World History for All of Us

Last year, I found myself teaching a Global History course for the fourth time in my career.  Like many history teachers in the US, most of my historical training had focused on American history, and it was my passion for it that led me to become a Social Studies teacher in the first place.  The first time in my life that I was in a classroom learning about Ancient Greece and Rome was when I was teaching it as a student teacher, in East Greenwich, RI. There, the course was still “Western Civilization”. I later taught “World History 1” in Virginia (Beginning of Time -> Renaissance), and “Global History 3/4” in New York (Renaissance -> Now).  What was evident to me in all courses was that a dominant narrative of the progress of western civilization was the backbone of the course: River Valley -> Ancient Greece & Rome -> Middle/Dark Ages -> Renaissance/Exploration/Scientific Revolution -> Enlightenment/Atlantic Revolutions -> Modernity.  The Rhode Island curriculum basically took that as the story, while Virginia and New York used that to organize chronological periods, then adding in units about other portions of the world, often leading to illogical breaks in the stories of other regions, particularly China.  I realized there was something problematic about this conception of World History, but did not have the vocabulary or knowledge to articulate anything more than “this seems Eurocentric.”

Thanks to a recommendation in the October issue of Social Education, however, I now have that language.  Ross Dunn’s article, “The Two World Histories” is the most important piece I’ve read about teaching World History, and needs to be required reading for anyone who teaches the subject.  It clearly articulates two camps on World History:

  • World History A: This is the home of most current scholarship on World History, where the focus is on major trends, patterns, and changes on a global scale.
  • World History B: This is the home of both conservative Wester Civilization preservationists and those, like my least-thoughtful self, who want to see more attention paid to all cultures, particularly those that are the heritage of the students I teach.  This is history as the history of civilizations, cultures, nations.

Nearly all political argument around history, and therefore the development of all state standards, occurs in domain B.  The New York Global curriculum and its Regents exam are no exception.  Of the 85 terms that are assessed most frequently in the Multiple Choice portion of the exam, 75 represent people, places, periods, achievements, or events that take place within specific regional or national histories.

Dunn argues that what is needed instead is:

to study the history of humankind writ large, recognizing that the Earth is a “place” whose inhabitants have a shared history. To be sure, important developments have taken place within the confines of continents, regions, societies, and nations, but those ver-changing human aggregates remains parts of the globe in all its roundness.

He recommends the AP World History and World History For Us All curriculums as good models of World History A, as well as the National Standards for History.  It’s also clear though, for those like myself without a strong background in World History, that further reading and professional development is needed.  Though I didn’t fully realize until now why I found it so insightful, I would recommend World History Connected as a good place to start reading.

I hope you will take the time to read the article in its entirety and let me know what you think about it in the comments.


2 thoughts on “World History for All of Us

  1. Great resources Steven. I have been working on how to reorganize our world history course. It is in essence an old Western Civ. class that was renamed World History. I like what I am seeing in the World History for all of us. I like that it eliminates the divisions by region and race and places the focus more on Eras. I feel that such models would place more emphasis on the wider positive and negative effects of world events rather than thin slicing them in to several disconnected units.


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