If you want to understand the world that you live in today, then you ought to pick up some books that will give you some understanding and context of that world. The criticism of Western Civilization is becoming more and more rampant as those who want to see it changed speak loudly against it. There have even been universities that have had demonstrations take place in opposition to the requirement that undergraduates take Western Civilization classes. However, it is important that we who dwell in Western Civilization understand the context of our society. By educating ourselves, we can begin to examine such issues as Nationalism, Religion, Slavery, and Government.
Although Roman and Greek history, as well as Jewish and other Near Eastern cultures, contribute to Western Civilization, the primary culture that we experience today began around the fourth century with Constantine and two major decisions he made. The first was to legalize and adopt Christianity and the second was to move the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium which was renamed Constantinople (today Istanbul). These changes completely altered the Western world. It caused a transition from a polytheistic subjective world to a monotheistic objective culture. It would then transition from a Roman world to a Germanic Roman amalgamation. A common misconception is that this period was the “Dark Ages.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There was much education, literacy, and thought involved, however, in the West it tended to be limited to the Monasteries and Church rather than the general public. Additionally, even Islam is considered to be part Judeo-Christian and part Hellenized culture. Eventually, this would develop into the Medieval period, the Reformation/Renaissance/Discovery Age, the Enlightenment, and the Modern Age. However, through all of these periods, the Judeo-Christian elements and Germanic/Roman influence would continue in various forms. That being said here are some books to study this further which will begin addressing Western Culture starting in the fourth century and moving forward-
- The World of Late Antiquity– Peter Brown– This is a classic book which introduces the period of Constantine and its subsequent centuries that lead to the Medieval period. You might see it as a bridge between Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
- The City of God– Saint Augustine– This classic primary source develops the thought of transition from the pagan culture of Rome to the Christianized culture that had recently emerged. The works of Augustine would be held closely to through the Middle Ages.
- St. Augustine– Peter Brown– This is also a classic which gives great depth of understanding to Augustine and his works that would influence Western culture.
- From Rome to Byzantium: 363-565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome– A.D. Lee
- A Very Short Introduction: Late Antiquity- Gillian Clark
- A Very Short Introduction: The Middle Ages- Miri Rubin
- Cultural Hierarchy in Sixteenth Century Europe: The Ottomans and Mexicans- Carina L. Johnson
- Vermeer’s Hat- Timothy Brook– A book about the change from Feudalism to Capitalism and its global influence.
- Imagined Communities– Benedict Anderson– This book illustrates the significance of the development of Nationalism throughout the world.
- A Very Short Introduction: Decolonization- Dane Kennedy
Though these do not offer a comprehensive study of these periods, they are certainly a place to start. Enjoy!