Universitat Internacional de Catalunya

World Contemporary History

World Contemporary History
First semester
Information and Knowledge Society
Main language of instruction: Spanish

Teaching staff

Ask for appointment via email with professor Rubén Carrillo (rcarrillo@uic.es)


The aim of the course is to afford students the opportunity to explore the modern era from 1789 to the present. The main thread will be a series of debates about four major issues of this period: slavery, colonialism, elites, and the frontier through cinema. By analyzing historical films, we will debate about these topics by interpreting a series of films as secondary sources of the period they represent as well as primary sources for the period in which they were created. The purpose is to make students aware of the existing diversity within the field of history and for them to reflect on the different points of view that influence the development of a historical discourse. We shall pose big questions, such as:

  • How did societies change in the last 200 years?
  • Why were these transformations so fast?
  • What was the effect of the great armed conflicts that took place during this period?

Rather than merely learning concepts, each student will have to discover knowledge on their own with the help of the teacher. Students will learn three fundamental abilities every historian must have: proper accumulation of bibliography, the ability to distinguish and collect relevant sources, and the ability to put together a coherent, balanced and rigorous interpretation.

Professor: Rubén Carrillo

Pre-course requirements

No pre-course requirements are needed to enrol in this subject


The goal is not to memorize dates, or the names of battles or people, but to help students develop, through the study of the past, basic, transferable abilities. Students will learn how to:

  • Analyze primary sources (textual, visual or audiovisual)
  • Critically analyze secondary sources
  • Structure a well-reasoned historical argument
  • Critisize traditional historical discourses in a structured manner
  • Use digital tools for academic work
  • Work as a team

In order to achieve these objectives students will be given the opportunity to engage in historic research the same way as a professional historian does.


  • 01 - The ability to adapt to varying circumstances
  • 02 - The ability to understand, accept criticism and correct errors
  • 03 - The ability to administer and manage human and technical resources
  • 04 - The ability to work in a team and autonomously
  • 05 - The ability to organise time and workspace
  • 06 - The ability to develop academic rigour, responsibility, ethics and professionalism
  • 07 - The ability to apply the deontology and respect for the audiovisual sector
  • 08 - The ability of critical analysis, synthesis, concretion and abstraction
  • 09 - The ability to objectify, quantify and interpret (data, statistics, empirical evidence…)
  • 10 - The ability to confront difficulties and resolve problems
  • 11 - The ability to generate debate and reflection
  • 12 - The ability to meet deadlines, develop the ability to be punctual and respect for human, technical and material resources
  • 13 - The ability to create spoken and written communication
  • 14 - Knowledge and mastery of rhetoric and oratory to communicate own ideas
  • 15 - Knowledge and mastery of body language and techniques for public speaking
  • 16 - The ability to manage, analysis and reflect on content
  • 17 - The ability to contextualize and critically analyze the events of social reality and to represent Contemporary History
  • 18 - The capacity and development of general culture and interest in social events
  • 19 - The ability of informative documentation
  • 20 - Knowledge and mastery of bibliographic media
  • 21 - Knowledge and mastery of the digital culture
  • 22 - Knowledge and mastery of the distinction between opinion and information / colloquial and cultured register
  • 23 - The ability to prioritize newsworthy events and contrast information
  • 24 - The ability to plan and organize both short term and long term projects
  • 53 - Lingustic ability in Catalan, Spanish and English
  • 54 - The ability to skillfully manage the literature, terminology and linguistic structures of the English language related to the field of communication.

Learning outcomes

Learn about the major events that have shaped and help understand the present

Understand and analyze the main socio-economic features of modern societies

Develop the ability to critically analyze reality



0. Introduction and sources seminar


1. The world in the eve of the French Revolution. Introduction to political history

In this topic we shall debate whether the necessary conditions for the Industrial Revolution existed outside Europe. We will explore the states and empires across the globe in the late eighteenth century. We will study the social and economic conditions of the Chinese, Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires in Eurasia, the Ashanti, Kongo, and Ethiopia kindgoms in Africa, as well as the new independent republics in the Americas. We will assess the emergence of new ideas about government organization and the role of citizens. We will address the origins and global repercussions of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. While debating extant great Eurocentric historical narratives we will debate whether Europe was predestined to rule over the rest of the world.


2. The beginning of the "Great Divergence." Introduction to economic history

In this part of the course we will focus on understanding the origins of Europe's economic rise. Students will assess and discuss the reasons for the acceleration of population growth across the globe that took place from 1800. We will analize how industrialization contributed to the growth of agricultural output. We will study the reasons for the economic development of the United States and why it was different from that of Latin America. We will also explore why Japan and China embarked on different policies regarding industrialization and assess the influence of British imperialism in the development of India and Egypt. We will analyze the role of cotton in the configuration of global capitalism and the outbreak of social conflicts, from the American Civil War to the start of labor movements in Europe, Asia, and America.


3. The social transformation of the nineteenth centuy. Introduction to cultural history

This part of the course will explore how industrialization transformed the lives of millions of people across the world. Everything, from consumption habits to the perception of time and space, changed forever as railways, telegraphs, and steamboats shrank the globe and made available unprecedented products and lifestyles. Cities expanded and factories sprang. We will discuss the connections between these processes and the abolition of slavery, and the great migrations of the nineteenth century. The development of the modern press, the expansion of literacy, and the standarization of education in many places determined the development of political debate and encouraged the emergence of mass politics. A the same time, the consumer society developed giving birth to the first department stores. In the face of this changes there were voices in favor of the preservation of traditional values and lifestyles.

4. The rise of global empires. Introduction to imperial history

This topic will analyze the expansion of European colonies across the globe. Despite the fact that countries in the Americas were able to achieve their independence, they maintained a dependent relationship with European powers, implementing economic models based on the exploitation of raw materials and facing great obstacles to the development of stable and democratic political systems. We will debate how the British used opium from their Indian colonies to force their entry to the Chinese market and triggering the Opium Wars and accelerating the decadence of the Chinese empire. We will contrast this process with the Japanese case, where elites opted for a rapid industrialization after being forced to accept free trade in the mid-nineteenth century. Lastly, we will analyze why the European colonization of Africa took place only in the late 1800s and how the continent was divided after the Berlin Conference of 1885. We will assess the role of social darwinism in the justification of colonization.


5. Science, medicine, and war. Introduction to the history of science

In this part of the course we will analyze the scientific breakthroughs that took place during this period, paying special attention to the development of modern medicine and its contribution to imperialism. We will continue to study the growing tensions between European powers as they competed amongst themselves to secure natural resources and how internal conflicts intensified and nationalism consolidated. We will explore how these tensions culminated the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918), a conflict which we will study not by looking at the movement of armies and the development of frontlines, but by focusing on its social impact and the decisive role of scientific theories and their application in warfare. We will discuss the paradox of how war triggers tragedy and destruction while at the same time it helps the development of military technology, which is later applied to civilian use.


6. Interwar social movements and World War II. Introduction to social history and gender history

The purpose of this segment is to pose the question of why after the end of World War I societies across the globe saw the rise of social movements, such as fascism, communism, and pacifism, many of which were marked or generated by the global economic crisis that began in 1929. We will assess the revolution in the role of women in post-war societies and the culmination of suffragist movements. We will se how during World War II women took on a relevant role as active agents in the production of arms or as service women within the militaries of the nations at war. We will analyze World War II as a war of resources and study propaganda on both sides, for example, the involvement of Walt Disney Studios in the American war effort.


7. The "Cold War." Introduction to criticism of great historiographical concepts

This part of the course studies the division of the world in great blocs after 1945. We will criticize the concept of "cold war" by emphasizing the many "hot" armed conflicts that took place during this period, such as the Korea War, the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afganistan, or the many US interventions in Latin America. We will also analyze great internal conflicst, such as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the development of Apartheid in South Africa, and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. We will pay special attention to the decolonization movements and conflicts that took place from the 1960s and the rise of the Non-Aligned Movement. We will debate the proliferation of nuclear arms, the space race, and the consolidation and internationalization of the American Way of Life through a series of examples taken from popular culture, from Hollywood films to the Eurovision festival.


8. The reconfiguration of the world after 1989. Towards a re-convergence? Introduction to current history

In this section we will analyze the history of the world after the fall of the Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We will debate the hegemony of the United States up until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and critically assess the concept of "globalization" in order to discuss whether this is a new development or a deep-rooted historical process. Students will discover the origin and spread of the Internet and reflect upon the impact of the world wide web on everyday life, political developments, and exchange of ideas. We will reflect on the use of new technologies by terrorist groups and governments. We will pay special interest to the emerging economies, particularly India, China, and Brazil, and discuss whether we are living a process of re-convergence. Lastly, we will finish the course with a reflection on the role of Europe in the current geopolitical context and the lessons for the future that can be taken away from the last two hundred years of history.

Teaching and learning activities

In person

Coaching. Monitoring how students learn the content of the subject, either individually or in groups. In the coaching sessions, mistakes will be corrected, queries answered, and exercises and activities to achieve the established objectives will be suggested. 0.2
Focused Praxis. Handing in occasional exercises to learn theory through practice. 1.4
Lectures. In lectures, lecturers/professors not only transmit content or knowledge, but also, and above all else, attitudes, motivation, skills and values, etc. They also ensure that participants can express their opinions and arguments to the other students. 3.6
Peer learning. The aim of this activity is to ensure that students gain the ability to analyse and be critical. One way of achieving this is by correcting their peers' exercises and results, etc. Each student will be evaluated twice: as both a recipient and a transmitter of critical knowledge. 0,8

Evaluation systems and criteria

In person

Individual papers - 40%

Each student shall prepare a review of a historical movie which will have to be previously agreed upon with the professor (before October 12th). The deadline for submission is November 20th.

The paper must be between 8,000 and 10,000 characters long. It also must include a bibliography with at least three academic works (books and academic articles).

Class participation - 20%

Final exam - 40%



Bibliography and resources


Recomended bibliography

Arostegui, J. y Saborido, J., El mundo contemporáneo, historia y problemas, Barcelona, Crítica, 2001.

Artola, Miguel y Pérez Ledesma, Manuel, Contemporánea. La historia desde 1776, Madrid, Alianza Editorial.

Briggs, Asa, Historia contemporánea de Europa, 1789-1989, Barcelona. Crítica, 2000.

Brower, D.R., Historia del mundo contemporáneo, 1900-2001. Madrid, Pearson, Educación, 2002.

Fontana, J. Por el bien del imperio, Pasado y presente, Barcelona, 2011.

Fuentes, J. F., La Parra, López, E., Historia universal del siglo XX. De la Primera Guerra Mundial al ataque de las Torres Gemelas. Madrid, Síntesis, 2001.

Kinder, Hermann, Atlas histórico mundial, Madrid, Istmo, 1999-2000.

Martínez Carreras, José U., Introducción a la Historia Contemporánea, Madrid, Istmo, 1996-1999.

Palmer, R., y Colton, P, Historia contemporánea, Madrid Akal D.L.1981.

Paredes Alonso, Francisco Javier, Historia universal contemporánea, Ariel, Barcelona, 1999.

Procacci, Giulano, Historia General del siglo XX, Crítica, Barcelona, 2001

V.V.A.A, Historia Universal, vols. IX-XIII, EUNSA, Pamplona, 1990.

Additional Bibliography

Avilés Farré, Juan, Historia política y social moderna y contemporánea, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, 2001

Baldó Lacomba, Marc, La revolución industrial, Síntesis, Madrid, 1993.

Carr, Edward Hallett, La revolución rusa: de Lenin a Stalin, 1917-1929, Alianza editorial, Madrid, 1988

Castells Oliván, Irene, La Revolución Francesa (1789-1799), Síntesis, Madrid, 1997.

Deane, Phyllis, La primera revolución industrial, Península, Barcelona, 1998.

Egido Leon, Angeles, La historia contemporánea en la práctica (Textos escritos y orales, mapas, imágenes y gráficos comentados), Centro de Estudios Ramon Areces, Madrid, 1996.

González Pacheco, Antonio, La Revolución Francesa (1789-1799), Ariel, Barcelona, 1998.

Hobsbawm, E.: La era de la revolución, 1789-1848, Barcelona, Labor, 1991/2003.

Hobsbawm, E.: Historia del siglo XX, Barcelona, Crítica, 2010.

Kemp, Tom, La revolución industrial en la Europa del siglo XIX, Editorial Fontanella, Barcelona, 1979.

Lario González, Ángeles (coord.): Historia contemporánea universal: del surgimiento del Estado

Contemporáneo a la Primera Guerra Mundial, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, 2010.

Martínez Roda, F. (dir.): Historia del mundo contemporáneo de la revolución a la globalización,

Valencia, Tirant lo Blanch, 2010

Sirugo, Francesco, La segunda revolución industrial, Oikos-Tau, Barcelona, 1989.

Teaching and learning material