Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Review: The Foundations of Eastern Civilization

The Foundations of Eastern Civilization The Foundations of Eastern Civilization by Craig G. Benjamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a broad, sweeping, Big History course. The lectures span from Neolithic migrations into Asia up to present day. While mostly focusing on China, Benjamin has several what he calls mini-courses on other regions, including Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. He examines how these regions developed on their own but also under the influence of China. The course explores what is meant by 'foundations,' by 'eastern,' and by 'civilization': how should we and how did each of the many cultures and peoples understand and express these? Benjamin looks at the impacts of geology and climate on the cultures and peoples. He looks how the economic and political systems developed and evolved: both from internal developments and external influences.

Each lecture is interesting and well-presented. Benjamin is an excellent lecturer and story-teller. There were many things I learned, but the most surprising for me was how ancient and deep rooted some of the divisions in the region are. For example, like many I presume, I assumed the division between North and South Korea was a Cold War, modern phenomenon, but come to learn that Korea has often historically been divided in a north/south arrangement.

I am doubtful about my recall of much of the detail: the names, places, and dates and so on. But the course provides a grand schema to think about Eastern civilizations. In this way it is a good structure to have before pursuing more close study of a particular time, place, or people.

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