The Two Traditions enquiry

The following teaching idea assumes that you have been following a course focussing on the “Western Tradition”, and have reached the 19th century. You have covered the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, and have just looked at the American Revolution, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, possibly South American Liberation, and the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.

Before continuing, take some time out to look briefly at another Great Tradition. Your aim should be to provide opportunities for students to perform a classic “Compare and Contrast” between this Tradition and the West.

The most appropriate Tradition for this is the East Asian tradition. This is because it provides some excellent and instructive contrasts, as well as parallels, with the Western tradition, enabling students to gain important insights into both.




Ask your students to go to the East Asian pages of the TimeMap of World History, starting at East Asia in 3500 BC.


Then follow the pages through to the map for 1789.


They should feel free to dip down into the pages for the different countries as and when they feel it necessary when tackling the enquiries below.



1) Chronological orienteering:


Note down which Chinese dynasties were (broadly) at the same times as the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, Early Medieval Europe (to c. 1000 AD), Later Middle Ages (1215-1453), the Early Modern West (1648-1789). You should end up with a kind of timeline. Now note down on it when the first unified states in Japan and Korea were.

(If you’re hazy about the periodization for these, the TimeMap of World History covers these civilizations as well!)


2) Which Tradition experienced the most continuity, and which the most change?

3) Looking at government and society in the two Traditions, note down those major empires occurring in each of these Traditions (for this purpose “major empire” means a state which covered a very large area and which endured for more than a century).


Which Tradition was most successful at producing large-scale government organizations capable of administering large territories?


4) To what extent, do you think, are the answers in questions 2 and 3 connected?


(This is an open-ended question to get students thinking about suhc issues; there are no “right” and “wrong” answers, if only because scholars are still hotly debating them.)


Which Traditions produced the following forms of government or social organizations:





Bureaucratic States?



4) Note down the belief systems of the two Traditions. If possible, do some research into what these beliefs involved.


Think about how these belief systems may have affected the societies they influenced. (No right answers here, either.)


5) Up to 1789, which Tradition produced the most important technological developments?


6) Up to 1789, which of the Traditions embarked on overseas exploration and discovery?


What were the consequences of these episodes?


Can you think of reasons for the different outcomes to these voyages?


(Again, no right and wrong answers, as there is no agreement amongst scholars.)



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