Course description

A world of information fits in the palm of our hand. Networks for instantaneous communication span the globe. Yet a unified vision of our society does not exist. We compete in technology, religion, and politics. We have weapons that can destroy the planet several times over. Control of waste and overpopulation may determine the fate of the planet we live on and be inextricably entwined with the destiny of our own species. How did things get to be this way? How did they start out? Are there essential elements of society? How did our fundamental conditions develop? Few things are to be taken for granted about the way we live and organize ourselves. There are—and have always been-numerous ways in which we live and proliferate. But biologically we are the same as our ancestors at the dawn of history. Does this mean that any likeness or difference between us and them is simply a product of history and culture? And can we use ancient history to think about contemporary society and culture and where we are headed? These are the questions raised in this course as we study the earliest human civilizations in the region of greater Mesopotamia circa 3500-300 BCE in the territory now covered by the nations of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. We raise them in order to build ways of thinking about society in the broadest possible scope. Areas explored are selected for their relevance across the range of contemporary life. They include freedom, music, public health, food, jurisprudence, trade, the visual arts, science, gender and sexuality, religion, and political power. Students learn about how societies and individuals have dealt with change on multiple levels, from large-scale societal revolutions to personal transformation. For complete and current details about this Harvard Extension course, see the description in the DCE Course Search.

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