Comparative Classroom Approaches to the Classical Past
The preference given by both students and scholars to the modern over the pre-modern world has led to a serious neglect of the Ancient and Classical past in the world history curriculum. Those colleges that offer a core curriculum course in world history usually require only one of a two- semester world history sequence and most majors require students take only the second or modern half of the year long course. Advanced Placement courses must compress coverage of the pre-modern world into increasingly fewer classroom hours. This is the first of a series of articles and resource reviews that will explore the causes of this imbalance and solutions designed to ameliorate its effects.
The series begins with a selection of "Teaching Gems" developed by instructors of Advanced Placement courses in world history. Many of their classroom strategies have applications that may serve even younger students, who can easily grasp their collective focus on comparing chronologically and geographically distant civilizations in world history.
The first of this group, by Carol Buchanan of Lake Highlands High School in Texas, addresses many issues, but especially the key issue of dynastic decline. Although the Roman documents provided are not a rich as the Han, this lesson plan gives a good illustration of a systematic, skill-building approach of comparing civilizations. The second plan is by Marcia Hudzik, of A.C. Reynolds High School in Asheville North Carolina. It uses a "newspaper" approach to the Romans and Han to serve the same comparative ends. A helpful list of websites enriches a list of text-based resources.
An even broader comparative approach using a newspaper format is offered by Holly Wright of Graham Kapowsin High School in Graham, Washington, who asks students in groups of five to review a local newspaper for subjects and categories and they taken on the role of "traveling journalists responsible for reporting back to class their findings on the political institutions, religious practices, cultural advancements, social institutions, and growing trade systems in seven distinct areas: China, India, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Western Europe, and the Middle East" with a view to creating a newspaper "that details what they are experiencing in these regions during the end of the Classical Era."
Perhaps the broadest and certainly most universal "era" comparative lesson plan is the final one offered here. It has been developed and used frequently by Rodney K. Floyd of Alpharetta High School in Alpharetta, Georgia, who seeks "to have students acquire an in depth comparison of the contributions of early civilizations to the rest of the world through research, analysis and evaluation." This goal is supported by maps, a useful rubric and a strong assessment model built around a cooperative exercise. While it has an "ancient" rather than classical civilization focus, it can easily be converted into a "classical" model with a few key strokes applied to the Group headings in the first chart.
In future, this space will be used to share scholarship and develop new resources to enrich the study and teaching about pre-modern cultures and civilizations. If you wish to join in this effort, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 1: Comparing the Early Han Empires of Rome and Han
Course: Advanced Placement World History
Level: 10th grade
Unit: Classical Rome and Han China: Comparing Civilizations
Bulliet, Richard W. et al. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Ebrey, Patricia B., ed. Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook. 2nd ed. New York: The Free Press, c. 1993.
Fairbank, John K., Reischauer, Edwin O. and Albert M. Craig. East Asia. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., c. 1989.
Murphy, Rhoads. East Asia: A New History. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, c. 2001.
Wiesner, Merry E. et al. Discovering the Global Past. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.c. 1997. pp. 125-139.
Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology. Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond Inc. c. 1988.
Spodek, Howard. The World's History. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, c. 2001. pp. 120-124; 195-230;158-194
Stearns, Peter N. et al. World Civilizations: The Global Experience. AP edition. 3rd ed. New York: Longman, c. 2003. pp. 72-84; 93-106.
Each "Lesson" represents a 50-minute class.
Lesson #1 Introducing the unit: The Rise of Empires – Context and Characteristics
Lesson #2 – Concepts of Empire: The Roman Empire
Lesson #3 – Concepts of Empire: Han Dynasty
Lesson #4. Preparing to write a comparative essay using the primary documents and readings from the text.
Lesson #5 . Writing a comparative essay independently, using the readings, documents, and any research materials students wish to include (if cited), will conclude the unit.
PRIMARY SOURCES: ANALYZING DOCUMENTS RELATING TO THE IDEOLOGY OF EMPIRE AND RULE
Paraphrase the main idea of each document. Identify similarities and differences and indicate them in a chart.
From Caesar Augustus, The Achievements of the Divine Augustus, as inscribed on two bronze pillars set up in Rome, 1st century C.E. From Cassius Dio, Roman History in Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, eds., Roman Civilization: Selected Readings, vol.1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), pp. 557-559.
Document # 2
Rostovtzeff, M. Rome. Trans. by Elias J. Bickerman. New York: Oxford University Press, c. 1960, p. 205-206 (The Best Man Theory).
" The preachers of Stoic morality, whose influence over the enlightened section of society increased steadily, brought forward a theory which clashed with the view held by the emperors who followed Augustus. Each of these rulers regarded his authority as a personal right, founded upon his relationship to Augustus….power, they said, was entrusted by God to that man who was morally and intellectually superior to the rest of the community, and the proper exercise of it was a duty laid on him by God, a heavy obligation. The ruler, prince, or king was not a master, according to Stoic teaching, but the servant of mankind; and he should work for the welfare of all, not for his own interests and the maintenance of his power. This theory was not new: invented and maintained by the Cynics, it had passed on to Stoicism and was shared by many of the best rulers in the Hellenistic Age….It was by degrees adopted by almost all Roman society, and its supporters forced it upon the attention of the rulers….They held that the heir to the throne should be 'the best of the best' – in other words, the best among the senators-and that relationship to the actual ruler should be senators-and that relationship to the actual ruler should be ignored."
Source: Sima Qian, The Annals of Qin, c. second century B.C.E. From Raymond Dawson, Historical Records. New York, Oxford University Press, 1994, 63-70.
When the August Emperor came to the throne, he created regulations and made the laws intelligent, and his subjects cherished his instructions.
In the twenty-sixth year of his rule, he for the first time unified all under Heaven, and there were none who did not submit.
In person he made tours of the black-headed people in distant places, climbed this Mount Tai, and gazed all around at the eastern limits.
His servants who were in attendance concentrated on following his footsteps, looked upon his deeds as the foundation and source of their own conduct, and reverently celebrated his achievements and virtue.
As the Way of good government circulates, all creation obtains its proper place, and everything has its laws and patterns.
His great righteousness shines forth with its blessings, to be handed down to later generations, and they are to receive it with compliance and not make changes in it.
The August Emperoro is personally sage, and has brought peace to all under Heaven, and has been tireless in government.
Rising early and retiring late, he has instituted long-lasting benefits, and has brought especial glory to instructions and precepts.
His maxims and rules spread all around, and far and near everything has been properly organized, and everyone received the benefits of his sagely ambitions.
Noble and base have been divided off and made clear, and men and women conform in accordance with propriety, and carefully fulfil their duties.
Private and public are made manifest and distinguished, and nothing is not pure and clean, for the benefit of our heirs and successors.
His influence will last to all eternity, and the decrees he bequeaths will be revered, and his grave admonitions will be inherited for ever.
In the twenty-ninth year the First Emperor made a tour in the east. When he reached Bolangsha in Yangwu, he was startled by bandits. They looked for them but did not find them, so he ordered a grand search through the Empire for ten days. He ascended Zhifu and had an inscription made on stone with the following words:
In the twenty-ninth year, the time being in the middle of spring, when the sunny season had just started.
The August Emperor made a tour in the east, and during his travels he ascended Zhifu, and his gaze shone upon the sea.
The servants who were in attendance observed him in admiration, recalled his blessings and glory, and reflected upon and sang the praises of what he initiated.
In creating the government, the great sage established the laws and regulations, and made manifest the guiding principles.
Abroad he taught the feudal lords, gloriously bestowing the blessings of culture, and spreading enlightenment by means of the principles of righteousness.
The Six States remained aloof, insatiable in greed and violence, and the atrocities and killings did not cease.
The August Emperor felt pity for the multitude, and then sent forth chastising armies, and displayed with determination his military power.
He made his punishments just and his conduct sincere, and his awesome glory spread around, and no one did not submit.
He wiped out the strong and violent, rescued the black-headed people, and restored order to the four quarters.
Everywhere he bestowed enlightened laws, and made warp and woof for all under Heaven, to provide a model for all eternity.
He has become great indeed, and within the whole universe we accept and obey his sage-like intent.
All his servants sing the praises of his achievements, and request to inscribe them on stone, so that they may be displayed and handed down as a constant rule.
(He set up a stone inscription extolling the virtue of Qin, to make clear that he had achieved his ambition.) It read:
In his twenty-eighth year, the August Emperor made a beginning:
Laws and standards are corrected and adjested, as a means of recording the myriad things.
Thus he clarifies human affairs, and brings concord to father and son.
With sagacity, wisdom, humaneness, and righteousness, he has made manifest all principles.
In the east he has pacified the eastern lands, and thus he has inspected officers and men.
When this task had been magnificently accomplished, he then turned towards the sea.
Through the achievements of the August Emperor, the basic tasks are diligently worked on.
Farming is put first and non-essentials are abolished, and it is the black'headed people who are made wealthy.
All people under Heaven, have heart and mind in unison.
Implements are given a uniform measure, and the characters used in writing are standardized.
Whenever the sun and moon shine wherever boats and carts carry goods.
Everyone completes his destiny, and nobody does not get what he wants.
He makes things move in accord with the seasons, such is the August Emperor.
Li Ssu, Ch'in Shih Huang-di's Grand Councillor, 213 BC. Edict on Book Burning.
"There are those who unofficially propagate teachings directed against imperial decrees and orders. When they hear new instructions, they criticize them in light of their own teachings. At court they only dare to disagree in their minds, but in the streets they openly criticize your commands. Your servant requests that all persons works of literature and discussions of philosophers should destroy them. Those who have not destroyed them within 30 days are to be branded and sent to work as convicts."
Han fei tzu, Legalist philosopher and advisor to Ch'in kings, 5th century BC
"If the laws are weak, so is the kingdom. The ruler alone should possess the power; if the ministers shut out the ruler, then he loses the effectiveness of his position. If they control wealth and resources, he loses the means of dispensing bounty. If they issue orders as they please, he loses the means of Command. If they are able to carry out righteous deeds in their own name, he loses his claim to enlightenment. And if they can build up factions of their own, he loses his supporters. All these are rights that should be exercised by a ruler alone; they should never pass into the hands of his ministers."
Inscription on a Chinese Tower Built by Chin shih Huang-di, 3rd century B.C.E.
A new age is inaugurated by the
The common people know peace
Source: Dong Zhongshuu (Tung Chung-shu), Essays on Kingship, "How the Way of the King Joins the Trinity." From William Theodore de Bary et al. eds., Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960, 178-179.
Those who is ancient times invented writing drew three lines and connected them through the middle, calling the character "king." The three lines are Heaven, earth, and man, and that which passes through the middle joins the principles of all three. Occupying the center of Heaven, earth, and man, passing through and joining all three – if he is not a king, who can do this?
Thus the king is but the executor of Heaven. He regulates its seasons and brings them to completion. He patterns his actions on its commands and causes the people to follow them. When he would begin some enterprise, he observes its numerical laws. He follows its ways in creating his laws, observes its will, and brings all to rest in humanity. The highest humanity rests with Heaven, for Heaven is humaneness itself. It shelters and sustains all creatures. It transforms them and brings them to birth.
The ruler holds the position of life and death over men; together with Heaven he holds the power of change and transformation. There is no creature that does not respond to the changes of Heaven. The changes of Heaven and earth are like the four seasons. When the wind of their love blows, then the air will be mild and the world team with life, but when the winds of their disfavor come forth, the air will be cold and all things die. When they are joyous the skies are warm and all things grow and flourish, but from their wrath comes the chill wind and all is frozen and shut up.
The Threefold Obligations of the Ruler
The ruler is the basis of the state. In administering the state, nothing is more effective for educating the people than reverence for the basis. If the basis is revered, then the ruler may transform the people as though by supernatural power, but if the basis is not revered then the ruler will have nothing by which to lead his people. Then though he employ harsh penalties and sever punishments the people will not follow him. This is to drive the state to ruin, and there is no greater disaster. What do we mean by basis? Heaven, earth, and man are the basis of all creatures. Heaven gives them birth, earth nourishes them, and man brings them to completion. Heaven provides them at birth with a sense of filial and brotherly love, earth nourishes them with clothing and food, and man completes them with rites and music. The three act together as hands and feet join to complete the body and none can be dispensed with….
Source: Han Wendi (Wen-ti), On the Eclipse of the Sun. From Dun J. Li. The Essence of Chinese Civilization. New York: Van Nostrand, 1967, 116-117.
I have heard that Heaven installs rulers to govern the people it creates and that it will warn a ruler with natural disasters if he has lost virtue or if his rule has become unjust.
On the eleventh month of this year there was an eclipse of the sun. No natural disaster can be more serious than this: Heaven has reproached me!
I have inherited the duty of protecting the temples of our imperial ancestors. A simple and insignificant person though I was, I was called to become the king of all people and scholars. I am solely responsible for all occurrences on earth, be they good or evil. In administering the vast empire, I am assisted by some of my closest minister-advisors.
I have lost my virtue indeed as my inability to take care of my people has aroused the wrath of the sun, the moon and the stars. Let it be known that immediately after this decree is issued, all of you should think seriously about my shortcomings and inform me on the happenings that I have not been able to hear and see myself. Report your findings to me directly! Moreover, you are urged to recommend to me the virtuous, the upright, the honest, and the outspoken so that I can benefit from their counsel and advice. Be it also decreed that all of you are to be diligent at your tasks and that you are to reduce taxes and corvée (forced labor) duties among my subjects.
Use the blank map of Eurasia to locate and illustrate the following. Title the map in the rectangle and make a key for reading the map.
First, draw the boundaries of the
Han Empire and the Roman Empire.
1. Rome, capital of the Roman Empire
Use the silk trade route map to locate:
The similarities and differences below may be grouped using the Persia method, but the student should note that historians push their analysis into more sophisticated directions, which the student of history should begin to notice and emulate.
1. Many of the later emperors were weaklings unable to wield power and
Each empire had depended on a free peasantry, which was undermined, signaling the erosion of the authority of the state.
1. Cities and commerce played a lesser role in China than in the West.
7. The imperial model of Han rule was revived in subsequent eras, but the
lands of the Roman Empire never again achieved such a level of unification.
Stearn's caution: decline = not a death of civilization, but a regrouping
Bulliet: In China the imperial tradition and the class structure and value system that maintained it were eventually revived, and they survived with remarkable continuity into the 20th century. In Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, in contrast, there was no restoration of the Roman Empire, and the later history of those lands was marked by great political changes and cultural diversity.
VIEWS OF EMPIRE
Read and consider the following excerpts as part of your preparation to write a comparative essay. You may refer to them, or not.
The first century of a new dynasty would be marked by political, economic and cultural vigor, expansion, efficiency and confidence; the second would build on or consolidate what the first had achieved; and in the third vigor and efficiency would begin to wane, corruption would mount, banditry and rebellion would multiply, and the dynasty would ultimately fall. A new group coming to power from among the rebels would rarely attempt to change the system, only its management and supervision. Cultural was continuous, even during the political chaos following the fall of the Han.
Source: Murphy, East Asia, 119.
THE RISE AND FALL OF GREAT
Nations project their military power according to their economic resources and in defense of their broad economic interests. But…the cost of projecting that military power is more than even the largest economies can afford indefinitely, especially when new technologies and new centers of production shift economic power away from established…Powers, hence the rise and fall of nations…. Over the past five centuries the superpower states have tended to achieve military pre-eminence at a time when they were beginning to lose ground economically to lesser countries.
THE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT:
Compare the decline and fall of the Roman and Han empires, accounting for why the collapse was more severe in the western Roman empire than in China.
Prepare your thesis statement and bring it with you to class. Prepare a pre-write outline which you may also use to write your essay in class. The pre-write should NOT be a draft of your essay
Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 2: Comparing the Early Han Empires of Rome and Han
Classical Empires Newspaper
In two groups, you will research and create a newspaper for each of the largest empires in the classical age. This will count as a test grade and you will be evaluated for both your individual contributions and the overall group product.
I realize that these empires existed for many hundreds of years. Therefore you will "cover" a 100-150 year time span. Each newspaper will have a variety of sections just like the real thing! Artwork, graphics, or just the little extras will greatly enhance the overall product and will be graded accordingly. However, the focus will certainly be on the quality of the articles and the research. As usual, you will be expected to provide details and analysis of these details. The guidelines for each section are listed below.
Newspaper Section Guidelines-
Please use the attached resource
list to begin work.
Classical Empires Project Resource List
Rome and Han Common Text-style Book Resources
Andrea and Overfiled, The Human Record
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MAP SOURCES-EXCELLENT
INTERNET ANCIENT SOURCEBOOK
INTERNET WOMEN'S HISTORY SOURCEBOOK
INTERNET HISTORY OF SCIENCE SOURCEBOOK
ANCIENT WORLD MAPPING
ART HISTORY NETWORK
ASIA FOR EDUCATORS SITE
COMPARING THE PINYIN TO WADE-GILES
Editor's Note: See also:
A comparison of the role of women in ancient China and in
Rome is offered at
Daily life in ancient China explored at
Join others in an exploration of "Women and Confucianism" at
Links for the study of Chinese art are offered at
Further links for the study of ancient Chinese cultural
traditions are supplied at
Men of Rome:
games--mostly fought by men, but sometimes women:
organization of the Roman army is discussed at:
Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 3: Cooperative Project--Ancient Civilizations
Holly Wright Miele
Classical Civilization Review
Objectives: Students will understand the similarities and differences around the globe around 600 CE. They will be traveling journalists responsible for reporting back to class their findings on the political institutions, religious practices, cultural advancements, social institutions, and growing trade systems in seven distinct areas: China, India, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Western Europe, and the Middle East. In groups of 5, they will create a newspaper that details what they are experiencing in these regions during the end of the Classical Era.
For students who finish early with their article assignment, encourage them to create a piece of artwork, editorial, classified ad, game, or political cartoon that could enhance their group's newspaper.
The students should be monitored through the process of researching and constructing their articles. You may want to have each group member evaluate the performance of their peers in order to avoid having one student do all the work, etc. Their individual graded work would come from their research on their specific article and other entries they included in the paper.
Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 4: Cooperative Project--Ancient CivilizationsRodney K. Floyd
Purpose: To have students acquire an in depth comparison of the contributions of early civilizations to the rest of the world through research, analysis and evaluation.
Structure: Four heterogeneous teams using STAD model.
Materials: Textbook and Internet.
Directions: Teams will divide the four groups of civilizations among themselves. Each member will be responsible for the following information for each civilization in their group:
Example of Matrix:
Example of Timeline:
Each member will research their group. Research will be checked by instructor. After all research has been checked, groups will be placed in expert groups to check their work against other same groups. Groups will return to team and share all work with each other. Once all work shared, another teacher check will take place.
Students will be presented with a comparative essay question and have one week to complete.
Evaluation: SEE RUBRIC.
Ancient Civilizations Rubric
TOTAL POINTS ____________________
Saundra Schwartz, editor for pre-modern history, is director of the East-West Classical Studies program at Hawai'i Pacific University. She can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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