Understanding World Societies, Volume 1 A Brief History

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2012-08-03
  • Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's
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Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?


Based on the highly successful A History of World Societies, Understanding World Societies: A Brief History combines innovative pedagogy with a manageable regional and comparative approach to capture students' interest in the everyday life of the past. Abridged by 25%, the narrative is paired with distinctive pedagogy, designed to help students focus on significant developments as they read and review. An innovative end-of-chapter study guide helps students master key facts and move towards synthesis.

Author Biography

John P. McKay (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) is professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. He has written or edited numerous works, including the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize-winning book Pioneers for Profit: Foreign Entrepreneurship and Russian Industrialization, 1885-1913.
Patricia B. Ebrey (Ph.D., Columbia University), Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle, specializes in China. She has published numerous journal articles and The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, as well as numerous monographs.  In 2010 she won the Shimada Prize for outstanding work of East Asian Art History for Accumulating Culture: The Collections of Emperor Huizong.
Roger B. Beck (Ph.D., Indiana University) is Distinguished Professor of African and twentieth-century world history at Eastern Illinois University. His publications include The History of South Africa, a translation of P. J. van der Merwe's The Migrant Farmer in the History of the Cape Colony, 1657-1842, and more than a hundred articles, book chapters, and reviews. He is a former treasurer and Executive Council member of the World History Association.
Clare Haru Crowston (Ph.D., Cornell University) teaches at the University of Illinois, where she is currently associate professor of history. She is the author of Fabricating Women: The Seamstresses of Old Regime France, 1675-1791, which won the Berkshire and Hagley Prizes. She edited two special issues of the Journal of Women's History, has published numerous journal articles and reviews, and is a past president of the Society for French Historical Studies.
Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) taught first at Augustana College in Illinois, and since 1985 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she is currently UWM Distinguished Professor in the department of history. She is the coeditor of the Sixteenth Century Journal and the author or editor of more than twenty books, most recently The Marvelous Hairy Girls: The Gonzales Sisters and Their Worlds and Gender in History. She is the former Chief Reader for Advanced Placement World History.

Table of Contents

Maps, Figures and Tables

Special Features


Version and Supplements

Chapter 1

The Earliest Human Societies
, to 2500 b.c.e.

How did humans evolve, and where did they migrate?

     Understanding the Early Human Past

     Hominid Evolution

     Homo Sapiens, "Thinking Humans"

     Migration and Differentiation

What were the key features of Paleolithic society?

     Foraging for Food

     Family and Kinship Relationships

     Cultural Creations and Spirituality

How did plant and animal domestication transform human society?

     The Development of Horticulture

     Animal Domestication and the Rise of Pastoralism

     Plow Agriculture

How did Neolithic societies change over time?

     Social Hierarchies and Slavery

     Gender Hierarchies and Inheritance

     Trade and Cross-Cultural Connections


Chapter Study Guide

Listening to the Past: Paleolithic Venus Figures

Individuals in Society: The Iceman

Chapter 2

The Rise of the State in Southwest Asia and the Nile Valley
, 3200-500 b.c.e.

How is the invention of writing connected to the rise of cities and states?

     Written Sources and the Human Past

     Cites and the Idea of Civilization

     The Rise of States, Laws, and Social Hierarchies

What kinds of states and societies emerged in ancient Mesopotamia?

     Environmental Challenges, Irrigation, and Religion

     Sumerian Politics and Society

     The Invention of Writing and Other Intellectual Advances

     The Triumph of Babylon and the Spread of Mesopotamian Civilization

     Hammurabi's Code and Its Social Consequences

What were the characteristics of Egyptian civilization?

     The Nile and the God-King

     Social Divisions and Work in Ancient Egypt

     Migrations and Political Revivals

     New Political and Economic Powers

What was unique about Hebrew civilization?

     The Hebrew State

     The Jewish Religion

     The Family and Jewish Life

How did the Assyrians and Persians build and maintain their empires?

     Assyria, the Military Monarchy

     The Rise and Expansion of the Persian Empire

     The Religion of Zoroaster


Chapter Study Guide

Listening to the Past: Gilgamesh's Quest for Immortality

Individuals in Society: Hatshepsut and Nefertiti

Global Trade: Iron

Chapter 3

The Foundation of Indian Society
, to 300 c.e.

What were the key characteristics of India's first civilization?

What kind of society and culture did the Indo-European Aryans create?

     Aryan Dominance in North India

     Life in Early India


What new religious beliefs emerged to challenge Brahmanism?


     Siddhartha Gautama and Buddhism


How was the Mauryan Empire created and what were its achievements?

     Encounters with the West

     Chandragupta and the Founding of the Mauryan Empire

     The Reign of Ashoka, ca. 269-232 b.c.e.

How did political disunity shape Indian life after 185 b.c.e.?


Chapter Study Guide

Listening to the Past: Conversations Between Rama and Sita from the Ramayana

Individuals in Society: Gosala

Chapter 4

China's Classical Age
, to 221 b.c.e.

How did geography shape the development of Chinese societies?

     The Impact of Geography

     Early Agricultural Societies of the Neolithic Age

What were the most important developments in Shang China?

     Shang Society

     Bronze Metalworking

     The Development of Writing

What was China like during the Zhou Dynasty?

     Zhou Politics

     Life During the Zhou Dynasty

How did new technologies contribute to the rise of independent states?

     New Technologies for War

     The Victorious States

What ideas did Confucius teach, and how were they spread after his death?


     The Spread of Confucian Ideas

How did Daoism, Legalism, and other philosophies differ from Confucianism?



     Yin and Yang


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Lord Mengchang

Listening to the Past: The Book of Mencius

Chapter 5

The Greek Experience
, 3500-100 b.c.e.

How did geography shape the early history of the Greeks?

     The Minoans and Mycenaeans

     The Development of the Polis

How did Greek society and government develop during the Archaic age?

     Greece's Overseas Expansion

     The Growth of Sparta

     The Evolution of Athens

What were the lasting achievements of the classical period?

     The Deadly Conflicts, 499-404 b.c.e.

     Athenian Arts in the Age of Pericles

     Daily Life and Social Conditions in Athens

     Greek Religion in the Classical Period

     The Flowering of Philosophy

What were the social and political consequences of Alexander's conquests?

     From Polis to Monarchy, 404-200 b.c.e.

     Building a Shared Society

     The Growth of Trade and Commerce

How did the mixing of cultures shape Hellenistic thought?

     Religion in the Hellenistic World

     Philosophy and Its Guidance for Life

     Hellenistic Science and Medicine


Chapter Study Guide

Listening to the Past: Aristotle, On the Family and On Slavery, from The Politics

Individuals in Society: Archimedes, Scientist and Inventor

Chapter 6

The World of Rome
, 750 b.c.e.-400 c.e.

What kind of society and government did the Romans develop in Italy?

     The Etruscans and Rome

     The Roman Conquest of Italy

    The Distribution of Power in the Roman Republic

Social Conflict in Rome

What were the causes and consequences of Roman expansion beyond Italy?

     Overseas Conquests and the Punic Wars, 264-133 b.c.e.

     New Influences and Old Values in Roman Culture

     The Late Republic and the Rise of Augustus, 133-27 b.c.e.

     The Successes of Augustus

How did Roman rule lead to a period of prosperity and relative peace?

     Political and Military Changes in the Empire

     Life in Rome

     Prosperity in the Roman Provinces

     Eastward Expansion and Contacts Between Rome and China

What was Christianity, and how did it affect life in the Roman Empire?

     Factors Behind the Rise of Christianity

     The Life and Teachings of Jesus

     The Spread of Christianity

     The Growing Acceptance and Evolution of Christianity

How did rulers respond to the chaos of the third and fourth centuries?

     Diocletian's Reforms

     Economic Hardship and Its Consequences

     Constantine, Christianity, and the Rise of Constantinople


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Queen Cleopatra

Listening to the Past: Cicero and the Plot to Kill Caesar

Global Trade: Pottery

Chapter 7

East Asia and the Spread of Buddhism
, 221 b.c.e.-800 c.e.

How did political unification under the Qin and Han shape China?

     The Qin Unification, 221-206 b.c.e.

     The Han Dynasty, 206 b.c.e.-220 c.e.

     Han Intellectual and Cultural Life

     Inner Asia and the Silk Road

     Life in Han China

     China and Rome

     The Fall of the Han and the Age of Division

How and why did Buddhism spread throughout East Asia?

     Buddhism's Path Through Central Asia

     The Appeal and Impact of Buddhism in China

What were the lasting accomplishments of the Sui and Tang Dynasties?

     The Sui Dynasty, 581-618

     The Tang Dynasty, 618-907

     Tang Culture

How were elements of Chinese culture adapted throughout East Asia?





Chapter Study Guide

Global Trade: Silk

Individuals in Society: The Ban Family

Listening to the Past: Sixth-Century Biographies of Buddhist Nuns

Chapter 8

Continuity and Change in Europe and Western Asia,

How did the Byzantine Empire preserve the Greco-Roman legacy?

     Sources of Byzantine Strength

     The Sassanid Empire and Conflicts with Byzantium

     The Law Code of Justinian

     Byzantine Intellectual Life

     Life in Constantinople

How and why did Christian institutions change in late antiquity?

     The Evolution of Church Leadership and Orthodoxy

     The Western Church and the Eastern Church

     The Iconoclastic Controversy

     Christian Monasticism

How did Christianity spread and develop in late antiquity?

     Christian Beliefs and the Greco-Roman Tradition

     Saint Augustine

     Missionary Activity

     Conversion and Assimilation

How did the barbarians affect change in Europe and western Asia?

     Social and Economic Structures

     Chiefs, Warriors, and Laws

     Migrations and Political Change

     The Frankish Kingdom



Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Theodora of Constantinople

Listening to the Past: Gregory of Tours, The Conversion of Clovis

Chapter 9

The Islamic World
, 600-1400

Who was Muhammad and what did he teach?

     Arabian Social and Economic Structure

     Muhammad's Rise as a Religious Leader

     The Tenets of Islam

What explains the speed and scope of Islamic expansion?

     Islam's Spread Beyond Arabia

     Reasons for the Spread of Islam

     The Caliphate and the Split Between ShiÕa and Sunni Alliances

     The Abbasid Caliphate

     Administration of the Islamic Territories

How and why did Islamic states change between 900 and 1400?

     Breakaway Territories and Shi'a Gains

     The Ascendancy of the Turks

     The Mongol Invasions

What social distinctions were important in Muslim society?

     The Social Hierarchy


     Women in Classical Islamic Society

Why did trade thrive in Muslim lands?

What new cultural developments emerged in this period?

     The Cultural Centers of Baghdad and C—rdoba

     Education and Intellectual Life

     The Mystical Tradition of Sufism

What characterized Muslim-Christian interactions?


Chapter Study Guide

Listening to the Past: Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, The Etiquette of Marriage

Individuals in Society: Ibn Battuta

Chapter 10

African Societies and Kingdoms
, 1000 b.c.e.-1500 c.e.

How did geography shape the history of Africa's diverse peoples?

     Africa's Geographical and Human Diversity

     Egypt, Race, and Being African

How did the advent of settled agriculture affect early societies?

     Settled Agriculture and Its Impact

     Bantu Migrations

     Life in the Kingdoms of the Western Sudan, ca. 1000 b.c.e.-800 c.e.

What role did the trans-Saharan trade play in West African history?

     The Berbers of North Africa

     Effects of Trade on West African Society

     The Spread of Islam in Africa

What kingdoms and empires emerged in Africa between 800 and 1500?

     The Kingdom of Ghana, ca. 900-1100

     The Kingdom of Mali, ca. 1200-1450

     Ethiopia: The Christian Kingdom of Aksum

     The East African City-States

     Southern Africa and Great Zimbabwe


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Amda Siyon

Listening to the Past: A Tenth-Century Muslim Traveler Describes Parts of the East African Coast

Chapter 11

The Americas
, 2500 b.c.e.-1500 c.e.

How did early peoples of the Americas adapt to its diverse environments?

     Settling the Americas

     The Development of Agriculture

What characterized early societies in the Americas?

     Mounds, Towns, and Trade in North and South America

     Olmec Agriculture, Technology, and Religion

What kinds of societies emerged in the classical era?

     Maya Agriculture and Trade

     Maya Science and Religion

     Growth and Assimilation of the Teotihuacan and Toltec Cultures

     Hohokam, Hopewell, and Mississippian Societies

Who were the Aztecs and how did they build an empire?

     Religion and War in Aztec Society

     Social Distinctions Among the Aztecs

     The City of Tenochtitlan

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Inca empire?

     Earlier Peruvian Cultures

     Inca Imperialism and Its Religious Basis

     The Clan-Based Structure of Inca Society


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Tlacaelel

Listening to the Past: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, The First New Chronicle and Good Government

Chapter 12

Cultural Exchange in Central and Southern Asia
, to 1400

How did Central Asian nomads conquer nearby settled civilizations?

     Nomadic Society

     The Turks

     The Mongols

     Mongol Daily Life

How did the Mongols build and govern a Eurasian empire?

     Chinggis Kahn

     Chinggis's Successors

     The Mongols as Rulers

How did the Mongol conquests facilitate cultural exchange?

     The Movement of Peoples

     The Spread of Disease, Goods, and Ideas

What was the result of India's encounters with Turks and Mongols?

     The Gupta Empire, ca. 320-480

     India's Medieval Age and the First Encounter with Islam

     The Delhi Sultanate

     Life in Medieval India

How did states develop along the trade routes of Southeast Asia and beyond?

     State Formation and Indian Influences

     The Srivijaya Maritime Trade Empire

     The Spread of Indian Culture in Comparative Perspective

     The Settlement of the Pacific Islands


Chapter Study Guide

Listening to the Past: The Abduction of Women in The Secret History of the Mongols

Individuals in Society: Bhaskara the Teacher

Global Trade: Spices

Chapter 13

States and Cultures in East Asia
, 800-1400

What were the causes and consequences of the medieval Chinese economic revolution and what was its impact?

How did government and society change in the Song and Yuan Dynasties?

     The Song Dynasty

     The Scholar-Officials and Neo-Confucianism

     Women's Lives in Song Times

     China Under Mongol Rule

How did Korean society and culture develop under the Koryŏ Dynasty?

What characterized Japan's Heian Period?

     Fujiwara Rule

     Aristocratic Culture

What were the causes and consequences of military rule in Japan?

     Military Rule

     Cultural Trends


Chapter Study Guide

Global Trade: Tea

Individuals in Society: Shen Gua

Listening to the Past: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

Chapter 14

Europe in the Middle Ages, 800-1450

How did medieval rulers try to create larger and more stable territories?

     Invasions and Migrations

     Feudalism and Manorialism

     The Restoration of Order

     Law and Justice

How did the Christian church enhance its power and create new practices?

     Papal Reforms

     Monastic Life

     Popular Religion

     The Expansion of Christianity

What were the motives, course, and consequences of the Crusades?

     Background and Motives

     The Course of the Crusades

     Consequences of the Crusades

What characterized European society in the Middle Ages?

     The Life and Work of Peasants

     The Life and Work of Nobles

     Towns, Cities, and the Growth of Commercial Interests

     The Expansion of Trade and the Commercial Revolution

What were the key educational and cultural developments?

     Universities and Scholasticism

     Cathedrals and a New Architectural Style

     Troubadour Poetry

Why have the later Middle Ages been seen as a time of calamity and crisis?

     The Great Famine and the Black Death

     The Hundred Years' War

     Challenges to the Church

     Peasant and Urban Revolts


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Hildegard of Bingen

Listening to the Past: An Arab View of the Crusades

Chapter 15

Europe in the Renaissance and Reformation, 1350-1600

What were the major cultural developments of the Renaissance?

     Wealth and Power in Renaissance Italy

     The Rise of Humanism

     Christian Humanism

     Printing and Its Social Impact

     Art and the Artist

What were the key social hierarchies in Renaissance Europe?

     Race and Slavery

     Wealth and the Nobility

     Gender Roles

How did the nation-states of western Europe evolve in this period?




     The Habsburgs

What were the central beliefs of Protestant reformers?

     Criticism of the Church

     Martin Luther

     Protestant Thought and Its Appeal

     The Radical Reformation and the German Peasants' War

     Marriage and Women's Roles

     The Reformation and German Politics

     England's Shift Toward Protestantism

     Calvinism and Its Moral Standards

How did the Catholic Church respond to the advent of Protestantism?

     Papal Reforms and the Council of Trent

     New Religious Orders

Why did religious violence escalate in this period?

     French Religious Wars

     Civil Wars in the Netherlands

     The Great European Witch-Hunt


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Leonardo da Vinci

Listening to the Past: Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty

Chapter 16

The Acceleration of Global Contact, 1450-1600

How did trade link the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Europe prior to 1492?

     The Trade World of the Indian Ocean

     Peoples and Cultures of the Indian Ocean

     Trade with Africa and the Middle East

     Genoese and Venetian Middlemen

How and why did Europeans undertake voyages of expansion?

     Causes of European Expansion

     Technology and the Rise of Exploration

     The Expanding Portuguese Empire

     Christopher Columbus's Voyages to the Americas

     Later Explorers

     Spanish Conquest in the New World

What was the impact of conquest?

     Colonial Administration

     The Impact of European Settlement on the Lives of Indigenous Peoples

     The Columbian Exchange

     Sugar and Early Transatlantic Slavery

     The Birth of the Global Economy

How did expansion shape cultural values and beliefs in Europe and the Americas?

     New Ideas About Race

     Michel de Montaigne and Cultural Curiosity

     William Shakespeare and His Influence

     Religious Conversion in the New World


Chapter Study Guide

Individuals in Society: Zheng He

Listening to the Past: Columbus Describes His First Voyage

Global Trade: Silver

Chapter Endnotes




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