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Summary of Individual Chapters 

 

Chapter One: In Search of a Pattern in World History

        An important part of historical study is the task of finding a design in the mass of human experience. World history is embodied in a set of stories. The stories tell how humanity has progressed from one situation to another - from a less to a more complex type of society.  
         The crux of the matter is to determine the turning points of history. They are times which mark a dividing line between two fundamentally different types of culture. In contrast with histories centering in the experience of particular nations or groups, this book follows changes in the values and structure of society.  
         The introduction of new cultural technologies creates a space for new types of public experience. Their transition defines the successive epochs of world history.  
        Civilizations are not societies which rise and fall in recurring cycles but cultural systems which build upon the work of their predecessors. Curiously, civilizations appear to be worldwide. That makes it possible to view world history with a single focus.  
 

 

Chapter Two:  Institutions Differentiating within Society  

        The flow of world history follows the creation of an increasingly complex society with ever more specialized institutions.  
        When civilizations first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean area, civilized societies were embodied in institutions which combined political and religious authority. During the first historical epoch, the political function split off from the religious. Royal governments went on to create territorially extended empires by force of arms.  
        However, the experience of military violence, cruelty, and injustice produced a yearning for a more rational and peaceful world whose ideals philosophers expressed. In time, philosophy found an outlet in the personal imperatives of religion. There followed an age of idea-based religions which transcended nationality - the so-called "world religions".  
        Subsequently, these religions became contending empires which fought for worldly power. Then it was time for a movement away from spiritual militancy and toward a more secular, sensuous, and commercial set of pursuits.  
        This epoch of European exploration and colonial expansion, beginning in the 15th century A.D., transmitted values centered in wealth and in the cultural trappings of wealth. Western expansion brought all the world's people in touch with each other for the first time.  
        After two bloody wars, this third civilization began to dissolve in the new culture of popular entertainment. Making people have fun became a serious business. Gaining and keeping their attention became the road to power and wealth.  
 

 

Chapter Three:  Personality and Belief 

        The institutions of government, world religion, commerce and education, and popular entertainment have a spiritual side which is tied to their belief systems and perceptions of attractive personality. Each has its own "religion" in a broad sense.  
        Religion expresses beliefs concerning fundamental questions. It also promotes certain models of personality.  
        The nature worship of tribal peoples gave way to "the worship of one's own collective human power." Civic religion in the service of governments marked the form of earlier worship.  
        Then prophets and philosophers challenged this type of authority. They created a new kind of religion which could be formulated in creeds. Fidelity to those creeds offered a way to gain admission to Heaven.  
        Religion in the epoch of commerce and education focused more upon things of this world. Its adherents believed in money acquired through successful careers and in the greatness of artists and musicians.  
        The invention of electronic technologies capturing the sensuous images of human performers has created a culture of immediate spectacles which the community can share. The world of big-time entertainment offers fame and fortune to the lucky few who find a place in its shows; but, as the gossip columns reveal, these glamorous individuals have their share of problems, too.  
 

 

Chapter Four:  A Short History of Civilization I 

        The history of the first civilization would be a history of government, which includes the experience of wars and of changing imperial dynasties. This is history as it is commonly understood.  
        Monarchical government began with the institution of city-states which grew to the size of empire when the localities came in conflict with each other. Certain kings prevailed in these wars. Certain peoples were defeated and enslaved.  
        Like a pair of book ends to frame the period, the multi-millennial reign of autonomous governments in Egypt and China presents a model of imperial rule at the beginning and end of this epoch.  
        Western peoples look back to Rome, first seen in the political consolidation of Italy and later in an empire divided between its eastern and western halves. Before that, bloody empires rose and fell with some frequency in the Middle East: Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Hellenistic Greeks.  
        The Persian empire was revived under Parthian and Sasanian kings before succumbing to the armies of Islam.  
        India had two short-lived indigenous empires before foreign Mogul and British rulers unified the subcontinent. This epoch reached its peak in the 3rd century, A.D.  
        By the 7th century, only the Greek Byzantine and Chinese imperial dynasties had survived in the Old World.  
        Balance-of-power diplomacy prevented a revival of empire in Europe. Only religion could bind diverse peoples in a single community.  
 

Chapter Five:  A Short History of Civilization II 

        The history of the second civilization began with that remarkable intellectual and moral awakening that occurred in several Old World societies during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Several spiritually advanced persons who lived then have left their teachings to posterity.  
        The culminating event of this epoch was the establishment of three world religions - Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - and the transformation of religions such as Judaism and Hinduism which belonged to an earlier tradition. In league with political power, these religions staked out territories of influence.  
        This type of religion was driven by ideas rather than ritual. Besides the founder's teachings, the development of religious doctrine reflects the work of interpreters who evaluate doctrinal positions, codify, and explain.  
        Religion has, however, a worldly side in the hierarchies of clergy who govern its institution. Here ideological zeal and ambition sometimes lead to a result at variance with the beneficial and peaceful attitude at the core of the religion.  
        Toward the end of this epoch, Christian crusaders went to war against Moslems who held the Holy Land. Moslem and Hindu rulers fought for control of India. Buddhists, Taoists, and others cultivated the martial arts.  
        Apart from worldly strife, communities of mystics, monks, and others practiced the hard disciplines of a spiritually centered life. Their quiet experiences, too, are part of the history of this second civilization.  
  


Chapter Six:  A Short History of Civilization III 

        The third civilization began with another kind of awakening which has been called the Renaissance. Its culture originated in northern Italy where commercial prowess was combined with a taste for classical scholarship and exquisite art.  
        European influence spread with the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of transoceanic discovery. West Europeans colonized lands in the New World which Columbus had "discovered" during a trip to the Orient. Rival nations bordering the north Atlantic fought for control of the trade in oriental spices.  
        Later, a brisk trade in rum, coffee, and tobacco developed between Europe and its colonies in North America and the Caribbean islands. Slaves imported from Africa were put to work producing commodities for export.  
        The savage warfare between Protestants and Catholics caused European intellectuals to shun religious controversies and instead pursue secular learning. Scientific discoveries inspired technological innovations that transformed industry and transportation. 
        Industrialized societies gained immense wealth while developing social rifts. The laboring class asserted itself through strikes. Parliamentary governments challenged the authority of kings. Wars and revolutions advanced ideals of progress against the old order.  
        Having defeated Spain on the seas and France in land battles fought in India and North America, Great Britain became the world's leading colonial power. Challenged by Prussian Germany, this sea-based nation threw the flower of its youth into a continental war from which it never fully recovered. Its former colony, the United States of America, filled the power vacuum.  
        Anticolonial movements in the 19th and 20th centuries brought political independence to peoples in South America, Asia, and Africa. 
 
 

Chapter Seven:  A Short History of Civilization IV 

        It may seem strange to suggest that entertainment is the basis of new civilization replacing that of the past five hundred years. Yet, the signs of its cultural dominance in the late 20th century are compelling.  
        This historical epoch began with the minstrel shows, freak shows, and circuses of the previous century and with popular sporting events such as horse races, boxing matches, and baseball games. Spectacular exhibitions such as the Crystal Palace in 1851 added to the excitement.  
        However, it was the invention of electronic devices to record and transmit images of sight and sound which created a new popular culture.  
        After political alliances, commercial rivalries, and serious ideas had led to the carnage of two world wars, people wanted something a bit lighter. Some Americans enjoyed themselves at Broadway theaters or in clubs featuring jazz music. Others followed the exploits of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio on the baseball diamond.  
        Acquiring sound, movies came of age in the 1920s. Commercial radio stations began broadcasting music, news, and light entertainment. The creative ferment at the juncture of black and white people's entertainment brought forth an international youth culture centering in rock 'n roll music. Television broadcasts, begun after World War II, became an all-consuming presence in many households.  
        The lure of easy money dangled before mass audiences fueled a gambling craze. Entertainment tastes became more diversified: some went in for shows that were suitable for "families" and others for ones appealing to "adults".  
        Computer-generated images created new vistas of visual excitement and new opportunities to have fun with illusion-producing machines.  
 

 

Chapter Eight:  The Impact of Cultural Technologies upon Public Experience  

        The reason that the introduction of new cultural technologies is linked to the emergence of new civilizations is that, in extending an image or message to broad segments of the population, these technologies create their own type of experience, coloring it in certain ways. Certain institutions would not have been possible without their communicative service.  
        Government bureaucracies employ the technology of writing. The invention of the alphabet put written language into the hands of merchants and others leading active lives. The exposure to visual symbols suggested to some that these symbols had an independent existence; and that insight fueled many a philosophy.  
        Printing brought literacy to the masses of people. It fostered a more precise way of thinking, so important to modern scholarship and science. Well-known authors came to acquire cult-like followings.  
        That changed when the technologies of film production, music recording, and radio and television broadcasting brought the personal images of performers into full view, making them "stars". Famous people were packaged and sold as personal commodities.  
        With the advent of computers, the culture is again set to change. Perhaps the individual experience of connectedness and interactivity will bring about a new set of public values.  


 

Chapter Nine:  A Short History of Cultural Technologies  

        Written language was invented in ancient Mesopotamia as a means of recording commercial transactions. The same set of symbols was used to express numbers and words.  
        Ideographic writing began when scribes chose different symbols for the quantities and types of commodities. Phonetic elements crept into writing driven by a need to express abstract concepts. In some scripts, the symbols expressed syllabic sounds.  
        The alphabet, whose letters represent the pure sounds of speech, first appeared in the Middle East during the 2nd millennium B.C. Two Semitic peoples, the Phoenicians and Aramaeans, carried its technique to distant places in the course of trading expeditions.  
        The Phoenician alphabet gave rise to the Greek and Latin alphabets, parent of most European scripts. Far Eastern societies have retained the earlier ideographic or syllabic system of writing. 
        Printing came to the West from China. Gutenberg's pioneering use of movable type sparked an explosion of printed literature. Mass-circulation newspapers appeared in the 19th century. 
        Photography and telegraphy, invented in the 1830s and 1840s, were among the first technologies to use chemical processes or electrical signals to capture or express visual images and words. The phonograph and motion-picture machine presented a series of images in time.  
        Radio and television broadcasting sent messages through the air waves to persons with receivers tuned to particular frequencies. There came to be a culture of live images connecting a small group of performers with mass audiences.  
        The computer, developed for use in World War II, has grown in speed and processing capacity while becoming physically miniaturized.  
 

 

Chapter Ten:  Using History to Predict the Future 

        Can world history be used to predict the future? If the future resembles the past, perhaps so. Otherwise, a way to anticipate coming events might be through analogy with other civilizations in a similar phase of development.  
        Each of the four world civilizations whose history is already known exhibits a pattern of events in its life cycle. Generally, its period of exuberant, creative expansion is followed by a maturing phase of empire. This leads, in turn, to use of violence and coercion in an attempt to retain worldly power.  
        One also discerns a pattern by which institutions developed in one period are fundamentally altered two epochs later.  
        Historians are wanting to distinguish history's true turning points from ephemeral changes in the culture. Besides the appearance of major new cultural technologies, this book identifies other conditions that tend to be present in places and times of fundamental change:  
        First, the new civilizations arise in an environment of political parochialism and vigorous commerce.  
        Second, this environment produces important innovations in mathematics and commercial practice.  
        Third, it brings expanded geographical horizons when people's creative imaginations are excited by perceptions of a wider world.  
 

 

Chapter Eleven:  Intimations of a Fifth Civilization  

        The computer age is upon us. Though in its infancy, this epoch will bring distinct changes to the society that we know. To predict the future of this civilization, one can anticipate impacts that arise from the nature of the technology.  
        Already there is much interest in the commercial application of computers. One can envision a powerful new mode of selling and distributing commercial products which gives consumers much more information, choice, and control.  
        Education is another area which foreseeably will be transformed. Computers give students increased ability to interact individually with the teaching source. They also have an unlimited capacity to duplicate lessons. Shortages of high-quality education could be a thing of the past; and this has immense social implications.  
        The most profound result may be man's use of computers as a tool to remake himself. Computers can handle the extensive information contained in the structure of DNA molecules. They have the potential to replicate processes of the human mind.  
        In this "Frankenstein civilization", man and machine will forge a common future which is at once dangerous and exciting in its far-reaching possibilities.  
  

 

 

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