Teaching

World History for Us All: An Innovative World History Curriculum

Ross E. Dunn, May 2007

The remarkable success of the College Board's Advanced Placement program in world history is one sign of a new commitment among educators to increasing student competency in international history, culture, and contemporary affairs. Prospective history and social studies teachers, however, typically have limited opportunities in college to study world history as a specific disciplinary approach. Programs for in-service professional development in the field have been growing, but teachers remain hungry for ideas and resources, especially in their efforts to teach world history as something more than a series of civilizational stories. In the past several years, the U.S. Congress has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to support teacher development in American history. World history teachers could use comparable help, not only to advance student knowledge of diverse peoples and societies but also understanding of large-scale developments, such as the spread of world religions, global migratory movements, or environmental change.

Since 2001, a national team of history educators has been at work developing World History for Us All, a model curriculum for world history in middle and high schools that aims to provide teachers with an innovative and entirely web-based resource. Recently, the project announced completion of its second major phase: placement on the World History for Us All web site of all basic instructional elements for historical periods up to 1500 C.E. The next phase, to be completed in 2007, will make available all key materials pertaining to modern global history. Teachers and schools may use the curriculum without fee or subscription. The project is a collaboration of San Diego State University and UCLA's National Center for History in the Schools.

World History for Us All offers educators and students a treasury of teaching materials but also a coherent conceptual framework for thinking about the human story from early times to the present. The program is premised on the idea that humankind as a whole has a history to be explored and that classroom world history suitable for the 21st century must pay attention to broad changes and interregional linkages, as well as to the achievements and contributions of particular civilizations. The project is one creative response to the growing perception that young Americans need to be better equipped to make sense of the complex world around them in the light of history, both recent and remote. Schools should prepare citizens who can critically interpret world events, explain the development of the global economy, appreciate the world's cultural riches, and confidently travel and work abroad.

World History for Us All draws heavily on the academic research of the past several years that focuses on history from crosscultural, comparative, and transnational perspectives. It is also inspired by cognitive research in the United States and Great Britain according to which students more effectively learn and understand history when they are helped to relate particular facts and stories to larger trends and patterns.

The model curriculum has been organized, therefore, to connect concrete instructional materials rich in class activities and primary source documents to an overarching framework of guiding historical concepts, objectives, and themes. For example, rather than conceiving of separate, compartmentalized civilizations as the main subjects of study, the curriculum has a unified chronology, organizing the human past into nine Big Eras, each of them encompassing changes around the globe. The curriculum is designed for all history and social studies classrooms, not just Advanced Placement students. But its holistic approach to the past is highly compatible with the AP World History program.

World History for Us All offers (or will offer in the coming months) instructional materials on commonly-taught subjects such as ancient Greek society or 18th-century European political revolutions. But it also encourages teachers to introduce large-scale historical developments that have cut across cultural boundaries. Topics that take a bird's-eye view of the past include the question of how humans initially peopled the earth, how merchants in the Middle Ages created a trans-hemispheric web of trade, and how our species has drastically altered the earth's natural environment in the past century. Because its medium is electronic, the curriculum will continue to incorporate many new teaching and learning resources in the coming years. The project leaders are also exploring opportunities for systematic piloting and evaluating of the model curriculum in partnership with particular schools. As one teacher in California has commented, "The globalization of world history is the wave of the future. However, teachers will not "buy in' until there are tangible, user-friendly resources like this."

Initiated under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project has involved a creative collaboration between K–12 teachers, university historians, education specialists, and technical experts from 12 states and the District of Columbia. The principal project officers are Ross E. Dunn and David Christian at SDSU and Edmund Burke III at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Chief advisers include Gary B. Nash, director of the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA, and Robert Bain of University of Michigan's School of Education. The project has also received funding from the Ahmanson Foundation, the Longview Foundation, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the San Diego State University President's Leadership Fund.
World History for Us All may be explored at http://worldhistoryforusall.sdsu.edu.

—Ross E. Dunn is Professor of History at San Diego State University. He is director of the World History for Us All Project and the director of World History Projects for the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA. Among his publications are The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century (University of California Press, rev. ed., 2005). He is a past president of the World History Association.