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The Idea Behind this Curriculum


Today, world history is a basic subject in the social studies curriculum across the United States. Nearly all fifty states have published history-social science content standards. In most states, these guidelines include recommendations for world history education. K-12 educators generally agree that young Americans graduating from high school should possess knowledge and understanding of world history, geography, and contemporary affairs. World history teaching is challenging, however, because the subject embraces peoples around the globe, not just one nation or cultural tradition, and because the chronological scope–from paleolithic times to the present–is immense.

Teachers seeking guidance for developing or improving a world history curriculum may consult a range of content standards, frameworks, essential elements, and topical outlines published by state and district educational agencies and by public interest groups. Teachers also have at hand a huge array of print, visual, electronic, and institutional resources to enrich their grasp of particular subjects and to inspire lesson planning. And of course many teachers consult textbooks and assign them to their students.

World history educators, however, have been requesting a vital, intermediate type of resource: fully developed models for organizing and teaching a world history course. World History for Us All offers a model for teachers to consider, select from, or adopt.

The World History for Us All Model

This web-based curriculum has two major elements: 1) A logical conceptual framework of guiding ideas, objectives, rationales, themes, and historical periods, and 2) a rich selection of units, lessons, activities, primary documents, and resources that are linked to this overarching conceptual structure. The curriculum offers several special features:

• It proposes the idea that humankind as a whole has a history to be investigated and that a world history course may be more than study of various “cultures,” each disconnected from the others.

• It has a unified chronology. That is, it organizes the human past into nine Big Eras, each of them encompassing changes around the globe. The curriculum does not use civilizations and their exclusive chronologies as the main units of history, even though developments within major societies are richly explored.

• It encourages educators to think explicitly about the aims of world history education and about the knowledge and understandings that they expect their students to achieve.

• It is conceived on the premise that students will achieve will greater competence in world history, and more successfully meet content and performance standards, if they are guided to relate particular subject matter to larger patterns of historical meaning and significance.

• It offers an approach to subject matter that permits teachers and students to investigate the global past from its beginnings to today without leaving out major periods or world regions. Many states and districts ask teachers to cover world history from the paleolithic to the present in one academic year. Even if a school district has a two-year or even a three-year world history program, the problem of coverage is daunting. World History for Us All offers one solution to the problem: teaching units that explore the past on varying scales of time and space. Teachers may choose to introduce their students to entire eras of the human past in a few class periods by focusing on very large-scale developments. Or, they may delve deeply into an era by considering historical changes at smaller scales of time, space, and subject matter. Click here for more information on the Teaching Units

• It is designed primarily as a teacher resource, but many elements may be shared with students, including background essays, primary source readings, handouts, maps, and illustrations.

• Districts, schools, and individual teachers may choose to build an entire world history course or program around World History for Us All, or they may use any elements of it that they find useful and appealing.

The Double Research Base of World History for Us All

Research on world history. This project draws on the exciting research in comparative, cross-cultural, and world-scale history that has been appearing during the past several decades. This scholarship has shown that although nation-states and civilizations are appropriate contexts for studying historical change, other configurations of space and time are valid as well. Some examples:

• A comparative study of slavery and slave trade might draw on cases from several different parts of the world and across several time periods.

• A study of silver trade in early modern times might involve China and Japan as much as Latin America and Europe.

• An investigation of the causes and effects of the influenza epidemic of 1918 would require nothing less than a global perspective.

• Understanding the sweeping effects of democratic ideas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would not do justice to the subject if it focused only on events in Britain, France, and the United States rather than on developments around the world.

Patrick Manning has argued that the central aim of world history is to investigate “the interaction of the pieces (be they community, societal, or continental) in human history” and “to assess the experience of the whole of humanity through study of those interactions.” 1 World history also involves searches for answers to questions about the past that may lead the searcher straight across the boundaries of nations, empires, and civilizations. World History for Us All has adopted the premise that when teachers and students pose good historical questions, even very big questions, they can explore answers in ways that charge their study with historical meaning and contemporary relevance.

Research on how children learn. Recently, scholars in the United States, Britain, and other countries have done interesting research on the ways students learn, interpret, and understand the past. They have been asking, “How do students build meaning from historical information, and how do they connect facts to broader patterns and generalizations?” These writers argue that historical understanding requires learning of both the particular and the general. In fact, the ability to relate specific subject matter to higher and more sophisticated levels of causation and significance is a fundamental historical thinking skill. For example, Denis Shemilt contends that students must acquire overarching “narrative frameworks or ‘pictures of the past’ in order to make the particular intelligible and relevant to their experience.” 2 Robert Bain states that “the curriculum must merge the pedagogies of meaning with the generalizations, concepts, methods, and insights gleaned from the discipline of world history. Only this combination yields a challenging, workable, and meaningful course in world history for . . . students.” 4 Informed by the new research, World History for Us All aims to provide the large concepts as well as the detailed stories necessary to cultivate historical understanding.

A Curriculum that Grows

Because World History for Us All is Internet-based, it is available (with no fees or subscriptions) to teachers, parents, students, curriculum specialists, and public interest groups worldwide. It is also infinitely expandable and can be continually improved and enriched. The project team expects to add steadily to the number of teaching units in the curriculum. Moreover, the team invites educators to participate in its development by commenting on its effectiveness, submitting teaching units for inclusion on the site (once reviewed, approved, and formatted for consistency), and, as funding becomes available, taking part in training workshops and pilot projects. The project team is also exploring ways to link World History for Us All to other sites that serve history educators in related ways.


1 Patrick Manning, “The Problem of Interactions in World History,” American Historical Review 101 (June 1996): 772.
2 Denis Shemilt, “Constructivism Deconstructed: Towards a New Pedagogy for School History,” in Peter N. Stearns, Peter Seixas & Sam Wineburg, eds., Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History (New York: NY University Press, 2000).
4 Robert B. Bain, “Reconstructing the High School World History Course,” Peter N. Stearns, Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg, eds., Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History (New York: NY University Press, 2000).

Further Reading on the Research Base of World History for Us All

Allardyce, Gilbert. “Toward World History: American Historians and the Coming of the World History Course.” Journal of World History 1 (Spring 1990): 23-76.

Arno, Joan, ed. Teacher’s Guide to AP World History. New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 2000.

Bentley, Jerry H. Shapes of World History in Twentieth-Century Scholarship. Essays on Global and Comparative History, edited by Michael Adas. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1996.

Christian, David. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004

Dunn, Ross E., ed. The New World History: A Teacher’s Companion. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2000.

Dunn, Ross E., and David Vigilante, eds. Bring History Alive: A Sourcebook for Teaching World History. Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA, 1996.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History. Edited by Edmund Burke, III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Manning, Patrick. Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Moore, R. L. “World History.” In Companion to Historiography. Edited by Michael Bentley, 941-59. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Roupp, Heidi, ed. Teaching World History: A Resource Book. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.

Further Reading on Teaching and Learning of History

Gagnon, Paul, ed. Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education. New York: Macmillan, 1990.

Kramer, Lloyd, Donald Reid, and William L. Barry, eds. Learning History in America: Schools, Cultures, and Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Stearns, Peter N. Meaning over Memory: Recasting the Teaching of Culture and History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993

Stearns, Peter N., Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg, eds. Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Wineburg, Sam. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.