• Course Introduction

        • Time: 50 hours
        • Free Certificate
        This course presents a comparative overview of world history from the 17th century to the present. We examine the origins of major economic, political, social, cultural, and technological trends of the past 400 years and explore the impact of these trends on world societies. This material is structured chronologically and thematically, with each unit focusing on a significant historical subject. The units include primary-source documents and images that illustrate important overarching themes, such as the emergence of modern nation-states, the economic and technological interactions between Western and non-Western peoples, the changing social and cultural perceptions about religion and the state, and the development of physical and virtual networks of information exchange.

        • Course Syllabus

          First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

        • Unit 1: What is History?

          What is history? Is it simply a record of human accomplishments? Who is telling the tale? How does the historical record reflect the values of the historian? History is not just a collection of dates on a page or facts about how something happened. Those are important pieces, but they are just pieces of evidence. The real craft of history is the explanation of why something happened and what its effects were after that. In this unit, we study what a historian's craft looks like.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 1 hour.

        • Unit 2: Trade in East Asia and the Indian Ocean

          During the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe was not the center of global trade, military power, or scientific inquiry. India and East Asia were home to some of the largest and most advanced states globally, and the goal for many European powers was simply to seek trade with them. These trade connections marked the beginning of a truly global economy. At the same time that Europeans were seeking economic opportunities in Asia, Asian states were undergoing their own transformations that allowed greater European influence in the region.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

        • Unit 3: Early Modern Africa and the Wider World

          Africa was home to several large societies and civilizations during this period, all of which were integrated into the global economy. In modern-day Zimbabwe, the palace and city complex known as Great Zimbabwe received trade goods from places as distant as Syria and China. West Africa's gold trade made Mansa Musa the wealthiest individual in human history and made Timbuktu one of the most advanced places of learning during the 14th century. It also changed as it became more deeply integrated.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

        • Unit 4: The Islamic World

          The Islamic world was exceptionally diverse and included empires you have already learned about, such as the Mughals in India and the Songhai Empire in West Africa. In addition, the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Empire controlled territory in West Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe. Their forms of government were exceptionally advanced, and they promoted learning and technological advancement.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

        • Unit 5: Foundations of the Atlantic World

          The 1600s and 1700s were a time of profound religious, intellectual, and political turmoil. In Europe, the Protestant Reformation, which challenged the religious and political power of the Catholic Church, led to the Thirty Years' War in the early 1600s. The Thirty Years' War devastated much of Central Europe and led to profound divisions between Catholic and Protestant political states. In Africa and Asia, Islam continued to spread southward and eastward through trade networks, population migrations, and the activities of missionaries.

          The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church's declining religious and political power led to the Enlightenment, a period that witnessed the development of intellectual movements promoting reason, democracy, political freedom, and rational inquiry. Enlightenment thinkers questioned civil authorities and developed new ideas about the relationship between a nation's government and its people. These ideas led to political revolutions to overthrow monarchical rule and install democratically elected governments in the late 1700s. The French Revolution in 1789 followed the American Revolution in 1776 and encouraged other revolutions throughout the Americas and parts of Europe.

          Meanwhile, European merchants established maritime trade networks across the Atlantic Ocean and eastward to India and China. The Atlantic slave trade hauled 12.5 million people from Africa and probably resulted in the death of millions more. The merchants transported the people they enslaved from trading posts on the West African coast, transported their enslaved cargo to the Americas, and sold them to European settlers who forced the Africans to grow labor-intensive crops, such as sugarcane and tobacco, to export to Europe. The merchants bought furs, tea, sugar, spices, tobacco, and other luxury commodities to sell in Europe on their return voyage. This circular trade pattern dominated the Atlantic economy until the 1800s. European nations closely guarded their trade networks against rival states. For example, the Dutch East India Company had a private army and navy, which it used to defend its trade links with India and Southeast Asia.

          Global trade altered production and consumption patterns worldwide and led to the rapid growth and development of England and the Netherlands at the expense of older colonial powers such as Spain and Portugal. In this unit, we examine the growth of global trade networks during the 1600s and evaluate the political, social, and cultural impact of these networks on the peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

        • Unit 6: Colonization and Economic Expansion

          During the 17th century, nations worldwide experienced profound military and political transformations. Gunpowder technology gradually moved from Asia through the Middle East to Europe between the 1300s and the 1600s. By the 17th century, Europeans began perfecting cannon technology and experimenting with handheld firearms. These military technologies altered warfare across Europe and the Middle East and helped establish powerful, centralized states. Absolutist governments formed in France, Russia, and Japan. Kings and emperors declared themselves agents of God and used their military and political power to demand total obedience from the nobility and the peasantry.

          In this unit, we examine the development of absolutism in Europe and Asia and compare it with other forms of government. We also examine growing conflicts between European states over colonial possessions and resources worldwide and explore how these conflicts altered the balance of European power.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 7: Revolutions in Europe and North America

          The Enlightenment was a period of philosophical, political, and scientific learning that began in the wake of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Initially, the discussions provoked by the Enlightenment were scientific, and scientists such as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton challenged scientific dogma to produce powerful new explanations of the natural world. But over time, these same kinds of studies turned to politics and questions about the best way to organize human society. These thinkers challenged political orthodoxy and set in motion an age of revolutions.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 8 hours.

        • Unit 8: Expansion in the Industrial Age

          The French Revolution (1789–1799) had embroiled Europe in military conflict for nearly two decades. At the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, war-weary European monarchies resolved to settle their political differences and suppress further outbreaks of revolutionary violence. After 1815, Europe entered an era of relative peace and prosperity that lasted until World War I. Many historians refer to this period of time from the French Revolution to World War I as the "Long 19th Century".

          During the Long 19th Century, England, France, Germany, and other European states used their military and industrial strength to seize territories in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Ocean and subjugate the indigenous populations living in these territories. European leaders viewed overseas colonies as a signifier of international power and competed with each other to control increasingly larger territories across the globe. The colonies provided natural resources and consumed the manufactured goods of the imperial nations. They presented investment opportunities for the industrialists in each country. The imperialists viewed native people in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific as primitive and uncivilized. They justified their racial and ethnic oppression on the grounds that they were engaged in a "civilizing mission".

          In this unit, we examine how European nations staked out claims to colonies worldwide and imposed new technologies and economic systems on colonial possessions. We explore the consequences of colonization for European and colonial populations and evaluate the impact of colonial rebellions and anti-colonial movements during the 19th century.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

        • Unit 9: Life and Labor in the Industrial World

          The First Industrial Revolution had tremendous consequences for Britain and its position in the world, but the Second Industrial Revolution was globally transformative. It changed the way that people lived, as many people were forced by need or circumstance to move to cities to take up factory work. Cities grew at a tremendous rate, in no small part, because industrial capital had a tremendous need for workers that never let up.

          But while many inventions and modern conveniences arose because of this, it also came with tremendous costs. Workers rarely benefited from this system; more often than not, they received little money in exchange for their hard work. The end of chattel slavery gave rise to new forms of coerced labor, such as debt labor. The movement of people across the globe displaced indigenous communities while also leading to greater social and political tension. This created a climate where people sought reform to moderate these demands or revolution to build a better system.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

        • Unit 10: World War I

          By the early 20th century, competition among the European states over colonial resources began to affect the cohesion of the international community. A growing arms race between Great Britain and Germany raised concerns about European stability. In response, European nations began making secret military alliances for mutual protection in the event of war.

          Tensions finally came to a head in the summer of 1914 when Serbian terrorists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. Germany and Austria-Hungary threatened to invade Serbia, but Russia elected to protect the small state. As a result, these nations declared war on each other, and treaty alliances forced France and Great Britain to join the conflict. By the end of World War I in November 1918, the fighting had consumed more than eight million lives and was the most deadly and destructive conflict in world history.

          In this unit, we examine the origins of World War I and why it spread so rapidly worldwide. We evaluate the role the colonies played in the conflict, how European states tried to maintain their colonial possessions with post-war peace agreements, and how the colonized peoples began challenging European rule.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 11: The Interwar Period

          World War I devastated Europe economically, politically, and socially. Great Britain and France blamed Germany for the conflict and imposed severe economic penalties and military restrictions on the German state. In Russia, Communist revolutionaries seized control of the government in 1917, consolidated power, and imposed Communist rule throughout Russia. Through brute force and starvation, Joseph Stalin would transform Russia from an agrarian state into a powerful industrial nation that would rival the industrial states of Western Europe. In Asia, Japanese leaders challenged the Western colonial powers by expanding their military with the goal of establishing colonies throughout Asia and the Pacific.

          After the war, liberal democratic governments came to power in most of Western Europe. Women assumed their right to vote in many states, and workers began to unionize. However, the democratic governments in Germany and Italy were weak and ineffective. The Great Depression destroyed the German and Italian economies during the early 1930s, and voters elected more powerful leaders to guide them through the difficulties. Adolf Hitler's (1889–1845) Nazi Party gained power in Germany, while Benito Mussolin's (1883–1945) Fascist Party assumed control in Italy. These leaders promised renewed prosperity as they rebuilt their military forces to challenge the colonial powers of Great Britain and France. Meanwhile, in Asia, Japanese military forces landed in eastern China to occupy much of Manchuria.

          In this unit, we explore the rise of communist, fascist, and totalitarian governments in Europe and Asia and how they fundamentally reshaped life in these nations during the 1920s and 1930s.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 12: The Causes and Consequences of World War II

          By the late 1930s, anti-democratic governments in Europe and Asia began to threaten the security of surrounding states. Nazi Germany occupied parts of Czechoslovakia and Austria in 1938. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France quickly declared war in response, leading to the outbreak of World War II. In the Pacific, Japanese forces continued to expand their hold on China, and the military prepared invasion plans for European colonies in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, the United States remained isolated from the growing conflict, as it had done during much of World War I.

          America entered the war in December 1941 after a surprise Japanese attack on American military forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. American troops joined British and French forces to invade Nazi-occupied Europe. In the Pacific, American and Allied forces eventually checked Japanese military expansion and began to go on the offensive. Like World War I, World War II was fought worldwide, with critical battles in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific.

          In this unit, we examine the global impact of World War II and why the United States and Soviet Union emerged as economic, political, and military superpowers. We examine how the war reshaped political, economic, and social life in Europe and Asia and led to devastating new military technologies, such as the atomic bomb. Finally, we will discuss how Nazi anti-Semitic ideologies led to the Holocaust, in which six million Jews and other minorities were systematically murdered from 1939–1945.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 13: Cold War Conflicts

          After World War II, many nations began to ally themselves with the democratic United States or the communist Soviet Union. New political alignments and the waning power of European colonial powers encouraged independence movements in many European colonies. Decolonization across Africa and Asia led to the emergence of new independent states. These new nations provided a battlefield between capitalist and communist political ideologies. Due to their military strength and fear of mutual nuclear annihilation, the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) engaged in a series of indirect "proxy" conflicts in several developing nations worldwide.

          In this unit, we examine how the United States and the Soviet Union engaged developing nations economically, technologically, and militarily as each superpower tried to gain political and military advantages over the other. Finally, we study how nations in Europe and Asia responded to the Cold War by creating new economic and political alliances, such as the European Union.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 14: The Contemporary World and Ongoing Challenges

          The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended the bipolar military, political, and economic alignments that had structured global life during the Cold War. The United States emerged as the sole economic and military superpower, with growing political and economic power from the European Union and industrial nations across East Asia. In the post-Cold War world, developing nations across Africa, Asia, and the Americas struggled under a crushing burden of international debt, lack of economic development, internecine warfare, and the social impact of infectious diseases like AIDS and malaria.

          Many former colonies continue to struggle with the artificial boundaries the European powers drew many years ago to manage their colonial and economic interests, not the political, ethnic, or cultural needs of the indigenous population. Now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the global community faces the challenges of climate change, religious violence, and economic uncertainty.

          In this unit, we will examine the political, economic, and social realignments that followed the end of the Cold War and look at the consequences of globalization in the developed and developing world. We will evaluate current economic, political, and social trends from the broader perspective of the past 400 years and address how the world community can meet the challenges ahead.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Study Guide

          This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

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        • Certificate Final Exam

          Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

          To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

          Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.