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. Then it tells how planet earth... Read More »

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. Explicit types of comparison used by historians today include “entangled comparisons,” which compare pairs in which the similarities might come from interaction with each other; “encompassing comparison,” in which the pair may not interact with each other directly, but are both parts of some larger... Read More »

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. For teachers, environmental history can be an approach that... Read More »

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. Historians interested in this new perspective asserted that gender was an appropriate category of analysis when looking at all historical developments, not simply those involving... Read More »

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. In this essay,... Read More »

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. While empires, defined as "expansionist states that governed different people differently" have been one of the most enduring forms of government going back to ancient history, the critique of empire implied by the word "imperialism" is a relatively... Read More »

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. In this essay, Ian Merkel relates how historians research intellectual exchange, what kinds of sources they... Read More »

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.

The modules in Methods present case studies that demonstrate... Read More »

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. Viewed as a nexus of material, cultural and... Read More »

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. In this essay, scholar Diego Olstein traces the various ways the chronology of globalization has been understood by... Read More »