to survey 'what happened' and the big questions about how to explain so many changes – some of those questions that start with:  "Why?"  (The students in the UVA course then supplement this online material with a lot of additional reading; research projects on the histories of particular communities around the world; in-person tutorials and discussions, both with the professor and with the graduate teaching assistants; and examinations.)

It is tempting to think that if we can just understand the big patterns, we don't have to get too caught up in the details. In this course, though, we care about chronology. We care about individuals. Without some careful attention to sequences of cause and effect, without tracing how big changes come from the choices made by particular people, history can turn into just a series of descriptions, a somewhat tiresome recitation of one thing after another. So beyond just offering a set of remarkable stories, this course offers you training in how to analyze a situation and how to think about problems of explaining change.


In the outline that follows, the chronological periods being covered are approximate:

Week One: From the Traditional to the Modern: Commercial and Military Revolutions (1760-1800)

Week Two: Democratic Revolutions of the Atlantic World (1760-1800)

Week Three: Revolutionary Wars (1800-1830)

Week Four: The World Transformed (1830-1870)

Week Five: The Rise of National Industrial States (1830-1871)

Week Six: The Rise of National Industrial Empires (1871-1900)

Week Seven: The Great Acceleration (1890-1910)

Week Eight: Crackup (1905-1917)

Week Nine: New Orders Emerge (1917-1930)

Week Ten: The Crisis of the World (1930-1940)

Week Eleven: Total War and Aftermath (1940-1950)

Week Twelve: The Return of Wartime (1950-1968)

Week Thirteen: Decay and Renaissance (1969-1991)

Week Fourteen: The Next Phase (1991-2013)  

Recommended Background

No background is required. All that is needed is an interest in historical exploration.

Suggested Readings

Coursera students are not required to purchase any book. I suggest, however, that you purchase the following textbook:  Peter von Sivers, Charles Desnoyers, & George Stow, Patterns of World History: Since 1750 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). 

This book is available in print and as an e-book. Notice that the "Since 1750" volume is what is being recommended -- the textbook has versions covering earlier periods, so be sure to purchase the one for the modern era. And if you prefer not to buy the book, or it is not available for sale in your country (because of copyright or other problems), you can still take and successfully complete this course.

Other relevant readings (articles, book excerpts, etc.) may be posted for download throughout the course, depending on their availability. 

Course Format

Each week has two to three hours of video presentations organized around a theme and covering a defined period of history. There are five to nine of these relatively short presentations a week, each devoted to a particular topic within that week's theme. Video presentations are accompanied by in-video quiz questions and optional reading assignments to reinforce your grasp on the factual material being covered and some of the interpretive problems. There are also twenty-question weekly quizzes, based only on each week's video presentations; these weekly quizzes are the only graded component of the course.


Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment for completing this course?

Yes, further details and requirements will be provided once the course begins. 

  • 14 January 2014, 14 weeks
  • 14 January 2013, 15 weeks
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
  • Certificate:
  • MOOC:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Email-course:
  • Language: English Gb


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