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Big Era Eight: Panorama Unit

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Turbulent Decades
1900 – 1950 CE

Why This Unit?

The first half of the twentieth century often plays a dual role in a history course. On the one hand, the sheer volume of blood spilled in those fifty years is noteworthy. On the other hand, it was a period when people, it seems, put aside their differences to fight “good wars”——World War I and World War II.

This lens, a bifocal one, so to speak, focuses much attention on the industrialized world, though not without reason. The two world wars are still very much a part of popular culture in Western countries, and students often bring their own knowledge of the subject to bear on an examination of them. Teachers, as a group, also tend to have a larger reserve of factual knowledge about the two wars, and the economic depression that links them, than they do of, say, economic changes in early-twentieth-century Latin America.

The first half of the twentieth century, however, did not just happen in the industrialized world, nor can we understand the period itself, nor the decades that followed, without looking at the globe as a whole. On that scale, the 1900-1950 period was marked by serious and growing economic imbalances, manifested in political and cultural ferment around the world.

What was new in this period, however, was that for the first time in about a century, political and economic domination began to shift away from Western Europe. This was a change that anyone in those years who consciously looked to the future pondered with apprehension, hope, and, quite often, fear.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. List major world-historical events in the first half of the twentieth century.

2. Explain global economic, demographic, and geopolitical developments in the first half of the twentieth century.

3. Discuss varying perspectives on historical developments in the first half of the twentieth century.

4. Assess the meaning and significance of historical developments using accepted rules of evidence.

Time and Materials

Classes will require three to five 60-minute periods to complete this unit, depending on teacher discretion.

Power Point Overview Presentation for this teaching unit.

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




The historical context


Lesson 1: Four perspectives


Lesson 2: Seven developments


Lesson 3: Numbers


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards


Complete Unit in PDF format

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