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Course Date: 10 August 2014 to 28 December 2014 (20 weeks)
The course surveys the entire length of human history, from the evolution of various human species in the Stone Age up to the political and technological revolutions of the twenty-first century.
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the Department of History, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He specializes in World History, medieval history and military history. For the past decade he has been teaching an introductory course in World History to various groups of students at the Hebrew University, including Israelis, Palestinians and foreign exchange students; Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists. His teaching philosophy is focused on provoking the students to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues.
His most recent book, From Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind (2012) was originally published in Hebrew. After becoming a national bestseller in Israel, it is now being translated into English and German. His current studies focus on the connection between history and biology, on the ethics of history, and on the history of happiness and suffering.
His many other publications include Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550 (2007); The Ultimate Experience: Battlefield Revelations and the Making of Modern War Culture, 1450-2000 (2008); “The Concept of ‘Decisive Battles’ in World History”, The Journal of World History 18:3 (2007), 251-266; and “Armchairs, Coffee and Authority: Eye-witnesses and Flesh-witnesses Speak about War, 1100-2000”, The Journal of Military History 74:1 (January 2010), pp. 53-78.
About 2 million years ago our human
ancestors were insignificant animals living in a corner of Africa. Their impact on the world was no greater than
that of gorillas, zebras, or chickens. Today humans are spread all over the
world, and they are the most important animal around. The very future of life
on Earth depends on the ideas and behavior of our species.
This course will explain how we humans have conquered planet Earth, and how
we have changed our environment, our societies, and our own bodies and minds.
The aim of the course is to give students a brief but complete overview of
history. Some of its main conclusions are:
- Humans rule the
world because we are the only animal that can believe in things that exist
purely in our own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.
- Humans are ecological serial killers – even with stone-age tools, our
ancestors wiped out half the planet's large terrestrial mammals well before the
advent of agriculture.
- The Agricultural
Revolution was history’s biggest fraud – wheat domesticated humans rather than the other way around.
- Money is the most
universal and pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised. It's the only thing in the world everybody trusts.
- Empire is the most
successful political system humans have invented, and our present era of
anti-imperial sentiment is probably a short-lived aberration.
- Capitalism is a
religion rather than just an economic theory – and it is the most successful
religion to date.
- The treatment of
animals in modern agriculture may turn out to be the worst crime in history.
- We are far more powerful than our
ancestors, but we aren’t much happier.
- Accelerating technological developments will lead to the replacement of present-day humans by completely different
beings, enjoying godlike qualities and abilities.
Part I: The Cognitive Revolution
Lecture 1: The Human Family
One hundred thousand years ago, at
least six different species of humans inhabited planet Earth. Our species, Homo
sapiens, was just one among them. Who were the others? Where did they come
from? And what happened to them? Why is there today only one species of humans—Homo
Lecture 2: The Cognitive
The Cognitive Revolution, about
70,000 years ago, enabled Homo sapiens to conquer the world and drive
all other human species to extinction. During this revolution, Homo sapiens
developed a new and remarkable kind of language. How was this language
different from the languages of earlier human species and of other animals? What
were the advantages that Homo sapiens gained from this unique language?
Lecture 3: Daily Life in the
What was life like for people who
lived 30,000 years ago? What did they do when they woke up in the morning? How
did they organize their societies? Did they have monogamous relationships and
nuclear families? Did they have religions, revolutions, and wars?
Lecture 4: The Human Flood
Following the Cognitive Revolution,
Homo sapiens spread all over the planet. While doing this, it drove
numerous other species to extinction. In Australia, up to 95% of all large
animal species vanished. In America,
84 of 107 large mammal species disappeared. Altogether, about half of the large
terrestrial mammals that populated Earth became extinct. How could a few
million individuals who possessed no more than Stone Age technology have caused
Part II: The Agricultural Revolution
Lecture 5: History’s Biggest
About 12,000 years ago, people in
the Middle East, China, and Central America began domesticating plants and animals.
In the process, Homo sapiens,too, was domesticated, abandoning a life of hunting and gathering
for the pleasures and discomforts of agriculture. For most people, the
discomforts outweighed the pleasures. The Agricultural Revolution made the life
of the average person harder. Why, then, did it occur?
Lecture 6: Building Pyramids
For millions of years, humans lived
in intimate bands of no more than a few dozen individuals. Our biological
instincts are adapted to this way of life. Humans are consequently ill-equipped
to cooperate with large numbers of strangers. Yet shortly after the Agricultural
Revolution erupted, humans established cities, kingdoms, and huge empires. How
did they do it? How can millions of strangers agree on shared laws, norms and
Lecture 7: There is No Justice
A critical factor in the formation
of complex societies was the division of the population into a hierarchy of
groups. Agricultural and industrial societies have been built on hierarchies of
class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Why was it impossible to create a just and
equal society? What is the deep root of prejudice and injustice? In particular,
why did almost all known societies treat men as superior to women?
Part III: The Unification of Humankind
Lecture 8: The Direction of History
After the Agricultural Revolution,
humans created many different cultures and societies. The relations between
these different societies were very complex, and involved wars and conflicts as
well as trade, immigration and imitation. But as time went by, the connections
between the societies became stronger and stronger, so that humankind was
gradually united into a single global society. Three main forces shaped this
process of unification. The first was money and trade. Money is the most
universal system of mutual trust ever devised by humans. How come even people
who believe in different gods and obey rival kings, are nevertheless willing to
use the same money?
Lecture 9: Imperial Visions
The second force that shaped the
process of human unification is imperialism. The idea of empire is seen today
in a very negative light, but empires have played such a central role in human
history that it’s hard to regard them as totally evil. What exactly is an
empire? How have empires succeeded in uniting under their control different
ecological regions, ethnic groups, and religious communities? How can we
balance the positive contribution of empires with their record of violence and
oppression? And what is the future of the imperial ideal? Is the world destined
to be ruled by a new global empire?
Lecture 10: The Law of Religion
The third force that shaped the
process of human unification is religion. The role of religion in history is
extremely controversial. Some see religion as the root of all evil, while for
others it is the primary source of happiness, empathy, and progress. Can we
arrive at a balanced judgment? What were the main landmarks in the religious
history of the world? In what ways did different cultures understand the
universe, distinguish good from evil, and explain the ubiquitous presence of
Part IV. The Scientific Revolution
Lecture 11: The Discovery of
During the last 500 years the
process of human unification was completed. At the same time, there has been an
explosive growth in the power of humankind, due above all to the discoveries of
modern science. Humankind has become increasingly convinced that the only thing
that limits its power is its own ignorance, and that the discovery of new
knowledge can enable it to do almost anything. How is the modern scientific
tradition different from all previous traditions of knowledge? What accounts
for its sudden rise and for its unparalleled achievements?
Lecture 12: The Marriage of
Science and Empire
Modern science developed in
alliance with the modern European empires. The conquest of new knowledge
depended upon and made possible the conquest of new territories. What exactly
was the contribution of science to the rise of the European empires, and what
was the contribution of the European empires to the development of science? And
why did it all start in Europe, rather than in China,
India, or the Middle East?
Lecture 13: The Capitalist Creed
The close ties between science and
imperialism were in fact just one part of a more complex relationship. The
third crucial member of this relationship was capitalism, which financed both
science and empire, and which led to an unprecedented growth in the world
economy. How does a capitalist economy function? How is it different from traditional
economies? Is capitalism natural, or is it really a kind of religion?
Lecture 14: The Industrial
During the last 200 years, the
combination of science, imperialism and capitalism produced the Industrial
Revolution. This revolution gave humankind control of enormous new energy
resources, and enabled humankind to start manufacturing far more things than
ever before, far more quickly, and far more cheaply. How did this change the
global ecology, daily life, and human psychology?
Lecture 15: A Permanent
The Industrial Revolution opened an
era of permanent revolution. The late modern socio-political order is constantly
changing, never settling into any stable pattern. The pillars of human
order—most notably, the family and the intimate community—are crumbling around
us. How do humans deal with the resulting vacuum and chaos? How do society and
politics function without stability? Is the world becoming more violent and
dangerous, or is it actually more peaceful and secure than ever before?
Lecture 16: And They Lived
Happily Ever After
Have 500 years of amazing discoveries,
developments, and revolutions made people happier? Are people today happier
than in the Middle Ages, or in the Stone Age? If not, what was the point of all
these changes? Most history books ignore these issues, yet these are the most
important questions we can ask about history. New studies in biology,
economics, and psychology are offering fascinating insights into the history of
Lecture 17: The End of Homo Sapiens
Over the last few decades humans
have began to bend and break the laws of natural selection—laws that have
governed life on Earth for the past four billion years. New technologies such
as genetic engineering and nanotechnology are giving us unprecedented abilities
to design not only the world around us, but also our own bodies, our
personalities, and our desires. How will this influence society and culture?
Does anybody know where we are heading? What is the likely future of humankind?
The course includes 17 lectures.
Each is 60-120 minutes long, divided into 3-6 short segments.
Students can watch each lecture in one go, or break it up into several segments.
Participating in the course does
not require any reading, but students who wish to deepen their understanding of the subject may refer to the following book: