Religion and Eurasia

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American students are often criticized for their lack of knowledge of geography, but it is essential in the study of world history. Although you will not have to specifically identify places on the AP Exam, you cannot follow change over time nor make accurate comparisons unless you know something about both physical and political geography. Our concepts of geography have been shaped by western historians of the past, and in recent years some scholars have questioned very basic assumptions about the ways that the globe is divided. For example, take the concept of a continent. Why is Europe considered a continent? What actually separates Europe from Asia? Certainly, physical geographical separation of the two continents is far from clear. Historians Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen refer to cartographic ethnocentrism in their controversial book, The Myth of Continents. This ethnic point of view is centered around Europe, and a little later, around the United States. For example, where did the name "Middle East" come from? From the European perspective, this area is east of Europe, but it is not as far away as China is. If we look at the Middle East from a cultural point of view, we certainly can see commonalities that extend throughout northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and Asia. So why do we divide the area up into several continents? Biased divisions that Lewis and Wigen identify include:

East vs. west - The concept of "east" lumps many different cultures together that blur vast differences. Some of this occurs in considering the west, but cultural distinctions are generally more readily acknowledged. •South vs. north - The history of the southern part of the globe has often been ignored in the telling of world history, and the northern half has been highlighted. Even maps that we use reflect these biases. Most map projections center around the Atlantic Ocean, clearly showing Europe and North America in the middle. Inventors of the relatively new Peders' projection claim that older, more familiar projections (like Mercator and Robertson's) actually short change "less important" countries in terms of land space. Of course, we cannot talk about world history without labels, biased though they may be. However, it is essential to use objective criteria in determining what events, places, and people have shaped the course of history. Do not automatically assume that one part of the world is inherently more important than another at any particular time without thinking it through carefully and objectively. THE NATURE OF CIVILIZATION

These changes in turn allowed the development of "civilization," a basic organizing principle in world history. Civilization may be defined in many ways, but it is generally characterized by: •Large cities that dominate the countryside around them - Growing populations required more food production, so the cities controlled their hinterlands in order to guarantee a reliable and continuous supply of food for their inhabitants. •Monumental architecture and public building projects that take many forms - They may include temples, palaces, irrigation projects, city walls, public arenas, government buildings, and aqueducts. •A complex political organization - In order to coordinate activities and provide protection for the cities and hinterlands, governments developed. The larger the area and population, the more demanding political positions became, and control of the government began to move away from kinship ties. Although many early rulers passed their authority down to their sons, other factors became important, such as military prowess and ability. •A written language - This important development in human history allowed societies to organize and maintain the growing political, social, and economic structure that followed settlement into agricultural areas. Those societies that developed a written language were able to communicate multiple ideas and...
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