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A Brief History of Humankind

Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Coursera

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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, from the Stone Age to the age of capitalism and genetic engineering. The course invites us to question the basic narratives of our world. Its conclusions are enlightening and at times provocative. For example:

·         We 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 Sapiens rather than the other way around.

·         Money is the most universal and pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised. Money is the only thing everyone 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.

·         Humans will soon disappear. With the help of novel technologies, within a few centuries or even decades, Humans will upgrade themselves into completely different beings, enjoying godlike qualities and abilities. History began when humans invented gods – and will end when humans become gods. 

Syllabus

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 sapiens?

 

Lecture 2: The Cognitive Revolution

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 Stone Age

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 such devastation?

 

 

Part II: The Agricultural Revolution

 

Lecture 5: History’s Biggest Fraud

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 values?

 

Lecture 7: There is No Justice in History

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 suffering?

 

 

Part IV. The Scientific Revolution

 

Lecture 11: The Discovery of Ignorance

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 Revolution

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 Revolution

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 human happiness.

 

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?





Taught by

Dr. Yuval Noah Harari

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Reviews for Coursera's A Brief History of Humankind
4.9 Based on 37 reviews

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  • 1
Edward T
5.0 4 years ago
Edward completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
I listened to all the lectures from the last course which started a year ago and can say this is one of the best classes I ever took in my life: it focused my understanding of religion, money, science, countries, capitalism, companies, human rights, consumerism, human relationships, and above all gave me a bird's eye view of the whole of human history that makes sense in its entirety, something no other history course has done. I can say that every lecture was insightful in some way. For anyone taking this course, I took notes over 40 lectures which can be found here: http://tanguay.info/learntracker/page/lectureNotesItems?course=courseraHistoryHumankind
15 people found
this review helpful
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Anonymous
4.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
I agree with the other reviewers that the course content was excellent and Dr. Harari's lectures were provocative and interesting. This is the sort of class that promotes discussion and debate. Unfortunately, the discussion forums in general were poor. There was minimal monitoring of the boards and conversations often wandered aimlessly. I stopped reading the posts. The quizzes were very simple and minimal. So, other than watching the lectures there was not much to do. I think Dr. Harari agreed to do this class to sell his book (which I intend to buy when it is published in English).
6 people found
this review helpful
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Raj D
5.0 3 years ago
by Raj is taking this course right now, spending 6 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
This is a highly interesting and informative course. Am learning so much about our human history that I never knew or thought about before. I have only as yet completed 10 of the 65 videos, so still have a long ways to go. I find it very interesting to learn that there were atleast 6 other species of humans on earth when we (homo sapiens) arrived, and that we quickly got rid of all the others. No other animal has ever done that. The instructor is very good as well. An all in all, a very worthwhile class !!!
6 people found
this review helpful
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Anonymous
5.0 3 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
I really enjoyed the lectures. A lot of food for thought and a completely new and different way of looking at the world, at human development and even at our possible future. I would highly recommend it, and in fact I'd do it again as a real course if it was offered again.
3 people found
this review helpful
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
This was probably the most thought-provoking and interesting class I have ever taken! It made me revise and adjust most of my views about history and society in general.
3 people found
this review helpful
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Anonymous
5.0 3 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
Will it be available in the future? I would love to complete the course.

Having taken multiple courses through coursera and edx, this was by far the best.

2 people found
this review helpful
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
It was a unique point of view on the history of human kind, very different from what I used to know or was taught at school ...

How human sapience became dominant species, agricultural revolution as the biggest fraud in history, what we have done to domesticate animals, what unites people, what we really need and perspective on happiness, the future of human kind , and many other great topics were like the page turners. This course was the most fascinating piece of media I came across in the last year.
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
KUMAR completed this course.
Absolutely Fantastic.!

I mean listening to this well-learned Professor makes me feel jaw-dropping.! How well he gets to tell things and how well,he gets to teach.So much knowledge we get to have from attending this special class.!

I'm a undergrad student interested in pursuing my career in Archaeology and related field and this special course makes me more Enthusiastic about every thing and acquiring knowledge and getting to crave for it more.! :D
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Anonymous
5.0 4 years ago
Ivan completed this course.
This class is more of a series of popular-science videos than a proper science class, but nevertheless is very interesting summary of what sociology, biology and history can tell us about humankind nowadays.

It is very relaxed, the lectures can essentially be watched at your own pace at any time, no time pressure at all. At the moment I'm writing this I've watched 1 lesson out of 17 available and am determined to watch through the end.
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Anonymous
4.0 5 years ago
John completed this course.
Even if, like me, you start with the quizzes, and dip into the lectures to fill in your gaps, this is a rewarding intellectual adventure. (Those who committed to the full experience equally loved it.) This could really change the way you think about the world! Super.
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
Prof Harari weaves an interdisciplinary narrative of the sweep of human history from biological, sociological, and ecological perspectives that was extremely interesting and quite unique. I found myself looking forward to each week's new lectures.
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
I loved it--Prof. Harari's perspective of history is very original. Although I didn't always agree with his views, the course made me think seriously about history and the evolution of humankind. I highly recommend it!
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Se-won completed this course.
This lecture is so interesting. I could get various perspectives about humankind. he shows several theories with evidences and sometimes he gives his distinctive interpretation about that. I recommend this lecture.
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
Interesting topics discussed: human evolution, where we came from and where we're going, our impact on the environment and other species. Some facts were disturbing and controversial, but I loved it.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous
5.0 3 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
Excellent course! Best objective summary of human history. I took this course two years ago and still think how it enlighted me. I'm gonna order his books too. Great source for my kids.
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Will R
5.0 4 years ago
by Will completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
This course offers an interesting perspective on the history of humankind as a biological and global species. The professor is entertaining to listen to and his views are intriguing.
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Anonymous
5.0 4 weeks ago
Anonymous completed this course, spending 15 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
It better course i have learned. So much interesting, amazing, beatiful. I want more courses by Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Maboroshi M
5.0 4 years ago
by Maboroshi completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
A fresh and new approach to history. I find the lectures very enlightened. Recommendation for all. Thank you Dr. Harari!
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Karl R
5.0 4 years ago
Karl completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
1 person found
this review helpful
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Anonymous
5.0 5 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
A complete view of the history from a high level. Must learn course.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
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