Chronological Approaches and Periodization of Civilizational History

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This is the second part of our bibliography and guide to learning about civilizational history. Part One is essentially by author and school of thought. Here in part two, we focus on topics and the chronological approaches, i.e. books and material dedicated to specific phases and time periods.

Directory 2: Chronological / Temporal Approaches

Note that this periodization is seen as western-centric. See William Irwin Thompson for an alternative periodization:

  1. Ancient (10000 - 1000 BCE): emergence of agriculture, Sumerians, Egyptians, etc
  2. Classical (1000 BCE - 500 CE): Greek city-states, Roman empire, etc
  3. Medieval (500 - 1500 CE): knights, kings, castles, churches, etc
  4. Modern (1500 - 2000 CE): Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, industrialization, etc

See the graph by Jon Hollis at [1]

Some General Considerations about History

  • Periodization of Big History ; see the article: A rigorous periodization of ‘big’ history. Robert Aunger. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 74, Issue 8, October 2007, Pages 1164-1178 [3]

General History and Timeline Material

  • In Coming Into Being, William Irwin Thompson distinguishes 'cultural ecologies', i.e. configurations of the natural environment to which human culture responded, and in turn shaped.

The book also discusses three types of artifacts that can help identify these epochs and their transitions:

- formative texts, which announce such a transition, for example the story of Inana and Dumezi 'announcing' a potential patriarchalisation - dominant texts, showing a flowering of a new epoch or cultural ecology, for example the Gilgamesh story - climactic texts, showing the flowering of such a cultural ecology, while also announcing it is ready to be succeeded (Dante's trilogy)

Please note the parallels between material conditions and consciousness structures, and vice versa, i.e. Gebserian Magic Consciousness corresponding to hunting peoples; Mythic Consciousness emerged with farming, but fully consolidating with 'mining peoples'. Jennifer Gidley explains:

"This section deals with the transition from the hunting to the farming peoples. In the following section, when mythical consciousness fully awakens, we are dealing with the mining peoples — the beginning of the bronze and iron ages. Interestingly, Teilhard de Chardin also refers to a similar three phases: a “thin scattering of hunting groups” of the Ancient World; a more dense scattering of “agricultural groups installed in fertile valleys;” and, the “first civilizations” (Teilhard de Chardin, 1959/2004, p. 169-170)." [4]

  1. Sylvan: hominids living in the forest
  2. Savannah
  3. Glacial: retreat and compression into the caves
    1. Dream State of Ancient Humans
    2. Art and Culture in a Glacial-Landscape‎
    3. Post-Glacial Ancient Indian Culture‎]
    4. Second Post-Glacial Cultural Period—The Persian Magi and the Fertile Crescent
  4. Riverine: the birth of civilization in the river delta's where grain and rice could be grown (Agriculturization)
    1. Echoes of Gilgamesh
    2. Axial Age
      1. Axial Age and Its Place in the Evolution of Human Consciousness and Culture
      2. From the Axial Age to the Moral Revolution
  5. Trans-oceanic; emergence of western industrial model (Industrialization)
  6. Planetization: emergence of informational paradigm

"We may identify the separate origins of Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus as at some time in the fourth to the third millennia bc. The world system begins with their later confluence. David Wilkinson (1989) dates the birth of "Central civilization," through the political-conflictual confluence of Mesopotamia and Egypt into one overarching states system, at around 1500 bc. Wilkinson's work is of very great value to the analysis of world system history. Essentially, the confluence of "Mesopotamia" and "Egypt" gave birth to the world system. However, by the criteria of denning systemic relations, spelled out below, the confluence occurs considerably earlier than 1500 bc. By economic criteria of "interpenetrating accumulation," the confluence included the Indus valley and the area of Egypt and the Levant. Thus, the confluence occurred some time in the early or mid-third millennium bc, that is by about 2700-2400 bc."

- Barry K. Gills and Andre Gander Frank [5]

Introduction to Cosmic and 'Biological' History: From Matter to Life to Consciousness

It is useful to distinguish three cosmic evolutionary phases:

1) the cosmic era, determined by physical evolution: gravity and chemistry, i.e. attraction and repulsion as ordering principles

2) the biological era, the era of the evolution of life: determined by biology and genetics, determined by biological fitness as ordering principle

3) the techno-cultural human era, determined by cultural affinity and technological prowess

(This may eventually be reversed as the devolution of the physical universe makes human culture and life gradually impossible)



  • Big Historical Foundations for Deep Future Speculations: Cosmic Evolution, Atechnogenesis, and Technocultural Civilization. Cadell Last. Found Sci, 2015 [10.1007/s10699-015-9434-y Doi] [6]

=> see: Big Historical Foundations for Deep Future Speculations About Cosmic Evolution

Scientific approaches to transition

  • Major Transitions in Evolution. by John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry. Oxford University Press, 1995: "may be the most important book on evolution since R.A. Fisher's".
    • Recommended alternative read for the broader public, as the above is meant for a scientific public: Maynard Smith, John; Szathmáry, Eörs (2000). The origins of life : from the birth of life to the origin of language (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • * Article: A rigorous Periodization of Big History. Robert Aunger. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 74, Issue 8, October 2007, Pages 1164-1178 [8]

"Accelerating rates of historical change are achieved during the Terrestrial Eon by the invention of information inheritance processes. Second, eras can also be defined within Earth history by differences in the scaling of energy flow. This is because each era is based on a different kind of energy source: the material era depends on nuclear fusion, the biological era on metabolism, the cultural era on tools, and the technological era on machines."


"Major stages in the evolution of the universe are discussed as a background for the study of the nature and distribution of life.

The history of the universe since the time of the Big Bang is divided into six epochs,

  • corresponding to chaos, the hadron epoch, and the lepton epoch, which collectively make up the radiation era,
  • and the atom epoch, the galaxy epoch and the stellar epoch, which make up the matter era.
  • the transformation from the matter era to the life era, signaled by the emergence of technologically intelligent lif

Ecologically informed: The Cosmos, the Web of Life, and the Place of the Human

  • The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era – A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. By Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992 [10]

""Our findings showed that from about 12,000 BCE, the planet went through a warming trend causing extreme climate changes all across the globe. It disrupted primal societies and their ways of life and successively displaced ancient pastoral and agrarian communities. The warming trend intensified rapidly quickening the rise and fall of ancient civilizations at the core centers. The tumultuous social and ecological ethos of the pre-axial times became conducive for the formation of world-denying motifs that became the bedrock of all post-axial religions and philosophies. This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of Green History of Religion."

Politically informed


  • Two books about the increase in complexity over time, in both biological and cultural evolution:

Video Introductions

Some introductory videos produced by the International Big History Association:

The Big Bang: Crash Course Big History #1

Exploring the Universe: Crash Course Big History #2

The Sun & The Earth: Crash Course Big History #3

Life Begins: Crash Course Big History #4

The Evolutionary Epic: Crash Course Big History #5

Human Evolution: Crash Course Big History #6

By Time Period

Before the Hominids

  • Lynn Margulis.

Human Pre-History (Before Writing)


"Teilhard links hominization with the emergence of the noosphere—during which time “the earth ‘gets a new skin’” (Teilhard de Chardin, 1959/2002, p. 183). The noosphere then develops through socialization .. and the later, planetization, which he saw as beginning to emerge in his times." [11]

  1. William Irwin Thompson, Coming Into Being
    1. Hominization ; William Irwin Thompson on Hominization
    2. Symbolization
  2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
    1. Teilhard de Chardin on the Process of Hominization
  3. Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization
  4. Richard Wrangham on How Beta Males Domesticated Homo Sapiens for Civilization
  5. A.M. Hocart on the Role of Ritual and Mythology in Human Governance


The following two books detail the linkages between the complex system that is nature, in the form of geo-climactic events and changes, to the complex system that is the human mind, as expressed in culture:

Daniel Bitton, in his review of Graeber and Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything, which I do not consider to be a good book, goes into the record of humanity's 'egalitarian past', which anthropology confirms to have been really the case for 'immediate return hunter-gathering societies'. See Daniel Bitton on Immediate Return Hunter-Gathering Societies. In his website [14] he goes in great detail examining the evidence, and recommends two books:

  • Mothers and Others. The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Harvard University Press, 2011

Agriculturization / Sedentarisation / Urbanisation / Origins of Civilization

For reference:


"The construction of [irrigation networks] demanded a degree of social intercourse, cooperation, and long-range planning that the old self-contained village culture, complacently accepting its limitations, did not need or encourage. The very conditions that made large urban settlements a physical possibility also made them a social necessity."

- Lewis Mumford, The City in History [15]

"For most of the past 300,000 years, humans lived in sustainable, egalitarian, roaming bands where climate instability and low CO2 le-vels made success in agriculture unlikely (Richerson et al., 2001). Around 11,000 years ago the climate began to warm, eventually pla-teauing at warmer levels than the previous 100,000 years. This stability allowed agriculture to develop in at least seven separate lo-cations around the world. ... Since some of the population no longer had todevote their time to hunting and gathering, this surplus allowed thedevelopment of new jobs, hierarchies, and complexity."

- Nate Hagens [16]



From Imperial to Traditional 'Religious' Societies

Transition to Informationalism / Network Society / Planetization


[17]: "we must see ourselves from two perspectives at once: the planetary and the global. This distinction is central to Chakrabarty’s work—the globe is a human-centric construction, while a planetary perspective intentionally decenters the human."

A Post-Civilizational Bifurcation ?

"Fossil carbon provided humans with an extremely dense (but finite) source of energy extractable at a rate of their choosing, unlike the highly diffuse and fixed flow of sunlight of prior eras.

This energy bounty enabled the 20th century to be a unique period in human history:

1) more (and cheaper) resources led to sharp productivity increases and unprecedented economic growth,

2) a debt-based financial system cut free from physical tethers allowed expansivecredit and related consumption to accelerate,

3) all of which fueled resource surpluses enabling diverse and richer societies.

The 21st century is diverging from that trajectory:

1) energy and resources are again becoming constraining factors on economic and societal development,

2) physical expansion predicated on credit is becoming riskier and will eventually reach a limit,

3) societies are becoming polarized and losing trust in governments, media, and science and,

4) ecosystems are being degraded as they absorb large quantities of energy and material waste from human systems ."

- Nate Hagens [18]

Directory 3. Specialized History

General Introductions

John Hamer's Introductions

John Hamer is a medievalist and mapmaker which gives excellent introductory lectures in Toronto's Centre Place, which are available in well done recordings:

Here is a comprehensive directory,; selections below:



  1. Evolution of Consciousness According to Jean Gebser
  2. Evolution of Mathematics in Civilizational History ; How the Evolution of Mathematics Parallels Civilizational History
  3. Evolutionary Cosmology
  4. Fourfold World Hypotheses Model of Stephen Pepper
  5. From the Axial Age to the Moral Revolution
  6. Gebser’s Five Structural Mutations of Consciousness and the Role of Dark Ages
  7. Giambattista Vico's Stages in World History
  8. How Formative, Dominant and Climactic Cultural Artefacts and Texts Reflect the Evolution of Cultural Ecologies and Civilizational Forms
  9. Sensate, Idealistic and Ideational Cultural-Historical Typology of Pitirim Sorokin
  10. Sri Aurobindo's Four Stage Cycle of Society
  11. Viconian Civilizational Cycles
  12. William Irwin Thompson on the Four Cultural Ecologies of the West ; William Irwin Thompson’s Five Stages of Human Evolution

Generic Patterns

  1. Apocalypse ; Apocalypticism
  2. Autopoiesis
  3. Catastrophe Bifurcation
  4. Collapse; Collapse Bias ; Collapsology ; Societal Collapse
  5. Constraints ; Constraint as an Essential Element of Evolutionary Development ; see also: Sorokin's Principles of Limits
  6. Cultural Recurrences:Pitirim Sorokin on Cultural Recurrences
  7. Dark Ages: Recurring Dark Ages ; Recurring Dark Ages, Ecological Stress and System Transformation; Gebser’s Five Structural Mutations of Consciousness and the Role of Dark Ages
  8. Emergence ; Emergent Evolutionism
  9. Enantiomorphism
  10. Imperio-Genesis
  11. Multilevel Selection Theory ; Cultural Multilevel Selection
  12. Principle of Limits
  13. Steppe Effect

By Topic

Art and Culture

Care and Welfare


  1. Arnold Toynbee on the Role of the Internal vs the External Proletariat in Civilizational Change
  2. Historical Origins of the Dominator Societies
  3. Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century
  4. William Irwin Thompson on Citizens vs Subjects Then and Now

Environmental History

  • Clive Ponting. Green History of the World. Penguin / Random House. 1991 (revised and expanded in 2007). Republished as A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations: "this 464-page book is so essential for understanding our past, present, and likely futures"


To check, as recommended by William Irwin Thompson as similar reconstructive efforts of the Great Goddess tradition: Merlin Stone, Charlene Spretnak, Starhawk, Elinor Gadan.



  1. Clare Graves and His Three Scenarios for the Future of Humanity
  2. Four Post-Capitalist Scenarios Inspired by Shrii Sarkar’s Cyclical Theory of Change

Media / Technological History

Religious History

Media and Technology


  1. Shift from Aural to Alphabetic Consciousness
  2. There Can Be No Return To Orality Because You Cannot Undo the Effects of Literacy
  3. Vital Machine and Technology as Organic Life
  4. Lewis Mumford on the Evolution of Technology from Eotechnic to Paleotechnic and Neotechnic‎‎


  • The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History. by J. R. McNeill (Author, Georgetown University), William H McNeill. Norton: a history of the formation of the cosmopolitan web, the communication's technologies that allow increasing interaction and integration of human communities up to the planetary scale.


William Irwin Thompson, in Coming Into Being, distinguishes three types of cultural artefacts, corresponding to different 'cultural ecologies'

- annunciatory artefacts show that a new cultural ecology is emerging , but not quite there yet

- dominant artefacts are produced when the new cultural ecology is well established

- climactic artefacts are like a summary of the best a particular culture can produce, but also announce thereby that it is going to be superseded

For example, in Sumeria (Mesopotamia) the legend/myth of Inana and Dumezi announces an emerging patriarchal order, while Gilgamesh shows it is already fully dominant; Dante is the climax of medieval literature, but also announces its replacement.

  1. Joseph Campbell on the Contrast Between Eastern and Western Mythology
  1. Mark Vernon on the Meaning of Descent in Dante's Inferno



  1. Axial Age and Its Place in the Evolution of Human Consciousness and Culture
    1. From the Axial Age to the Moral Revolution
  2. Rene Guenon on the Opposition Between East and West‎‎
  3. Timeline of Evolutionary Spirituality
  4. Teilhard de Chardin's Evolutionary Theism
  5. Owen Barfield: Two Historical Movements That Have Undone the Psychology of Participation


This is a important book on the theme of Resilience and Revitalization After Collapse: Beyond Collapse: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience, Revitalization, and Transformation in Complex Societies. Edited by Ronald K. Faulseit. Southern Illinois University Press, 2015