A major difference between a World History and a Western Civilization class is a fundamental notion in World
History that the “Rise of the West” (an exceptionalist argument) is neither a given nor preordained to occur.
At the start of the fourteenth century, Europe was ravaged by the Black Death, was under attack from a
resurgent Muslim world, was wracked by incessant internal political and religious conflict, and was
technologically behind other areas of the world—particularly Ming China. Yet by the 16th & 17
th Centuries this
bleak outlook had significantly changed with Europeans colonizing vast areas of the New World. About a
century later the Industrial Revolution would make certain areas of Europe (and North America) significantly
more economically developed and technologically advanced than the rest of the world — “Western Civilization”
was well on its way towards establishing hegemony over the rest of the world (post 1789- the modern world.)
Numerous historians and scholars from other academic fields have endeavored to explain how and why this
phenomenon known as the “Rise of the West” occurred. Your task is to compare and contrast the validity of
three different theories which all attempt to explain the contours of this significant paradigm of world history.
Your task as a Historian: (summarize in your own words and assess the validity of each these (3) theoretical
frameworks below that attempt to describe the “Rise of the West:”
I. Jared Diamond’s theory of Geographical Determinism (from Guns, Germs, & Steel)
II. Victor Davis Hanson’s Lethality of Western Culture theory (from Carnage and Culture)
III. Contingency in world history theory via Counterfactual History (from class lectures)
Contingency offers a corrective to teleology, the fallacy that events pursue a straight-arrow course to a pre-determined
outcome. Contingency reminds us that individuals shape the course of human events. Counterfactual history seeks to
analyze historical incidents by means of extrapolating a timeline in which a certain key historical event did not happen or
occurred differently from what did in fact happen.
Pick (one) of these (three) events below to analyze as test cases of counterfactual history (“what if?”)
a. 1433: The decision to stop the ocean-going voyages of Zheng He and the subsequent end of Ming
China’s monopoly of the Indian Ocean.
b. 1453: The Ottoman capture of Constantinople and the subsequent destruction of the last vestige of
the Byzantine Empire.
c. 1683: The failure of the Ottoman Siege of Vienna in 1683 and the subsequent decline of the
Ottoman threat to Europe.
In your expanded conclusion, tie all the facets of your analysis of these (3) theoretical frameworks of history
together and extrapolate some larger meaning from your overall assessment:
State in at least two paragraphs how your analysis of these three theories has informed your overall
understanding and assessment of the “Rise of the West” paradigm. Does any one of these (3) theories
stand out as most effective in helping an individual understand the “Rise of the West?”
Your essay should be between 4-5 pages of double spaced 12 pt. font text based upon class materials.
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