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Reviews of Human Drama, Volume III: From 1450 C.E. to 1900

Teaching Suggestions and Lesson plans for Volume Three: 1450 to 1900

The third volume of The Human Drama examines human history from approximately 1450 to 1900. The content in this third volume, as well as with the second volume, builds on what has gone before.  If this in the first time your students have studied world history, you probably will want to review some of the major events and patterns that occurred before 1450. You can find strategies for teaching about the patterns that occurred before 1450 in the lesson plans for volumes one and two.  If they have studied the earlier periods, it won’t hurt to review some of the earlier information.

Volume Three, Act One: Gunpowder Empires

The importance of empires has been a reoccurring pattern. This volume starts with another look at empires, but this time the focus is on gunpowder empires, because the development of deadly weapons was critical in the rise and fall of these new, large empires.

Instead of putting questions for each act at the end of the volume, we are placing questions and a few lesson plans at the end of the act where it is discussed.  Because empires have occurred in both of the previous volumes, you may also want to adapt strategies for teaching about empires from the earlier examples. Now you will need to introduce and analyze the structures of Gunpowder Empires, as this is a new form of empire.  You may decide to start with general questions about empires and then introduce gunpowder empires, and then have your students compare the major empires or several kinds of empires.


How did the use of gunpowder change the structure and function of empires?
What was the relationship between the nomadic and settled people during the age of gunpowder empires?
What were the major similarities and differences among the five major empires during this era in the following areas: succession of leaders, military organization, administration, economic system and strategies for ruling a pluralistic empire?
What was the ongoing relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the emerging states of Europe?
How did the Ottomans try to reconcile the tensions among the businessmen and traders, the military and peasant farmers?
In what ways was the devshirme system unique among the other gunpowder empires?
On what long historic tradition did the Safavids build their empire?
What role did silver play in the Ming Empire?
How did NeoConfucianism attempt to create a peaceful and pluralistic society?
What explains the Manchu success in ruling China?
How did China deal with the Jesuit missionary efforts and how did the Jesuits hope to Christianize the Chinese?
How did the concept of “The Third Rome,” help shape the Russian Empire?
How did the long Mongol occupation shape the development of the Russian Empire?
What was Czar Peter’s plan to modernize Russia and how successful was he in doing so?
Volume Three, Act II: The Development of European Nation-states

Pattern Eight: Characteristics of a Nation-State

Nations are very important in the second act of this volume of The Human Drama. Nations are populated by citizens, not subjects. You may want to “Bessie” aspects of nation states to get a clear understanding of what being a citizen of a nation means as opposed to being a subject of an empire. You might start by having students list the rights they enjoy as Americans. (The “Bessie the Cow”  lesson is at the end of Volume One.) You can then lead a discussion about what recourse your students would have if someone or some agency denied them these rights.  Have students identify laws or activities they do not like. How can citizens seek legal redress or go about having the laws changed or the perpetrator punished?

You could also set up a scenario that asks students to stage a protest about something they do not like. They might carry signs stating their anger. They might write to their representative or senator. They might write letters to the editor of a newspaper. Discuss with them whether they would feel safe making these protests. The object here is to help them realize the many rights they enjoy as citizens. Remind them they would not have those rights if they were subjects in an empire.  Discuss with them whether they would have these rights if they lived in Belarus, Myanmar or Saudi Arabia.

Understanding Nationalism is a daunting task. Since the sense of belonging to a large group is largely emotional, encourage students to express their personal feelings. You might ask them questions such as: “What do you feel when you see the American Flag?” “How did you feel after the killing of Osama bin Laden?” “What do you feel when an American wins a gold medal at the Olympics?” Ask them to identify other things that eliciting “patriotic” feelings.

Benedict Anderson’s concept of “Imagined Communities” is a very important addition to our understanding of the nation-state.  You could help students understand what he means by “imagined,” by identifying a few of the positive legends about America’s greatness such as stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and war heroes such as General Patten. Discussing slogans such as “We shall build a city on a hill,” and “America is the indispensible nation,” and the many presidential references to America as chosen by God can add to the students’ grasp of a common “imagined past.” You might also help your students examine some of our commonly shared legends that are not factually true, but that many people believe.

Using art can also help students understand a nation’s values and power. Pictures on coins, portraits in museums, the architecture in the nation’s capital and other visible symbols of a nation’s power and exceptionalism can all help make this difficult concept concrete and assessable to students.

It is often noted that the modern nation state is so powerful that it can violate the laws that the people who live in it are legally bound to observe. Nations can go to war and kill people, can take property from the owners, can go into another sovereign nation and kidnap or assassinate a person, and can print money and draft individuals into the military, as well as many activities. In brief, as Max Weber pointed out more than a hundred years ago, for a nation-state to have true sovereignty, it must have “a monopoly on force and administration.”

Another important aspect of nation-states is their increasing dependence on the rising middle classes. After the development of gunpowder weapons and innovations in weaponry became widespread, the leaders of Nation States increasingly turned to the people with money to help them finance the building of a strong military. From 1500 onwards, financiers, bankers, manufactures and business leaders have had enormous influence on national leaders.

Characteristic of a Nation-state

I ) Aspects of National Identity

  1. Must have a common ethnic core, either real or imagined (invented)
  2. Citizens have religious and kinship bonds that cut across class
  3. A sense of a “homeland.” A historic territory they carry in their hearts.
  4. A living past. Citizens can identify heroes & celebrate a golden age that gives people direction for the future.
  5. II) Territorial Nations (Public solidarity)
  6. A bonded group of people in a defined territory who share the same laws.
  7. A sense of citizenship, sharing the same legal identity and actively participating socially and politically. A sense that “We belong together.”
  8. Citizens share a common culture. Education is often important in creating common cultural communities

III) Ethnic Nations (Private Solidarity)

  1. Pre-existing sense of a shared past
  2. Shared ethnicity, common descent ties
  3. Shared customs and dialects that unite the people and cut across class lines. These are different than legal codes.

Questions your students might consider about nation-states and nationalism:

  1. What is the major difference between an empire and a nation-state?
  2. What is an “imagined community?”
  3. What are some advantages that Nation-states have?
  4. Is nationalism a new “religion?” Explain your response.
  5. What evidence do you have that most school history courses around the world focus on the students’ own nation?
  6. Why was the middle class so important in the development of nation states?


Volume Three, Act III: Closing the Circle and Expanding Global Interactions

Questions for Act Three

  1. What accumulated knowledge of mapping, sailing, navigation and technology initially enabled European explorers to sail to and control the Western Hemisphere?
  2. How did the arrival of the Europeans change and upset the Asian trading network?
  3. Why were Europeans so interested in breaking into the Asian trading system?
  4. Why did India and China account for the largest percentage of manufacturing prior to 1750?
  5. How did the European urge to join the Asian trading network influence the “discovery” of the Western Hemisphere?
  6. What is meant by “Closing the Circle?”
  7. What were the major Meso-American crops that Afro-Eurasia adopted?
  8. How did these new plants change the history of the world?
  9. What role did disease play in the European conquest of the Americas?
  10. One scholar has written that Guns, Germs and Steel were the reasons for the European conquest. What does he mean by that statement?
  11. How did the religion of the Indigenous peoples in the Americas shape the later history of Christianity?
  12. What were the reasons that Europeans brought enslaved Africans into the Americas?
  13. How did the coming of the Europeans and African slaves lead to a new biological population in the Western Hemisphere?
  14. What role did silver from the western hemisphere play in the global trading system?
  15. Describe the major differences among Spanish, Portuguese, French and British colonies in the Western Hemisphere.

Volume Three, Act IV: The Industrial Revolution

Pattern Nine: The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution represents the second major radical change in the economic foundation of world history. We have already studied how the Agricultural Revolution changed the way humans lived. It made possible rapid population growth, the arrival of settled communities and the rise of cities and specialization within various societies. The agrarian revolution also formed the basis for the large empires we have studied in the course of world history. All during the agricultural age from roughly 10,000 BCE to 1800 CE, humans relied on animals, water and wind, and human strength as their sources of power. Moreover, kings, emperors and governments relied mostly on land taxes to support their armies, their administration and their lavish courts.

The Industrial Revolution resulted in large part because of new sources of power, especially the steam engine that relied on coal or wood, that could drive the textile machinery and railroads. Once the “Oat Age” of horses, oxen and camels was surpassed, the modern age in which we now live, was born.

We should not think that there was something special and unique about the Europeans who first used new machines and new sources of power. The industrial revolution might have happened in other parts of the world, particularly China or India. Scholars still debate the reasons this huge change took place first in Great Britain, and you should encourage your students to openly discuss this question as well.

The legacies of industrialism are still going on and the benefits and the problems that this revolution created are still being felt in many parts of the world. In fact, one major way to divide the people and nations is between those that are industrialized and those that are not. The formerly colonized peoples in Asia and Africa are only recently industrializing and ability to become new powers can be traced directly to their success in industrializing.

The Industrial Revolution has changed and is still changing the world in which we live. The structure of the family, relations between men and women, our sense of time, the way we dress, the organization of our communities and cities, our source of income and a myriad other aspects of our lives can all be traced to the impact of the industrial revolution.

Characteristics of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Change from a basic agrarian economy to an industrial economy.
  2. Rapid transition from human and animal power to the application of water, steam, gas, coal, electric and other power sources, for the production of goods.
  3. The specialization of labor within a single factory
  4. The use of superior military technology in order to control areas that produce raw materials and provide markets for manufactured goods.

As industrialization spreads to other areas of the world:

  1. So-called “underdeveloped nations” attempt a variety of strategies to achieve rapid industrialization, such as import substitution which is a  policy that tries to keep foreign imports out while the industrializing country invests heavily in manufacturing;  export market orientation which is a policy aimed to maximize exports to the richer economies;   closed socialist oriented economies which means the government serves as economic decision maker;  and free market oriented societies which function according to marked principles such as in the U.S.
  2. There is increasing alienation from the land as the source of security and community. Time is determined by the clock not the sun.
  3. The industrial revolution leads to urbanization so workers can live near the factories where they are working. Urban slums develop.
  4. Capitalism and class consciousness increases.
  5. Business cycles cause enormous environmental problems and often foster mass cultural reactions such as religious fundamentalism, peasant and worker rebellions, and efforts to promote equity for workers.
  6. The industrial revolution has caused many significant cultural changes such as an increasing number of women and children joining the workforce, reliance on the clock and consciousness of needing to “be on time,” changes in clothing, living patterns and a growing sense of alienation.  At the same time the industrial revolution radically raised the living standards of millions of people. It also provided more jobs for more people and it created many cheap goods and conveniences that make work easier. Finally, it has been the industrialized countries that have dominated world politics.

Volume III, Act V: The Era of European Colonialism 1600 – 1850

Maritime Empires: a Variation of the Empire Pattern

An important aspect of the study of world history is examining and analyzing Agrarian Empires and Gunpowder Empires. Although the basic pattern of empires is present in both types, the gunpowder empires could mount larger and more effective armies and navies.  The placement of canons on ships proved a decisive factor in the Europe’s ultimate political supremacy around the world. Later, steam driven, well-armored ships with banks of canons, enabled the Europeans to conquer lands far from home and even to control areas with large populations. In the process, the Europeans and later other industrialized nations, such as Japan and the United States, also colonized huge tracts of land with millions of people. We are calling these new empires maritime empires.

The people living in a maritime empire are often separated from the political power that controls its government and its economy.  In fact, European powers control all the maritime empires we examine in this act and they are all separated from their colonies by vast oceans. Colonial  powers often sent  military forces to the colony of hired local soldiers or hire local people to police the colony and impose the colonizers’ rules and decisions.

Long lasting results: Mining the colony’s resources for the good of the colonizing power;. This often resulted in economic under-development in the colonized areas;  unanticipated results: An on-going world-wide “Taste revolution” that includes Sugar, Chocolate, Coffee, Tobacco, Opium and Tea.


What are the major differences among agrarian based empires, gunpowder empires and maritime  empires?
What would those states that sought maritime empires have to have to make that possible?
What innovations did the Dutch colonialist make to facilitate exploration and colonization?
What was the “cultivation system”  and what was the effect of this system on the Indonesians?
How did the British finance their first settlements in India?
What is meant by a “factory?”
How did the British move from a small trading presence to controlling a major part of the Indian subcontinent?
What was the British colonial policy prior to 1857?
How did the uprising of 1857 change the British policies?
Why did the French abandon their colonies in South India?
What were some impacts of the early translations of Indian texts into European languages?
What impact did opium have on the British and on the Chinese?
How did France and Britain attempt from armed conflict as each colonized Southeast Asia?
How did the French organize its colonies in Southeast Asia and in Algeria?
As a result of the new global trading system, how did consumer taste change?

Volume III, Act Six: Revolutions and Rebellions: 1775-1850

Pattern Ten: Revolutions

The Era from 1760 to 1850 is sometimes called the “Age of Revolutions.”  Earlier historians who focused mostly on Europe and the United States, which they called Western Civilization, stressed the ideas of the European Enlightenment and the revolutions in what would become the United States and France. Some also included the English bloodless revolution of 1688.  However, many World History historians now tend to include Haiti in that zone of revolutions. This Act also includes the revolutions in Latin America as well as the outbreak of revolutionary fervor in 1848 in Europe. The pattern of mass revolutions during this era established many precedents for other revolutions to follow down to our own day.

Types of Revolutions: One type of revolution that develops as a result of class conflicts takes place when different groups of people such as aristocrats, the middle class, workers, or peasants struggle to obtain more rights. A second type of revolution has its basis in nationalism. It occurs when groups who believe that they share a common past and the same cultural values try to overthrow foreign domination and rule themselves. The revolutions in this act grew out of nationalist sentiments and a desire to overthrow outside colonial powers that were ruling over them. They include the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Haitian and Latin American revolutions.  These revolutions, motivated in part by a desire for individual liberty and equality, were inspired by the 18th and early 19th European movement called the Enlightenment.

Intellectual Leaders Important Enlightenment thinkers included Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Copernicus, Leibniz, Francois Quesnay, Voltaire, and especially John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. You might have each of your students choose one of these thinkers and report on his ideas to the class. Then have the class make a list of the most important ideas. Then, assign your students to be on the lookout for how these ideas may have influenced the three revolutions presented in this act.

Question your students might consider

The American Revolution

Why did the following groups or actions cause colonist to oppose British control? Merchants; local farmers, intellectuals who had read Greek and Roman and Enlightenment writers;  leaders in local colonial governments.
What social classes led the way in mounting the revolution?
How did the following increase colonial opposition? The Stamp Act; the Townsend Acts and the Quartering Acts.
What type of government emerged as the Revolutionary War proceeded?
What groups remained loyal to the British and what were their reasons?

The French Revolution

How was land in France divided among the three Estates?
How did the organization of the three estates contribute to the revolution in France?
Why did the Middle class resist organizing the population into three estates?
What kind of power did the French king have?
Who opposed the monarchy and why? How did the Third Estate protest?
What did the French Declaration of the Rights of Man guarantee?  How does it differ from the American Declaration of Independence?
How did the unfolding of the French Revolution differ from the American experience?


The Haitian Revolution

What was the make-up of the population of Saint-Domingue? (Haiti)  What was the relationship of these groups?
How did events during the French Revolution influence what was happening in Haiti?
What role did Toussaint Louverture play in the Haitian Revolution?
Why didn’t the largely white nations such as France, the United States and Great Britain support the Haitian Revolution development?

After the Haitian Revolution, why did the Haitian governments have to pay an indemnity to compensate France for the loss of their slaves?  How did this penalty affect Haiti?
How the decisions did made at the Congress of Vienna reverse many of the achievements of the French Revolution?

What was Metternich’s guiding philosophy in the Congress of Vienna?
What impact did Napoleon’s Empire have on the thinking of European leaders after 1815?
How did Metternich’s successful policies contribute to Europe’s latter revolutions in 1848?
How did the turmoil in Europe during Napoleon’s time contribute to the success of Latin American Revolutions?
How did the Latin American social structure compare to that of the United States? How does this explain the differences in the revolutions in North and South America?
How did the eventual outcome of their revolutions in the United States and in Central and Latin America differ?
Act Seven
On the Road to Modernity

Scholars have argued for many years about when the world became “modern.” Many disagree about what “Modernity” actually means. However, there is some agreement that modern means an industrial economy and large cities. The term also suggests some form of citizen participation in government with democracy the preferred system. Modernity also includes the nation-state and a high level of commercialization. Some modernist also contend that it was the move from the dominance of religious world views to a more secular and humanistic world view rooted more in science than faith.  There were also modernist movements in art, music and literature that have their own definitions.

You might want to encourage your students to seek their own definitions and understanding of the term.  If would be helpful if you presented two columns, pre-modern and modern, and asked your students to place the nations, societies, practices and other categories you mention in one of these two categories. You might suggest: arranged marriages, extended families, evolution, Norway, Libya, the caste system, Picasso’s art, computers, organic food, etc.  A lively discussion of what is modern and what is not should help students remember that the term was created by humans, and since it came out of discussions by Europeans and Americans, it tends to favor cultural patterns familiar to these societies.

Historically, modernity accelerated after the industrial revolution. As industrialism spread to new areas and came to dominate many national economies, nationalism also developed. The competition among nations is a major feature of this last act. In order to compete, each nation had to invest in machinery, factories and technological innovation. The price to compete in this race was enormous. For a nation to build a large navy and a modern army complete with the latest weapons, it had to have a large tax base. The best way to achieve that goal was to promote industrialization. The continuing industrial revolution in the 19th century was led by a few nations, mostly in Europe, but Japan and the United States soon moved to the pinnacle of world power. With the rise of national competition, the probability of war among the powerful grew more likely.

As the quest for industrial supremacy continued, it was stimulated by new scientific discoveries. These discoveries not only enhanced a nation’s power, it also began to change the way people imagined the universe, their society and themselves.

High on the agenda of the nations seeking to gain power was their ability to control colonies around the world. In fact the European colonization of Asia proved a major reason that Europe industrialized first. With available natural resources and an abundant source of cheap labor, the new colonial powers had surplus wealth to invest in public improvements and modern weapons.  In the latter part of the 19th century, the European colonialists began to carve up Africa as if it were a huge apple pie they could share among themselves. The combination of the new science and the new colonialism led to a world view that featured the white race as the most developed and therefore the rightful controller of the world. This “scientific” racism was practiced not only in competition for colonial power but at home as well.

One of the legacies of this continuing industrialization and colonialism is the intermixing of cultural forms, especially in the arts. Writers in Europe and America were influenced by African and Japanese art, Indonesian music and Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. This rich cultural mix also reached into architecture, clothing styles and popular music.


How did the following inventions change human history: railroads, machine guns, steel, internal combustion engine and electricity?
What is the core of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution? How have his theories been challenged and misused by many?
What are some examples from art, architecture and music of the merging of themes and/or forms from two or more cultures?
How did the rise of new nations such as The United States, Japan, Italy and Germany change the balance of power in the world?
How has the modernization of Japan affected European and American racial theories?
What were the major legacies of the European Revolutions of 1848?


What were the steps the United States took in creating the Continental United States?
How did the US actions compare with earlier methods of colonization?
What is “Scientific Racism?” What racial prejudices might have been fostered or strengthened What were the results of the Meiji Revolution?
How did the European power gain control of areas in Africa?
What was the rational for and the means for the European colonization of Africa?
What role did the Africans play in “carving up Africa?” What potential future problems might these divisions have created?