For Teachers: Lessons

Standards of Modernity — China and Europe

Kelly Donaghue, Harbor School, Boston, Massachusetts

Student Activities: Investigation, Discussion, and Debate

  1. "What is modern?"
    • Have students brainstorm in small groups, and share their ideas about a standard for modernity in 2008.
    • Next, have them use prior knowledge of the world in the 19th century and available textual resources to devise a definition for modernity in the 19th-century.
    • Discuss what the standard could be for that era, then read the Bin Wong piece "Redefining the Modern World", and share his criteria for modernity.
  2. Divide the class in half (group A and B), with each group responsible for reporting on either (A) European innovations or (B) Chinese innovations. Charge both groups with being able to explain the origin, earliest use, and signficance of the following:
    • Guns, gunpowder
    • Shipbuilding
    • Crank-drive engines
    • Free market economy
    • Taxation
    • Compass
    • Paper
    • Moveable type
    • Canals and suspension bridges
    Information on these inventions is available on the site under: Additional information can be found in chapters 1-3, and 6 of the Hobson text.
  3. Ask each group to pool their findings and to create a chart detailing the origins of these devices.
  4. (Homework) Each group should then be given a reading assignment and asked to summarize the main points:
    Group A – reads a teacher selected piece from a "traditional" text which emphasizes European modernity in the Industrial Age context. (Suggested text: The Human Record-Sources of Global History, Andrea, Alfred J. and Overfield, James H. "Chapter 8: The West in the Age of Industrialization and Imperialism"), summarizing the main arguments of the essay.
    Group B – reads the Bin Wong piece titled "Appreciating Asian Dynamics," summarizing Wong’s main points.
  5. Preparation for debate:
    Each group should then spend some time preparing to debate the lesson’s guiding question;
    "What, by the 19th-century, constituted modernity, and how do Europe and China compare in their fulfillment of that standard?"
  6. Debate: Each side presents "opening statements," has a turn at presenting its evidence and questioning the opponent’s argument, followed by "closing arguments".
  7. Conclusion: Lesson will conclude with students individually responding, in writing, to the guiding question. This reflective writing piece will serve as an assessment of understanding of new material for the teacher.