Development Of A World History As A Subject

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The subject of world history was first seen in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century and by the 1960’s majority of history curriculum focused primarily of western civilizations. Throughout the twentieth century to present day, the term world history has been in through a process of new historical scholarships to transition the center focus of world history away from European civilization and connect various cultural relations between different societies and how their interactions have influenced one another. Just as university students study past events as historians, professional historians have been urging to apply history as a discipline in secondary school courses rather than a subject of testable facts. Incentive to teach the subject of world history as a historical discipline are; to recondition the approach to world history with study models aligned with contemporary knowledge of global understanding, to stimulate student critical thinking skills, and to create relevance to the occurrence of change in a society. “World history is unique in that its scope, breadth and purpose necessitate different approaches to teaching historical thinking and understanding.” To navigate a discipline of historical thinking, New World History ask for the student to achieve, as well as educators, historians, and curriculum standards to align with student objectives in mind.

World history, as a subject taught in education, dates back centuries in various civilizations, however, a resemblance of a world history textbook in the United States wasn’t till the mid-nineteenth century. After World War I, history textbooks focused majority of the content studying Aryan civilization and focusing on the powerful nation states, development of industrialization, and social change was modeled from only European experiences. Historian J. Bentley explains, “A great deal of recent scholarship in world history seeks precisely to explain the prominence of Europe in the modern world.” New alternatives to Eurocentric perception of the past denies the argument of European superiority in comparing the discoveries of similar qualities in other regional civilizations. Implementing the focus of cultural interactions amongst different regions and examining the influences upon one another expands students’ skills to examine like a historian. Bentley points out, “…it has become clear that the supposedly isolated and primitive societies studied by anthropologist were in fact the products of interactions with Europeans and other people.” In attempting to refer new understanding to world history, we must look at history as a study as of cultural interactions while determining the occurrence of change within each society in relations to each other. The necessity to take different approaches to teaching historical thinking is unique to the large scope of world history.

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A limited perspective of world history is common in the United States as school curriculum focus on testable facts of selected historical events. Historian R. Dunn states, “Indeed, the idea of a national curriculum for history, with which the American flirted briefly in the 1990’s, is out of fashion today.” Approaching world history as the discipline of a historian rather than a subject, encourages students to “give meaning to their historical experiences”. Historian R. Bain explains, “History as a discipline and a course of study demands meaning over memory.” To practice history as a discipline, the student will navigate distinctive problems and build cognitive characteristics to construct the past into their own understanding. Teacher and students commonly work with textbooks that have been selectively edited to portray the historical content as an answer to the provided questions. There is no experience for students to analyze and critique due to the end product (the textbook) of historical thinking as already been revealed. Stepping away from exam based learning, educators can get creative with activity lessons analyzing multiple sources of evidence to promote critical thinking skills connecting the evidence from the past to the students’ knowledge of present understanding. Just as historians analyze evidence to clarify the context of historical events, students will work with primary and secondary sources to define historical problems and develop feasible accusations to reconstruct new connections of the past and present.

On the University level world history courses, college students study history with a different approach than that of high school curriculum standards. There has been a push to implement different models of world history to the secondary school courses. R. Dunn explains his validation of the patterns of change model, “Indeed, the model requires that students develop clear working definitions of a distinctions between such terms and phrases as “society”, “nations”, “culture”, “cultural history”, and “cultural differences”.” Instructing students to study cases of the cultural interactions will influence the formulation of exceptional generalization and cognitive frameworks towards understanding the meaning to historical changes. When students develop a deeper significance of past events, they can construct connections to their present experiences and apply their historical thinking skills to their progress towards higher education. D. S. Johnston explains, “Students become exited when they recognize that world history involves a great number of diverse people, that it does not focus on memorization of names and dates, and that it connects to the world they live in today.” The goal of teaching New World History is to stimulate students to connect their reality to the understandings of the past from evidence left by people from long ago.

The term world history takes different meanings depending on one’s level of study. World history at the secondary school level has been taught with an outdated focus on Eurocentrism based on memorizing facts of events. R. Dunn argues, “… We need to regard world history education as a particular serious and critical business, not as a low priority subject governed by fuzzy, contradictory ideas about inclusiveness, diversity, perspectives, and the native qualities of the west.” The shift to teach world history as a discipline rather than a subject encourages an approach to cultural understanding, develops critical thinking skills, and brings applicable relations to the changes of societies. The responsibility of the world history educator is to create the opportunity for students to explore the disciplines of history by exposing students to multiple sources to analyze the various perspectives of the study event. If a teacher is going to create lesson based only on a textbook, then the history subject will lack the higher thinking skills a student can achieve.   


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