Program in European and American History

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Program in European and American History

What region comes to mind when you hear the phrase "the West"? Most people will probably respond, "Europe." Does that mean that North and South America, including the United States, are not part of the West? What about Australia and New Zealand? Was the Dutch enclave of Dejima during the Edo Period not part of the West? The responses to the question of how to define the geographical term "the West" have undergone historical changes over a long period of time.

Far removed from the birthplaces of the four great ancient civilizations, Europe was merely a fringe area, and ancient Greece and Rome built up their civilizations on the basis of knowledge and technologies absorbed from more advanced regions like Mesopotamia and Egypt. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe came under threat from Islamic civilization. Amidst all this, a society based on Christianity arose during the Middle Ages, Later, in order to undermine the power of the Islamic world, the European countries ventured into the Atlantic Ocean and also established trade routes that reached India.

During the initial stages of their direct negotiations with Africa and Asia, the European countries did not necessarily enjoy military, political, or economic superiority. Yet they had the marine technology necessary for mastering the high seas, which they employed to develop global-scale networks that linked the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian Oceans. Silver mined in the Spanish American colonies was transported to Asia via Europe, goods such as silk fabrics and ceramics were brought from Asia to Europe, and slaves were forcibly transported from Africa to the Americas.

The Industrial Revolution in the latter half of the 18th century was a decisive factor in ensuring the European nations' economic superiority over the Asian and African regions. This in turn made it possible for them to conquer vast regions of the Earth and to bring them under political control. This was the so-called Age of Imperialism.

The Americas, Australia, and New Zealand are, of course, outside Europe. However, having been incorporated into Europe-based global networks beginning in 1492, they became part of the Western world. On the other hand, it was not necessarily true that all the European colonies remained part of the Western world permanently. This is clear from the independence movements that arose in Asia and Africa after World War II.

In addition to faculty members who specialize in topics such as ancient Greece and Rome, medieval society, Spain and Portugal in the Age of Exploration, the rise and fall of the British Empire, and modern and contemporary Germany, the Program in European and American History invites guest researchers who offer lectures and practical courses in eras, regions, and themes that regular faculty members cannot cover on our own. Our aim is to join with our students in reconsidering the history of "the West," tracing it through these kinds of complex processes.