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A History of the World in Seven Themes

Volume One: to 1600

Author Stewart Gordon

Publication Date - 29 October 2021

ISBN: 9780190642440

208 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


We study world history to discern common rituals, problems, and patterns that do not stop at a territorial boundary. A history that accurately reflects the past must recognize that wars, battles, and empires barely touch how lives were lived, whether as an artisan, slave, trader, soldier, pilgrim, or doctor. World history is not about merely analyzing documents and amassing or memorizing facts. It is about learning to consider big questions that matter across the whole of human experience. Such themes do not stay in the past. They are the very stuff of our present and make us aware of our responsibilities to the future. In A History of the World in Seven Themes Stewart Gordon invites students and teachers to analyze, debate, and consider a broad range of questions.


  • The narrative focuses on seven problems that every society - historical or contemporary - must face, regardless of religion, political structure, ethnicity, language, or geographical location.
  • Thematic approach helps the reader to discern common rituals, problems, and patterns that do not stop at a territorial boundary.
  • Encourages the reader to consider big questions that matter across the whole of human experience--including loyalty, slavery, technology, and trade.
  • Presents broad societal problems through the experiences of guides, that is, actual historical figures who were deeply affected by the chapter's theme.
  • Each chapter features a different way of understanding the past, modeling for students the process of historical inquiry and showing them that history is not simply something one reads about but something one does.
  • Each chapter opens with The Big Picture, a section that connects the theme's context across broad historical periods and brings the theme into wide geographic regions. The Bigger Picture ends the chapter with the important implications and questions of the theme for our world today.

About the Author(s)

Stewart Gordon is an Independent Research Scholar associated with the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.

Table of Contents

    List of Maps
    About the Author

    Chapter 1. People and Plants: On the Move
    The Big Picture: Searching for Food
    Hominids and Humans
    Plants on the Move
    Plants, Wild and Domesticated
    Successful Food Domestication
    Three Foods: Rice, Wheat, and Corn
    Rice Cultivation in Asia
    All the Wheat in Rome
    Managing Maize in Mexico
    The Case of the Banana
    Food Movement and Empires
    The Bigger Picture: Does Movement of Plants Matter?
    Challenging the Neolithic Wave: A New Model

    Chapter 2. Honor and Loyalty: Blood, Robes, and Salt
    The Big Picture: Inspiring Loyalty
    Barbur: Loyalty and Power
    The Unreliable Bonds of Blood Kinship
    Bending the Knee
    Robes: A Language of Loyalty and Service
    Babur: Loyalty in Bad Times and Good
    The Code of Salt
    Babur in India
    The Decline of the Blood-Robes-Salt World
    The Bigger Picture: Loyalty Across Time and Place

    Chapter 3. Bonds of Slavery
    The Big Picture: Beyond Hollywood
    The Paleolithic Era and Slavery Throughout Time and Place
    Guides: The Enslavement of Richard Haselton and Malik Ambar
    Islam and Military Slavery
    Haselton, Slavery, and the Inquisition
    Malik Ambar Rises in the Ranks
    The Larger World of Slavery
    The End of Haselton's Story
    The Bigger Picture: The Legacy of Slavery
    Interpretation of Slavery
    Disappearance of Slavery
    State Slavery
    A New Form of Slavery

    Chapter 4. Sex, Gender, and Patriarchy
    The Big Picture: Boys to Men, Girls to Women
    The Rise of Patriarchy
    Gendered Behavior: The Nonconformists
    Heloise and Abelard
    Love and Punishment
    Castration in the Service of Patriarchy
    Why Eunuchs?
    Heloise and Abelard: The End of the Story
    The Bigger Picture: Thinking about Gender
    Modern Comparisons
    The Future of Patriarchy

    Chapter 5. Pilgrimage: The Journey of Purpose
    The Big Picture: Spiritual Benefits
    Chaco Canyon
    Pilgrimage on the Silk Road
    The Sacred Route o Santiago de Compostela
    Ibn Battuta on the Road to Mecca
    In the Presence of Buddhist Relics
    Bound for Compostela
    Ibn Battuta: Back on the Road to Mecca
    Faxian Reaches His Goal
    In the Presence of Saint James
    The Bigger Picture: Common Features of Pilgrimage

    Chapter 6. The Human Side of Trade
    The Big Picture: Long-Term, Long-Distance Trade
    A Young Man Sets Out
    Riches of the Geniza
    Aden and Spices
    A Commenda in Malabar
    Risk Management
    Contours of a Moral Trading Community
    A Slave Girl and Love
    A Slave Named Bama
    Abraham and Metallurgy
    Varieties of Slavery in a Moral Trading World
    Family Tragedy
    The Bigger Picture: New Ways to Think about Global Trade

    Chapter 7. Technology: Glass and Iron
    The Big Picture: Technology, Driver of History?
    Faience: A Near-Glass
    Rulers and Glass
    Iron: The Bloomery Method
    African Iron: Evidence and Questions
    Egypt: The Uses of Glass
    Glassmaking in China
    Iron Objects in Africa
    Amarna: A Mediterranean Glass Center
    Technology: Transfer and Nontransfer
    The Roman Connection: Empire and Technology
    Byzantium: A New Market for Glass
    The Bigger Picture: Incremental Experimentation
    Technology Was always Local
    Environment Matters
    Knockoffs Appear
    Knowledge Is Fragile
    The Trickle-Down Effect


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