WHP Lesson 11: Complex Societies

As foragers became pastoralists and farmers, they also became village dwellers and city-builders. They built larger and larger trading networks and grew into complex societies. Systems were constructed to help manage the problems—and opportunities—of bigger populations and more complex lifestyles.

Driving Question: As societies became more complex and interconnected, did people’s lives get better? Why or why not?

  • What is a society? And what is complex about a complex society? A society is a group of people living together, connected to each other, and relying on each other. The bigger a society gets, the more complex it gets—and that’s why we call them “complex societies”!
  • So, what made life in these complex societies different from life in pastoral communities or foraging families, or even just small farming villages? One big difference is inequality.

Word of the Day: Civilization

  • Definition: The stage at which a society reaches a level of organization that is considered advanced.
  • However, we generally try not to use the word civilization in our course. In the 19th century, people began to use the term to distinguish between those who were ‘civilized’ (mostly meaning themselves) and those who were uncivilized (mostly meaning people who they thought were okay to conquer and kill). And that made the word a problem. So, we try to use the phrase complex societies instead of civilization.


Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • When thinking about COVID-19, what challenges do we face today as a complex society that less complex societies wouldn’t have had to worry about?
  • Foragers may not have had to worry about COVID-19 much, but would you want to go back to hunting and gathering? Consider some of the problems we face today and decide if the increase in complexity was worth it to you.