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The Decline of the West? 1905-2001

First Year Module

Module Leader: Dr Edward Packard

Has the West declined compared to the Rest since the start of the twentieth century? Are we in the middle of a clash of civilisations and is the West destined to lose? Did the West sow the seeds of its own downfall? Did 9/11 mark the start of a new era or the continuation of a wider historical process? Can we view history as an ongoing cycle of imperial growth and decay? With the war on terror, the seemingly inexorable rise of China and the enormous impact of globalisation, these questions are of enormous contemporary significance. In this wide-ranging module, students will not only gain a preparatory overview of twentieth century world history, but they will also explore the possibilities, and limitations, of using this history to explain current events.

This module covers a broad chronological range, from the shock victory of the Japanese over the Imperial Russian navy in 1905 to the al-Qaeda surprise attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. In between, it will consider not only the two world wars and the Cold War, but also introduce less familiar topics from non-western history. Rather than adopting a chronological-narrative approach, this module will primarily consist of an analytical and conceptual exploration of the decline of the West. Students will critically assess a number of ideas and theories from both sides of the historical argument on western decline, some of which will involve the consideration of earlier epochs: for example, what can the rise and fall of the Roman Empire teach us about the twentieth century western experience? Does Oswald Spenglers work have any relevance for the twenty-first century historian? Why are some historians more pessimistic than others?

In debating whether the West provides us with a valuable or ineffective category of historical analysis, students will concentrate on the experiences of Britain, Germany and the United States although the module will also address other continental European powers. Students will also consider the nature of decline (or otherwise) from a number of angles, including culture, economics, ideology, imperialism, politics, religion, war and technology. In defining the Rest students will not only consider the challenge of Asian, African and Latin American nation-states, but will also assess the impact of non-western ideas, including the Islamist challenge.


Learning and Teaching Strategies:

The module will be delivered through weekly lectures and seminars plus tutorial support. Where appropriate supporting resources will also be made available online. Seminar sessions will be designed to encourage student participation and will support students in strengthening their skills of presentation, discussion, argument and debate, and in evaluating, interpreting and using secondary and primary sources.


Recommended Introductory Reading:

N.B. Advice on recommended book purchases for this module will be given to students at the start of term.

A.Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History,(London, 1997).

W.R.Keylor, The Twentieth-Century World and Beyond: An International History Since 1900, (Oxford, 2011).

T.H.Von Laue, The World Revolution of Westernization: The Twentieth Century in Global Perspective,(Oxford, 1989).


Further Reading:

N.B. A full reading list is included in a module handbook which will be provided in the first week of teaching.

O.Bennett, Cultural Pessimism: Narratives of Decline in the Postmodern World, (Edinburgh, 2001).

J.L.Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, (Oxford, 1999).

D.Fieldhouse, The West and the Third World: Trade, Colonialism, Dependence and Development,(Oxford, 1999).

N.Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire,(London, 2004).

N.Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest,(London, 2011).

F.Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, (London, 1992).

E.Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, (London, 1994).

S.P.Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (New York, 2002).

M.Jacques, When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World, (London, 2009).

P.Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, (London, 1989).

D.Marquand, The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe,(2011).

J.D.Spence, The Search for Modern China, (Princeton NJ, 1999).

O.Spengler, The Decline of the West, (New York, 1926-28).

E.Todd, After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order,(London, 2004).