Civilization represents the apex of human socio-political achievement and its destruction the epitome of societal failure. We will evaluate definitions of civilization and collapse and conduct a survey of civilizations from history. Cultures examined will span the Bronze Age to Modernity and from geographical regions covering Eurasia to the Americas. We shall evaluate theories and models of the behavioural and natural factors that nurtured success and precipitated failure to identify commonalities and idiosyncratic circumstances across space and time.
This open course allows the audience to become conversant in theory associated with the dynamics of complex societies and be able to apply these in a critical manner to contemporary times.
Jay Silverstein is an anthropological archaeologist (PhD Penn State) with extensive international experience who joined the faculty of the SAS in 2019. In support of his international and interdisciplinary work, he also holds affiliate positions with the University of Hawaii and Cranfield College and is an Explorer with the National Geographic Society. Prior to coming to the SAS, Jay worked with the US military searching for missing soldiers from past wars. In the search for the missing, Jay developed a nationally recognized Enterprise Geographic Information System (GIS) to track the investigation and recovery of 80,000 missing persons. Jay currently co-directs an archaeological project and field school in at the Graeco-Roman city of Thmouis (Tell Timai) in the Egyptian Nile Delta. The well-preserved city offers a unique opportunity to analyze the cultural transformations associated with Greek and Roman imperialism and the evolution of religions from the indigenous Egyptian pantheon through Christianity.
The course is taught in English.
Online broadcast on SAS YouTube channel.
April 21 – June 11, 2020
Tuesday and Thursday, 7:20 pm (GMT/UTC + 5)
- Lecture 1, April 21: What is Civilization?
- Lecture 2, April 23: The Evolution of Complexity
- Lecture 3, April 28: Social Power
- Lecture 4, April 30: Imperial Organizations
- Lecture 5, May 4: Survey of Lost Civilizations
- Lecture 6, May 7: Theories of Collapse
- Lecture 7, May 12: Systemic Stress Dissolution Theory
- Lecture 8, May 14: Regional and Global Collapse
- Lecture 9, May 19: Case Studies of Collapse
- Lecture 10, May 21: Case Studies of Collapse
- Lecture 11, May 26: Case Studies of Collapse
- Lecture 12, May 28: Case Studies of Collapse
- Lecture 13, June 2: Case Studies of Collapse
- Lecture 14, June 4: Presentations
- Lecture 15, June 9: Presentations
- Lecture 16, June 11: Conclusions
1. Carneiro, R. L. (1970). A Theory of the Origin of the State: Traditional theories of state origins are considered and rejected in favor of a new ecological hypothesis. Science, 169(3947), 733–738.
2. Childe, V. G. (1950). The Urban Revolution. Town Planning Review, 21(1), 3.
3. Denton, C. (2016). Collapse: Episodes of Imperial Decay. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
4. Denton, C. (2020). Fall of Empires: A brief history of imperial collapse. WESTHOLME PUBLISHING.
5. Diamond, J. M. (2011). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. Penguin Books.
6. Fried, M. H. (1976). The evolution of political society: An essay in political anthropology. McGraw-Hill.
7. Luttwak, E. (1984). The grand strategy of the Roman Empire: From the first century A.D. to the third (3. ed). Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.
8. Mann, M. (1986). The sources of social power. Cambridge University Press.
9. Motyl, A. J. (2001). Imperial ends: The decay, collapse, and revival of empires. Columbia University Press.
10. Service, E. R. (1971). Primitive social organization: An evolutionary perspective (2d ed). Random House.
11. Tainter, J. A. (2011). The collapse of complex societies (23. print). Cambridge Univ. Press.
12. Whittaker, C. R. (2008). Rome and its frontiers. Routledge.