USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! We often have hear this chant in the Olympics, often refer to the United States of America as the greatest nation on the planet, but are we? The question can take many different tacks. Is the "greatest nation" defined by military strength, happiness of its citizens, economic power, cultural power, its amazing furniture? It is highly subjective, and in many ways depends upon the the individual and what they value.
Look at the Newsweek article that addressed this exact question, and explore the interactive. When you are done, tell me what you think. Do you think this accurately demonstrate what are the "World's Best Countries?" Why? Are the other ways? Did the list surprise you? Do you think some countries were ranked too high (like Slovenia)? Or too low (like China)?
World Wars One and Two served as axis by which the twentieth century revolved. The issues, events, and people that emerged from them radically altered and shaped the modern world.
Today, we often hear that we are in a third world war, that Senator John McCain states that "radical Islam is the transcendental challenge of the twenty-first century." Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Is radical Islam on par with Nazism and Communism? If so how? Or, how not?
It is quite remarkable that Japan was the only non-European nation that industrialized. Other nations around the world all fell victim to the machinations of the imperial European states, either becoming colonies or divided into spheres of influence where Europeans gained extraterritorial rights. Japan though, did not.
The question is why? Why is it Japan that adopted and adapted to Western forms? Does it reveal a deficiency in others? Or is it that Japan simply choose to why they didn't? Why is it that some change, while others don't? Is it a function of culture? Religion? Economics? Politics? Or something else?
An intriguing question that emerges from the this unit, is what exactly is a revolution? Examining the Scientific, French, American,Industrial, and the Revolutions of 1848, there appear to be some similar characteristics, but not many.
The question I pose to you is what is a revolution? Is a wholesale change in society? Or is it just a popular uprising? Is the American Revolution a Revolution? Or is it simply a war of independence?
One of the most interesting aspects of this unit is that a similarity between all of these states is their resistance to outside influence, particularly European. This makes me wonder, does the strength of culture/ state depend on an influx of people with new ideas? If so,what implication does this have for America today? Do we need more immigrants to sustain our society? Should we allow more immigrants in? Or limit their immigration to the country?
One of the key themes in this unit is that of slavery. We discuss in depth the process by which we African slaves were ripped from their families, and sold into a slave system thousands of miles from home. We witness the evolution in culture that these slaves experience as they try to cope with the horrors of their lives.
What this leads me to ask is, what do we owe their descendants? Should we apologize for it (there never has been an official apology for the slave trade)? Should we pay them reparations? If so, what do we do about Native Americans? What responsibility do we have today for yesterday's errors
One of the key transformations that occurred in Europe during this period (1450-1750) was the downgrading of religion from the public sphere. That is not to say that religion, more specifically Christianity, was no longer practiced in Europe, but it means that it did not guide policy and an understanding of the physical universe.
This makes me wonder, how important is religion today? Should people be more religious today? Less? Should religion influence or guide our leaders? Should it inform our policy decisions on abortion? Sex education? Poverty? Taxation? Crime? The environment? What is its proper role in a modern society?
I find one of the most interesting aspects of this unit is the divide between myth and reality around the Middle Ages of Western Europe. In movies, TV shows, books, and on-line gaming worlds we have a romanticized vision of the period. Filled with mythological creatures,heroic warriors, and damsels needing to be saved, the era has a sanitized quality about it with a lack of clarity on its true reality.
Watch the Lord of the Rings series, and you see valiant (albeit short)warriors battling it out with an unseen evil filled by a cast of wizards, elves, dwarfs, orcs, uruk-hai, etc. We see the joy at the return of a king, whose claim to power is not based on his ability(even though he is pretty cool), but based on the fact that some three thousand years previous, his relative got greedy, took a ring, and drowned in a river. So he gets ultimate authority? That's some method for determining power!
Today we agonize about elections, debate them, discuss them, and yet we idolize and collectively fantasize about a non-existent place where authority was based on the sword and kin, rather than ability.
Why?What is it about this period that has so captured our imaginations, and stoked our creative fires for so long? Why do people spend hours on-line pretending to a dwarf mage, and not a cowboy? Or a Roman centurian? What is it about this era that captivates us so much?
One of the most intriguing questions that emerges out of this unit is what is the value of the Mongol Empire? In many ways it reignited long dormant trade along the Silk Road, spurring a European drive to the East to contact and trade with the fabled cities of the Cathay and the Spice Islands.
But what stimulated much of this economic growth in many ways were the dead bodies of the cities, towns, and empires that stood in the way of the khans and their empire building.While the value of this question will be debated in class, I think a bigger picture question is what of the value of war? War has stimulated the development of humanity in innumerable ways. Its benefits to science and technology have been well documented, but is that benefit enough to excuse and overlook the deaths of countless individuals?
Is it acceptable to kill one person if it will benefit many? And if so, how many?
What is the price of human life?
During the Reformation period Europe was consumed by both political and religious turmoil. Europe seemed to take stock of itself and reevaluated how it was acting in the world. There were changes within the Church and outside of it that corrected many of the abuses that had started in the High Middle Ages, and only grew during the Italian Renaissance. Many contend that this reform was instrumental in forming modern Europe and eliminating many of the bad practices of the period.
Currently, many have contended that the Islamic world needs a Reformation of its own that mirrors this period. Several years ago about this time the Pope weighed in on this issue in what has become a highly controversial speech.