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The Thinking Past

Questions and Problems in World History to 1750

Adrian Cole and Stephen Ortega

Publication Date - 26 August 2014

ISBN: 9780199794621

576 pages
6-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

Taking a questions-based approach, The Thinking Past uses both primary sources and the latest research to engage students in active classroom discussion and debate


The Thinking Past: Questions and Problems in World History to 1750 is based on the premise that asking questions and evaluating sources represents an insightful way to study world history. Authors Adrian Cole and Stephen Ortega believe that the classroom experience of debating different issues, such as the origins of war and the nature of empire, serves as a solid foundation for actually thinking about world history.


* Questions-based approach: Each chapter in The Thinking Past is based on a question that has been generated in an actual class discussion
* Examines major problems and ideas in world history--technology, religion, global trade, participatory politics, and more
* Organized thematically, with a chronological progression that preserves a strong narrative flow
* Uses both primary sources and the latest research to convey the sense that "history" is part of an ongoing debate across many disciplines
* "Flipped classroom" approach asks students to learn material outside of class so they can engage in discussion when they come to class

About the Author(s)

Adrian Cole is an independent scholar. He was educated at Exeter University and Harvard University.

Stephen Ortega is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Dual Degree Graduate Program in Archives Management and History at Simmons College. He is the author of Negotiating Transcultural Relations in the Early Modern Mediterranean (2014).


"Accessible-even conversational-in style, this imaginative approach revives an ancient teaching technique: the Socratic method of asking provocative questions and exploring possible answers."--Richard Eaton, University of Arizona

"This is a book that rethinks global history in provocative ways. It asks big questions and provides big answers. It will engage students and make teaching fun, exciting, and satisfying. And crucially, it does so by also rethinking--with real insight and passion--the way that history itself should be done."--Guido Ruggiero, University of Miami

"The Thinking Past has a lot to offer: the 'questions' approach for each chapter is provocative and interesting, and very appropriate for college students, who enter class ready to challenge historical methodology. It also takes a thoughtful thematic approach that highlights what World History can do as a discipline. I also appreciate the authors' insistence that these themes remain relevant today."--Karin Vélez, Macalester College

"The Thinking Past goes beyond the narrative approach of the standard world history textbook and delves into the deeper questions of the human condition that make the study of history important."--Eric F. Johnson, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents

    Each chapter begins with an Introduction

    List of Maps and Figures

    Chapter 1: Why are Humans Dominant?
    Earliest Origins to 10,000 BCE
    In What Sense, Dominant?
    How Did the Human Body Evolve?
    What Differentiated the Intellectual Life of Homo Sapiens from That of Their Forbears?
    What Role Did Sociability Play in Evolution?
    Conclusion: Domination and the Future

    Chapter 2: What Were the Consequences of Settling Down?
    10,000 BCE to 5000 BCE
    What Was Life Like Before Settlements (200,000-12,000 years ago)?
    How Did the Early Settlements Develop?
    What Changes Did Sedentary Life Bring?
    Conclusion: What Were the Consequences of Permanent Settlements?

    Chapter 3: How Did the Development of Cities Affect the Human Experience?
    5000 BCE to 1000 BCE
    What Is Civilized About Civilization?
    What Is the Relationship Between "Cities," "States," and "Civilization"?
    How Did River Valley Civilizations Develop?
    Conclusion: How Did the Development of Cities Affect the Human Experience?

    Chapter 4: War (!) What Is It Good For?
    Earliest Beginnings to 200 BCE
    What Is the Origin of War?
    How Did War Change with the Rise of States?
    What Role Did War Play in Building Territorial States?
    Were There Any Peaceful States?
    Conclusion: What Was the Role of War in the Ancient World?

    Chapter 5: Was Greece the First Democracy?
    1000 BCE to 300 CE
    What Is Democracy?
    What Part Did Participatory Government Play in Early Civilizations?
    Was Greece Exceptional?

    Chapter 6: What Is an Empire?
    550 BCE to 400 CE
    Why Was Rome in Meroë and Not Meroë in Rome?
    Are Empires Just Large States?
    Who Was the Emperor?
    Why Do Empires Exist?
    Do Empires Survive Through Military Force Alone? (Or, What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?)
    Why Do Empires Collapse?
    Conclusion: What Is an Empire?

    Chapter 7: How Can We Explain the Similaritiesand Differences Between Religions?
    12,000 BCE to 600 CE
    What Is Religion?
    What Is Tribal or Primal Religion?
    What Are the Universal Religions?
    How Can We Account for the Rise of the Universal Religions?
    Conclusion: How Did the Major Religions Develop?

    Chapter 8: What Does Trade Do?
    3000 BCE to 1000 CE
    When Did Trade Begin?
    What Is the Relationship Between Ecological Diversity and Trade?
    What Role Did Trade Play in State Formation?
    How Did Trade Spread Religious Ideas?
    How Did Trade Spread Disease?
    Conclusion: What Did Trade Do?

    Chapter 9: What Role Did Technology Play in Cultural Exchange and Expansion?
    800 CE to 1300 CE
    What Were the Contributions of Agricultural Technologies?
    How Did Metal Technology Affect the State?
    What Is Technology Transfer?
    Is Technology Gender-Blind?
    How Did the State Support Science and Technology? Islam and India
    How Did Science Support the State?
    How Did Trade and Communication Needs Spur Technological Innovation?
    Conclusion: What Is the Relationship Between Technology and the State?

    Chapter 10: What Types of Conflicts Existed Between Core Areas and Peripheries?
    1099 CE to 1492 CE
    What Is Conquest?
    To What Extent Was Conquest Leader-Driven?
    How Did Conquest Relate to Security?
    What Role Did Religion Play in Conquest?
    What Were the Consequences and Outcomes of Conquest?
    Conclusion: What Motivated Conquerors?

    Chapter 11: How Did the Environment Limit Human Endeavors, and How Did It Produce Unpredictable Consequences?
    700 CE to 1400 CE
    What Is "Collapse"?
    Did the Maya Collapse? And, If So, Was the Environment to Blame?
    Tiwanaku: A Story of Environmental Failure?
    Indigenous Cultures of the American Southwest: Collapse or Bad History?
    Did the Greenland Norse Collapse or Move?
    What Combination of Events in Eurasia Led to the Black Death of 1348-1350?
    Conclusion: What Role Does the Environment Play in Human History?

    Chapter 12: Was the European Renaissance Unique?
    1350 CE to 1650 CE
    What Is a Renaissance?
    How Was the World Shrinking in this Period?
    What Is the Role of "Cultural Producers"?
    What Relevance Does This Period Have for Nonstate Societies?
    Conclusion: Was There a Global Renaissance?

    Chapter 13: What Changed in Global Interactions Between 1450 and 1750?
    How Did Growing States Dodge the Bullet of Development?
    How Did Expanding States in the New World Affect the European Conquests?
    What Moved Between Empires?
    Conclusion: What Changed in Global Interactions Between 1450 and 1750?

    Epilogue: History and the Future

    Photo Credits
    About the Authors


Check out a review of The Thinking Past on World History Connected here.

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