Browse Methods

Investigate world history approaches to analyzing different kinds of primary sources.

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Analyzing Official Documents

Official documents produced by governments, supranational organizations, courts of law, and more are abundant in supply, but can be intimidating and confusing to approach. They are often filled with language that seems convoluted, emotionless, and highly technical.

Close up of Manilla on Philippines map

Primer: Global Urban History

Urban history is a rich subfield of historical scholarship that examines life in urban spaces, how communities within cities interact and coexist, as well as the process of city formation and urbanization. Since cities date from Ancient times and also exist throughout the world, they also provide a valuable lens for world historians to make connections across time and space.

Typed letter

Primer: Intellectual Exchange

Ideas do not confine themselves to national borders, and thus intellectual exchange provides an invaluable lens for exploring world history. Tracing how knowledge develops and ideas spread requires a close analysis of exchange of ideas across regions — sometimes across large distances.

Gold sculpture of a bird with it's head turned backwards

Primer: Technology

Technology, broadly defined, denotes not only transformative innovations but the whole spectrum of tools, skills and artifacts with which human societies construct their worlds. The impact of technology is symbolic and social as well as material: artifacts have meaning; ways of making and doing embody beliefs and values, identities and relationships.

Map of the earth showing areas where lights can be seen from space at night

Primer: The History of Globalization

Globalization, defined here as the integration of an interdependent economy that simultaneously enhances cultural exchanges relying on the mobility of people, animals, plants, pathogens, objects, and ideas, is a useful concept for exploring connections across space and time.

Posada Broadsheet

Analyzing Newspapers

A newspaper is a publication intended for a broad audience that appears regularly, often daily, and claims to contain factual accounts of recent events. Usually newspapers are published with the intention of making a profit. Frequently, their factual content is accompanied by advertisements and nonfactual material intended as entertainment.

Thumbnail of Mau Mau scouts

Primer: Rewriting of Sub-Saharan African History

The history of Africa, and especially Sub-Saharan Africa, has often been presented from a Eurocentric point of view. This essay by scholar Mariana Gino traces the efforts by Black intellectuals around the globe to re-center Africans in the narrative of African history — an important primer for teachers of world history.

Analyzing Music

Everywhere you go, there it is.

Map of the world with colors indicating the level of judicial independence in each state's constitution.

Primer: Comparative History

Comparison is used in many different ways in world history, both implicitly and explicitly.

Geologic clock with events and time periods noting the formation of earth and development of life.

Primer: Big History

Big History is an approach to world history that takes as its subject the story of the whole of the Universe, from its creation, 13.8 billion years ago, in the Big Bang. It describes the creation of stars, the forging of new types of matter in dying stars, the formation of the first planets and moons, and the emergence of life on at least one planet, the Earth.

image of gender roles being portrayed

Primer: Gender in World History

Gender history developed in the 1980s out of women’s history, when historians familiar with studying women increasingly began to discuss the ways in which systems of sexual differentiation affected both women and men.

Stellar diagram features a drawing of a ship surrounded by Chinese characters

Primer: Oceans

Oceans, which cover approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface, have played a crucial role in shaping human history. Using oceans and seas as a unit for analysis is, however, a relatively new framework for historical analysis. The traditional units of historical analysis include civilizations, continents and especially nation-states.

Close-up image of an early modern Islami Carpet

Primer: Transcultural History

Broadly, transcultural histories include those historical contexts and processes brought about by circulation of people, objects, and knowledge through travel, trade, migration, or globalization.

Graphic of a tree crosscut showing rings

Primer: Environmental History

Environmental history lends itself particularly well to a world history framework. Environmental processes do not limit themselves to national or cultural borders. The climate, for example, has always been a global system. Environmental history may also consist of unusual sources and feature "archives" that exist in the natural world.

Ptolemy's Map displays a out of proportion western Europe, Mediterranean, and North Africa.

Analyzing Maps

The map is one of the oldest forms of nonverbal communication. Humans were probably drawing maps before they were writing texts. Mapmaking may even predate formal language. As far as historians and geographers can determine, every culture in every part of the world uses and makes maps.

Primer: Imperialism

World history courses often feature the rise and fall of various empires, but often little attention is paid to the concept of empire itself.

A woman kneels and holds a piece of stone at an archeological site

Analyzing Material Objects

The modules in Methods present case studies that demonstrate how scholars interpret different kinds of historical evidence in world history. This module developed by historian Daniel Waugh explores how historians interpret material objects to better understand the past. Examples of objects include Turkish water jugs and Byzantine coins among others.

Title page of The Voyages and Adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto

Primer: Transnational History

Transnational History encompasses all history that transcends the national level. As a field within the discipline of History, it arose out of dissatisfaction with what was called “methodological nationalism”: the assumption in most historical inquiry that the nation-state is the main building block of history.

Primer: Defining World History

World history is the study of the past at the global level. World historians use a wide spatial lens, though they do not always take the entire world as their unit of analysis.

Primer: Tasting and Hearing the Past

Experiencing the full spectrum of world history involves all the senses. World historians not only use their eyes to see what happened; they not only read or otherwise examine written and visual evidence. Tasting or hearing the past can offer unique insights into familiar and fundamental dimensions of another time and place.