In many schools, teachers are expected to sweep across thousands of years of world history in a single academic year. Even if the social studies program provides for two or more years of world history, teachers must select among a galaxy of possible topics, deciding what subject matter to include and what to leave out.
Teachers often face one of two broad alternatives:
- Choose among world history time periods, omitting some altogether. This approach may result in students having little or no exposure to major eras of the past, such as the paleolithic, the ancient periods, or the past half-century. It may also leave students with insufficient understanding of how major historical eras link to one another.
- Choose among regions and civilizations, including some but not others. This solution is never satisfactory in a genuinely global history course because it usually excludes the historical experience of a significant part of humanity. If mostly European topics are chosen, students will likely come away with a skewed and misleading view of the human venture.
World History for Us All recommends that teachers who expect to cover thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years of history (whether in one, two, or three years) raise the scale of historical investigation, both in time and geographical space. That is, this curriculum gives more thorough attention to large patterns of change and to "big" historical questions.
Nine Big Eras
At the high end of the scale, World History for Us All introduces eleven primary categories of study. The first is an introduction titled "History, Geography, and Time." The next nine are titled Big Eras. The final one is called "Reflecting on the Past, Thinking about the Future." All nine Big Eras address history on the scale of humankind. That is, they are not limited to a particular region or civilization.
Each Big Era deals with a chronological period on the global scale. Each successive period is shorter than the previous one. For example, Big Era One considers the very long epoch of history up to the emergence of Homo sapiens. Big Era Nine is concerned with second half of the twentieth century and the dawn of the twenty-first. Study of all nine eras is supported by Big Era teaching units designed for exploring the past on several scales of time, space, and subject matter.