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Cornell University    
  Feb 20, 2018
Courses of Study 2017-2018
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ANTHR 2430 - [The Rise and Fall of Civilization]

(crosslisted) ARKEO 2430  
(GHB) (HA-AS)      
Fall. Next offered 2020-2021. 3 credits. Letter grades only.

A. T. Smith.

The emergence of what has come to be called “civilization” marks a profound transformation in human culture, society, politics, economy, and psychology. The first civlizations have been variously described as the point of origin for artistic achievement and the genesis of social struggle, a victory over the state of nature and the source of human neurosis, the genealogical root of social inequality and the foundation for the rule of law. In this course we will examine the rise and fall of ancient “civilizations” at the same time as we interrogate the rise and fall of the concept of civilization itself in modern historical thought. Our primary focus will be a comparative archaeological examination of five pivotal case studies of early civilization: Mesopotamia (Sumer), Egypt, China, the Indus Valley, and the Maya lowlands. Alongside our explorations of these early civilizations, we will undertake a critical examination of current key issues in political anthropology, including the nature of kingship, the origins of cities, and the role of coercion in the formation of early polities. The course will examine the spread of “civilization”, including the development of “secondary states”, early empires, and the first world systems. We will conclude the class wth an examination of the concept of civilization itself, its historical roots and its current prominence in geopolitical thinking and policy making. The goal of the class is to provide students with an understanding of the nature of the world’s first civilizations and the potency of their contemporary legacy.

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