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Why an Integrative World History Curriculum?

A world history education should include the whole world and not just part of it. This does not mean that world history students should investigate “everything,” and certainly not everything all at once! To make sense of the past, we have to organize the investigation into manageable pieces. We must define concrete historical topics, questions, problems, time periods, and themes, then explore them in systematic ways. In principle, however, world history should embrace peoples around the globe from paleolithic to modern times. In World History for Us All the main subject is humankind and how humans have thought, behaved, and interacted across the ages.

World History for Us All is an integrative model curriculum in two general respects:

An integrative organizational structure

The curriculum has an overarching structure of concepts and ideas that includes objectives, rationales, principles of selection, periodization, thematic threads, and guidance for development of students' historical thinking skills. This structure is then integrated with a logically organized body of teaching units, lesson plans, activities, assessments, and resources.

An integrative approach to the human past.

World History for Us All builds on the rapidly growing research on world history produced in recent decades. This scholarship has employed innovative methods of analysis and interpretation to enrich our understanding of comparative, cross-cultural, and global patterns in the human past.

Here is a summary of premises that guide this integrative approach to the past:

Many different time scales. Humankind as a whole has a history that can be described and in some measure understood. Studying the human past in a holistic way means asking historical questions about events and developments that are relatively broad in time and space. Investigating the past on any scale is valid. Where one scholar might research 30 years in the modern history of a Mexican village, another might take on 300 years in the development of Latin American economies. A third might explore 3,000 years of global climatic change and its effects on economic change around the world. A fourth might consider why human beings took up agriculture in the context of 300,000 years of human biological and cultural development.

Students of world history may study very specific times and events, but they also try to understand them by situating them in larger comparative, regional, and global contexts. To this end, World History for Us All offers a globally integrated chronological framework of nine Big Eras. This periodization is designed to help students link studies of specific subject matter to larger hemispheric or global patterns. The Teaching Units in World History for Us All are organized to guide teachers and students in exploring the human past at different scales of time and space.

A global stage. The primary geographical context for studying human history is the globe. The earth is a "place" whose inhabitants have a shared history. Events and developments may take place within the confines of continents, regions, civilizations, or nation-states, but those "spaces" remain parts of the globe in all its roundness. World History for Us All presents some innovative ways of thinking about geographical space. For example, it introduces the idea of Africa, Asia, and Europe together as a supercontinent that in this curriculum we call Afroeurasia. Also, humans are members of a species that inhabits the earthly biosphere along with millions of other species. Therefore, the big stage on which history is played out is the natural and physical environment. That history cannot be understood apart from the biosphere's ever-changing conditions.

In fact, this curriculum devotes Big Eras One and Two to history from the Big Bang to the emergence of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. This approach is distinctive, since most world history textbooks give only brief attention to history before the rise of river valley civilizations about 5,000 years ago. But consider: the paleolithic era (what scholars used to call the “stone age”) takes up about 95 per cent of the history of our species. In exploring World History for Us All teachers may find that having students give more scrutiny to our long, long history as stone-using hunter-gatherers will lay a groundwork for some big and intriguing questions:

  • What are the main differences between humans and other species?
  • Why do humans seem to be the only species with a “history”?
  • Why did humans start to plant crops, domesticate animals, and build cities when they got along without these things for hundreds of thousands of years?
  • In the context of the whole span of history, why did an industrial revolution occur merely 300 years ago, and why about the same time did world population start to rocket upward?

Interactions between communities. Nations and civilizations are worthy of study, but their histories, peoples, and traditions are always embedded in global space. We can never assume that developments which appear to occur in a particular country or society are necessarily disconnected from or uninfluenced by developments occurring in neighboring regions or even in the world as a whole. World history takes seriously the context of "world time." This means that investigation of any event, however confined in time and space, benefits from relating it to the situations, conditions, and circumstances that then prevailed in the world and that may have involved complex interactions among peoples and societies. Striving to understand how and why an event occurred means looking anywhere and everywhere for factors that might have shaped or influenced that event. We know, for example, that the main events of the American Revolution were closely connected to shifts in European power relations, developments in the Atlantic economy, and changes in the population levels of North American Indians.

A History of all humanity. The study of world history should embrace all categories of people, including both women and men, both rich and poor, both privileged and unprivileged, both slave and free, and both educated and illiterate. World History for Us All aims to embrace all sorts of people by emphasizing not only interactions between societies but also interrelations among different social and economic classes, recognizing at the same time that both social groups and the relations between them have historically been fluid and changing.

Comparison. World History for Us All encourages comparison of historical developments in different parts of the world, thereby helping students improve skills of analytical comparison. To compare is to look for and analyze both similarities and differences in historical patterns and events. Comparative study tests the soundness of generalizations, highlights the variety and complexity of human experience, fits events into larger patterns, uncovers connections between seemingly unconnected developments, and challenges the idea that any single group or country has had a history that is exceptional to all others.