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Turning Points in Modern History

Get a unique view of world history by immersing yourself in the fascinating story of the discoveries, inventions, upheavals, and ideas that shaped the modern world.
Turning Points in Modern History is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 70.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Heedless Salad Days The misplaced icons of Modernity Professor Liulvecius teaches several courses in The Great Courses. He is a gifted narrator who constantly calls upon his auditors to exercise their imagination and reason to evaluate the magnitude of his narrative and he additionally underscores his narrative with anecdotes, humour and wry irony. What is further distinctive about his narrative is a reasoned passion, a sense of suppressed outrage at the credulous and the only too credible folly of a humanity who launch their schemes with all innocence only to discover the hidden implications of their innocence, ignorance and blithe optimism have manifested themselves in ways they cannot control and over which they have no competence to manage. The only exceptions to this dubious 'progress' was women's suffrage and the end the abolition of slavery, both of which, ironically, vested interests were haunted by misgivings and predictions of ruin. For all of the above reasons I find his courses compelling, informative and moving. I have experienced, during the course of my life, chagrin ; causes to regret in old age, movements that I embraced in my youth, and early manhood, displaying uh of the careless rapture of unmitigated and groundless optimism and now I watch his courses, only astonished at my heedless optimism. Perhaps that is the fate of historians ; to recall their salad days collapse into monstrous and infernal contraptions that fail to deliver 'liberty' and instead only deliver further contractions of 'freedom' I find consolation in what might be regarded is meretricious. I acquired a copy of the history of France and on one plate their were grouped three icons of modern France; Charles DeGaul, The Citroen 2 CV and Bridget Bardot. Of these icons I have no cause for regret Bardot. BaruchXVIII
Date published: 2022-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An interesting look at turning points. I enjoyed "Turning Points in Modern History" with Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius. The course had good visual aids, though mainly it was the Professor lecturing. Nothing wrong with that, he did an excellent job presenting his course. While I question some of his turning points (The Russo-Japanese War and not World War II, for example) even the chapters I might question proved quite interesting and educational. He does seem rather hung up on the "great" voyages of Admiral Zheng He however. Still and all an excellent course and one I highly recommend.
Date published: 2022-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! After watching this course, you will fully understand why some events were a turning point in Modern History and how this is still affecting us in the 21st century.
Date published: 2022-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Packs a great punch An entertaining, whirlwind review of a curated series of turning points. The turning points are not just by themselves worthy of inclusion on such a list; but the Professor gradually weaves an interconnecting thread between them. At the end, you are left not only better understanding the flow of modern history, but also better prepared to identify what may be an emerging turning point. As usual Professor Liulevicius excels in his political analysis; but he also does a very credible job of analyzing turning points driven by technological, exploratory, and social factors. Another great, Great Course.
Date published: 2021-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Dr. Liulevicius is excellent. This is the second course of his we have taken and we just ordered a third. Perfect depth of subject matter.
Date published: 2021-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightful I purchased this lecture series to listen to while mowing the lawn. I expected a quality historical discussion. What I received was a delightful exploration of key events in modern history. Dr. Liulevicius engages with these "turning points" in insightful and compelling ways. He draws connections between them which are not always obvious to the casual historian. This series is provides a solid return on the investment.
Date published: 2021-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from How The World Entered Modernity The challenge of a course on historical turning points is two-fold: picking the right ones and doing disparate topics justice (providing adequate treatment and not a thin layer of learning). Professor Liulevicius met the challenges and succeeded in this course. While there can always be quibbling on whether a turning point really should have been included or question why one was left out, overall the professor has selected a good array of events that I can see most people agreeing with as qualifying as world changing. You won't find a lot of political or military turning points. The selection definitely has a technological or social bent but that fits the theme of this course just fine. One of the unifying themes of this series of lectures is how the world changed its view on what the ultimate source of authority was from Scripture, tradition, and classical views to the scientific method and technological advancement. In fact it is fascinating to see how peoples' world view transformed from seeing something new/change itself as usually something sinister and evil to something positive and a form of progression. The world went from stigmatizing change to embracing it. Despite the course containing a wide variety of subjects, the professor does a commendable job of covering each in deep detail. There is good background on how the turning point came to be and what was so different with it. No surface discussion or taking lectures off here. Professor Liulevicius even frequently weaves the various turning points together showing the connections between them (i.e. how one may have contributed to the success of another one such as the invention of the printing press enabling the dissemination of enlightenment ideas or American revolutionary ideas). For my money lectures 9 (US Revolution/Constitution) and 18 (Russo-Japanese War) were the highlights. Proof the professor covers both the common and less common topics with the same eye-opening reflection and analysis. Still I found myself stopping short of a five star rating. Can't quite put my finger on it but I usually reserve those for courses I get totally consumed in and devour one lecture after another. Something prevented my listening groove from picking up steam. Maybe because by its nature this type of turning point course (unlike the U.S. or Middle East ones) aren't telling one story but a series of smaller ones it was hard to keep the momentum going. Like other turning point courses there wasn’t much speculative discussion in each lecture on what might have been if the turning point did not occur or went the other way. I know this is anathema to historian professors but I find it fun and a form of entertainment that I think does have a place in TGC. The best discussions are those leaving you contemplating what you've just heard as well as the alternatives---be it points of views or What Ifs. One personality curiosity: since the professor didn’t smile or laugh (not once?) it was difficult to tell at times if he was injecting some humor via a sarcastic (but fictional) comment or if he was merely speaking an ironic truth (such as his comment in lecture 18 that vodka may have been involved when the Russian navy fired on British fishermen). I suspect it was humor and that some of his other humor just went undetected due to his consistent serious demeanor. A smile would've made things fit a bit better. Still this doesn't rise to any kind of annoyance/character flaw that made listening difficult (unlike some ticks of other lecturers). I recommend this course to a wide variety of listeners: from those who are interested in studying progressive trends to those whose interests lie in how societies change and transform over time to those who immerse themselves in the technological and scientific arenas to just the plain history buff. It is a good use of 12 hours no doubt. And considering how much we value our time that's saying something.
Date published: 2021-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is how history should be taught! You know it's a great course when you dread its coming to an end. The course is structured around historical turning points, and it would be hard to quibble with the ones selected. The beauty of the approach is that for each one, Prof Liulevicius provides a lot of historical context, then goes on to describe its implications. The effect is that each one becomes a story, so history comes alive and a pleasure to learn. Prof Liulevicius' presentation style helps bring history to life. Easily my favourite of the Great Courses so far.
Date published: 2021-02-20
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Turning Points in Modern History takes you on a far-reaching journey around the globe-from China to the Americas to New Zealand-to shed light on how two dozen of the top discoveries, inventions, political upheavals, and ideas since 1400 shaped the modern world. Taught by award-winning history professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, these 24 thought-provoking lectures start in the early 15th century and culminate in the age of social media to reveal astounding threads that weave through the centuries. You'll also witness turning points with repercussions we can only speculate about because they are still very much in the process of turning.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

To study the deepest impulses in human nature, we see the lure of wealth and conquest, the deep-seated urge for fame and glory, the quest for higher ends, a basic human determination.


University of Tennessee

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
The Secret World of Espionage
Turning Points in Modern History


1433-The Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He

01: 1433-The Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He

Explore the idea of modernity and define "turning point." Then, consider why Chinese admiral Zheng He's voyages promoting the power of China's authority did not continue as part of a larger campaign of discovery-and what the consequences might have been had he reached the Americas.

32 min
1453-The Fall of Constantinople

02: 1453-The Fall of Constantinople

Although many educated people think they know about the fall of the Roman Empire, Professor Liulevicius says the end actually happened 1,000 years later with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. Delve deeper into this event and learn the trauma the loss created for Europeans.

31 min
1455-Gutenberg's Print Revolution

03: 1455-Gutenberg's Print Revolution

Trace how Johannes Gutenberg's introduction of a press with movable type sparked a print revolution, becoming a key factor in the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the standardization of vernacular languages.

32 min
1492-The Columbian Exchange

04: 1492-The Columbian Exchange

Without intending to, Christopher Columbus's search for Asia initiated an event that has been called the most important historical turning point of modern times. Investigate how Columbus's encounter with the Americas brought distant peoples together politically, culturally, and environmentally in ways that were simultaneously productive and deeply destructive.

31 min
1600-The British East India Company

05: 1600-The British East India Company

The English and Dutch East India companies coexisted in the Spice Islands as they worked to outflank the Portuguese, but their rivalry soon escalated into war. Examine the founding and meteoric growth of the East India Company and the violence that ultimately led Britain to establish an empire on which the sun never set.

31 min
1648-The Treaty of Westphalia

06: 1648-The Treaty of Westphalia

The Thirty Years War involved some million soldiers and mass civilian casualties. Explore the significance of the Peace of Westphalia, the settlement that ended the war in 1648-a vital turning point that still shapes how international politics are handled.

31 min
1676-Van Leeuwenhoek's Microscope

07: 1676-Van Leeuwenhoek's Microscope

Trace how Anton van Leeuwenhoek's striking discovery fit into the larger Scientific Revolution and shifted intellectual authority from classic texts to that which is observable and measurable.

31 min
1751-Diderot's Enlightenment Encyclopedia

08: 1751-Diderot's Enlightenment Encyclopedia

The Encyclopédie was the most ambitious reference work and publishing project of its time. Discover how the editors made knowledge accessible to a mass audience and championed the Enlightenment's progressive, secular message, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church.

31 min
1787-The American Experiment

09: 1787-The American Experiment

Learn how America's founders established a model of a republic through debate, compromise, separation of powers, and a flexible Constitution.

31 min
1789-The French Revolution

10: 1789-The French Revolution

How did France's fight for liberation from royal authority lead to Napoleon's rise and even greater despotism? Contrast events in America with those in France to see how attempts at creating modern republics radically diverged.

31 min
1838-The British Slavery Abolition Act

11: 1838-The British Slavery Abolition Act

Confront the harsh realities of the African slave trade and consider the role social mobilization played in eradicating the institution across the British Empire.

30 min
1839-The Opium War in China

12: 1839-The Opium War in China

Delve into the causes, conflicts, and consequences of the Opium Wars, in which China was psychologically devastated and subjugated by British imperialism.

30 min
1859-Darwin and the Origin of Species

13: 1859-Darwin and the Origin of Species

Discover how a simple observation inspired Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection, and why his Origin of Species was eagerly accepted by much of Victorian society. Then, look at how the Nazis and others distorted Darwin's ideas.

31 min
1869-Binding Continents

14: 1869-Binding Continents

In 1869, two events connected the world through modern technology, giving science vast significance as a source of authority. Learn how the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the United States and the Suez Canal in Egypt revolutionized the way people perceived space and time.

30 min
1893-First Women Voters in New Zealand

15: 1893-First Women Voters in New Zealand

Follow the fight for women's suffrage in New Zealand and America, as two global trends-the demand for women's political voice and the growth of settler societies-intersected.

31 min
1896-The Invention of Motion Pictures

16: 1896-The Invention of Motion Pictures

Motion pictures revolutionized people's view of the world. Survey early movie culture, along with the contributions of Thomas Edison, Georges Méliès, and others, then see how the medium became "weaponized" by Bolsheviks in Russia and Nazis in Germany.

31 min
1903-Kitty Hawk and Powered Flight

17: 1903-Kitty Hawk and Powered Flight

Witness the dawning of the air age and meet the Montgolfier brothers, the Wright brothers, and others who brought humanity's dream of flying to fruition. Then, explore how aviation shaped the experience of modernity, from the relative ease of travel to the stark reality of "total warfare."

31 min
1904-The Russo-Japanese War

18: 1904-The Russo-Japanese War

To the world's surprise, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Learn how this conflict fought with industrialized weapons reconfigured world politics by igniting the process of global decolonization, establishing Japan as a great power, and setting the stage for two world wars.

31 min
1928-The Discovery of Penicillin

19: 1928-The Discovery of Penicillin

The advance of antibiotics occurred amid the larger context of the development of germ theory. Trace how scientists' understanding of the mechanisms of infection and disease evolved during the 19th century-and see how Alexander Fleming stumbled upon his life-saving discovery.

30 min
1942-The Dawn of the Atom

20: 1942-The Dawn of the Atom

When German physicists split the atom, Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt of the potential for "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." Chart the course of the nuclear bomb from this letter through the first nuclear chain reaction led by physicist Enrico Fermi, the Manhattan Project, and devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

30 min
1969-Walking on the Moon

21: 1969-Walking on the Moon

The moon landing expanded humanity's sense of the possible. Learn how the space program grew out of advances in rocketry during World War II and advanced rapidly due to cold war paranoia exacerbated by the launch of Sputnik.

30 min
1972-China Enters the World Balance

22: 1972-China Enters the World Balance

Nixon's meeting with Mao shifted the cold war's balance and returned China to the world stage. Learn the reasons for Nixon's trip, the consequences of which still reverberate, and plot the rise of Mao and communism in China. Then, see how Deng Xiaoping's promotion of private enterprise began a trajectory of growth that continues.

30 min
1989-The Fall of the Berlin Wall

23: 1989-The Fall of the Berlin Wall

How did a bureaucratic blunder by a Politburo member lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall? Find out as you examine the surprisingly peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.

30 min
2004-The Rise of Social Media

24: 2004-The Rise of Social Media

Are the Web and social media making us more globally connected or locking us into niche societies and creating an epidemic of loneliness? Probe both the power and the perils of the Internet-from aiding popular uprisings to rewiring our brains.

33 min