The term "Western civilization" refers to the cultural experience of Europe from the classical period onward. Both ancient Greece and ancient Rome are considered part of Western civilization. The Western tradition includes the rise of Christianity, the Renaissance and the development of rationalism and science, as well as the development of political ideas. The history of the rise of Western Civilization marks the development of the history of the world today.
Various individuals have made important contributions to Western civilization. You can look at thinkers, such as Aristotle or John Locke, or doers, such as Alexander the Great or Napoleon. Since you're writing a research paper and not a simple narrative, your thesis statement will need to make an argument about the contributions of your biographical subject. For example, a thesis statement for a research paper focusing on Napoleon III could argue that Napoleon III's poor leadership skills set the stage for the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent conflicts of World War I and II.
Ideas and Influences
You may also decide to look at the power of ideas within the Western tradition, including similarities to and differences from non-Western cultures. For an interesting research paper, compare the Stoic tradition of Marcus Aurelius with the Zen warrior tradition of the Japanese samurai. Your thesis statement would make the argument that warrior cultures around the world -- even when separated by a thousand years and thousands of miles -- nonetheless share similar values.
Clash of Civilizations
Cultural conflict makes another fertile topic for exploration. You could choose to look at how societal institutions adapt to new challenges by focusing on how the European Christian tradition answered the theological questions raised by the success of the Viking, Hun and Islamic invasions. Alternatively, you could also explore how the exploration and colonization of the New World influenced the political, social and economic lives of Europeans.
Advanced students should consider writing a research paper that posits an alternative scenario to a historical happening. For example, consider the question of how would Europe have developed if Pope Leo had not convinced Attila the Hun to leave Rome. Think about how modern history might have unfolded if the United States of America had not become involved in World War I. Writing a research paper that involves an alternative scenario takes a great deal of research and planning, because a single event has repercussions that reverberate throughout history -- much like ripples spreading outward in a still pond. Be prepared to demonstrate the influence of the chosen event on subsequent circumstances and then make a plausible argument about how those circumstances would be altered had the initial event unfolded differently.
- Holt World History Human Legacy; Susan Elizabeth Ramirez, et al
- History: The Definitive Visual Guide; Adam Hart-Davis, et al
- Photo Credit Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images
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