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2011-2012 World History Course Revision Overview

Barbara Brun-Ozuna and Andie Morgan


This summer, the College Board enlisted world history consultants to conduct summer institutes specifically designed to prepare the way for the implementation of the 2011-2012 revised curriculum standards. These were held in multiple locations all over the country this summer.  As an institute leader and lead World history teacher for a large district, respectively, the authors were able to address a multitude questions raised by participants and practicing teachers as they worked on developing their syllabi. Since institute participant questions would likely be similar to those of teachers nationally, World History Connected's editor, Marc Jason Gilbert, who is incidentally taking up the reins as president of the World History Association this winter, asked the College Board if this journal could run an article on the Summer Institutes in its October issue in keeping with its continuing efforts to assist teachers and their students to navigate and excel on the examination.

What follows is our attempt to encapsulate the questions asked and answers given about the course revision raised by teachers at the World History Institutes this summer. It is my hope that this format will be of assistance in preparing teachers for the initial revised examination in June, and for submitting their syllabi this fall.  

Q: Has the World History Course changed significantly?

A: Although there are certainly changes in the new curriculum, the general scope and sequence looks much the same.  The major themes, for example, continue to be the same ones we have been teaching for many years:

Theme 1: Interaction Between Humans and the Environment
Theme 2: Development and Interaction of Cultures
Theme 3: State-Building, Expansion, and Conflict
Theme 4: Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems
Theme 5: Development and Transformation of Social Structures

Many of the historical thinking skills also continue to be familiar, although what used to be nine separate skills have now been regrouped into four large skills with subcomponents. In essence, the skills continue to be the ones the course has emphasized for many years:

1. Crafting Historical Arguments from Historical Evidence
          Historical Argumentation
          Appropriate Use of Historical Evidence

2. Chronological Reasoning
          Historical Causation
          Patterns of Continuity and Change Over Time

3. Comparison and Contextualization

4. Historical Interpretation and Synthesis

That being said, however, there seems to be an added emphasis on the five themes, and all five must appear on one's submitted syllabus as they are addressed during the year.  The four historical thinking skills are also gaining prominence as students are now required to demonstrate them in much more explicit ways.   Using primary documents and secondary sources as a teaching tool to explore culture or the development of traditions, technology, science or the like rather than using them to recognize and explain point of view is another visible shift in emphasis. 

The time periods of the course are also very similar to what they were in the past, although what used to be known as "foundations" has been split into two time periods with the divide between the two periods occurring around the end of the cultural hearth civilizations and the rise of the classic civilizations.  Another small change is that the divide between the fifth and sixth periods is now 1900 rather than 1914.  There is a change in that the course weights have been adjusted slightly as well:


Period title

Date range



Technological and Environmental

to c. 600 B.C.E.



Organization and Reorganization of
Human Societies

c. 600 B.C.E. to c. 600



Regional and Transregional Interactions

c. 600 C.E. to c. 1450



Global Interactions

c. 1450 to c. 1750



Industrialization and Global Integration

c. 1750 to c. 1900



Accelerating Global Change and

c. 1900 to the Present


In addition, the names of the time periods are considerably different than they were because they are reflective of the key concepts that are to be included in studying each time period.  For example, new "Time Period 1" is entitled "Technological and Environmental Transformation."  This title helps guide the teacher and the student in emphasizing the creation of, and adaptations to, technology that humans made as some slowly shifted from nomadism to sedentary agriculture.  It also helps focus the effect these transformations had on the environment. The first time period also sets up the original centers of settlements and interconnections between and among those centers as well as addressing those cultures/societies which prefer to live as before, moving around, hunting and foraging for their food, water, and shelter.  Although the changes on the surface appear to be relatively small, paying attention to them will ultimately assist both the teacher and the students in their efforts to clarify and remember the emphasis of each time period, understanding how much teaching time to devote to each of the six time periods, and emphasizing what the students need to do, rather than what the teacher needs to cover. 

Q: Are there changes to the regions we teach?

A: The world map in the new curriculum framework materials is very similar to what it was previously.   Regions around the globe have been somewhat redefined, particularly in Africa.  Most importantly, Oceania-including Australia- is an important additional region on the map. In addition, Persia as a region has been included in the study of classical civilizations for the first time.

Q: What are the key concepts and how will they help inform the teaching of the course?

A: The key concepts cover the essential content of the course.  Each has one or more sub components which further clarifies what each concept entails.  Some concepts might take longer to teach than others, and they may be taught in any order. The major concepts per time period include the following:

Period 1:
Key Concept 1.1. Big Geography and the Peopling of the Earth
Key Concept 1.2. The Neolithic Revolution and Early Agricultural Societies
Key Concept 1.3. The Development and Interactions of Early Agricultural, Pastoral, and Urban Societies

Period 2:
Key Concept 2.1. The Development and Codification of Religious and Cultural Traditions
Key Concept 2.2. The Development of States and Empires
Key Concept 2.3. Emergence of Transregional Networks of Communication and Exchange

Period 3:
Key Concept 3.1. Expansion and Intensification of Communication and Exchange Networks
Key Concept 3.2. Continuity and Innovation of State Forms and Their Interactions
Key Concept 3.3. Increased Economic Productive Capacity and Its Consequences

Period 4:
Key Concept 4.1. Globalizing Networks of Communication and Exchange
Key Concept 4.2. New Forms of Social Organization and Modes of Production
Key Concept 4.3. State Consolidation and Imperial Expansion

Period 5:
Key Concept 5.1. Industrialization and Global Capitalism
Key Concept 5.2. Imperialism and Nation-State Formation
Key Concept 5.3. Nationalism, Revolution, and Reform
Key Concept 5.4. Global Migration

Period 6:
Key Concept 6.1 Science and the Environment
Key Concept 6.2 Global Conflicts and Their Consequences
Key Concept 6.3 New Conceptualizations of Global Economy, Society, and Culture

Q: How do I use the content outline to help guide instruction?

A: Each key concept has specific parts that help clarify the scope.  This helps explain the exact depth and breadth that should be covered. Each subconcept details the required examples as well as suggestions for examples that teachers might use in teaching.  One still has the flexibility to teach or focus on the items of history that are of particular interest to them personally, but the content outline is very helpful in addressing specifics so that students are given ample opportunity to be well versed in the breadth and scope that a college-level survey course would include in addition to performing successfully on the College Board exam in May.

"To foster a deeper level of learning, the outline distinguishes content that
is essential to support the understanding of key concepts from content
examples that are not required. Teachers should feel free to use either their
own relevant, appropriate examples or the illustrative examples from the
concept outline without compromising their students' ability to perform
well on the AP Exam." (Course and Exam Description, p. 23, effective Fall 2011 at

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: Let's look at Key Concept 5.4, global migration from the Course description guide:
Migration patterns changed dramatically throughout this period, and the numbers of migrants increased significantly. These changes were closely connected to the development of transoceanic empires and a global capitalist economy. In some cases, people benefited economically from migration, while other people were seen simply as commodities to be transported. In both cases, migration produced dramatically different societies for both sending and receiving societies, and presented challenges to governments in fostering national identities and regulating the flow of people.

I. Migration in many cases was influenced by changes in demography in both industrialized and unindustrialized societies that presented challenges to existing patterns of living.
Changes in food production and improved medical conditions contributed to a significant global rise in population.
B. Because of the nature of the new modes of transportation, both internal and external migrants increasingly relocated to cities. This pattern contributed to the significant global urbanization of the nineteenth century.

II. Migrants relocated for a variety of reasons.
A. Many individuals chose freely to relocate, often in search of work.
B. The new global capitalist economy continued to rely on coerced and semicoerced labor migration.
Required examples of coerced and semicoerced labor migration:

• Slavery
• Chinese and Indian indentured servitude
• Convict labor

C. While many migrants permanently relocated, a significant number of temporary and seasonal migrants returned to their home societies.

III. The large-scale nature of migration, especially in the nineteenth century, produced a variety of consequences and reactions to the increasingly diverse societies on the part of migrants and the existing populations.

A. Due to the physical nature of the labor in demand, migrants tended to be male, leaving women to take on new roles in the home society that had been formerly occupied by men.
B. Migrants often created ethnic enclaves in different parts of the world which helped transplant their culture into new environments and facilitated the development of migrant support networks. 

C. Receiving societies did not always embrace immigrants, as seen in thevarious degrees of ethnic and racial prejudice and the ways states attempted to regulate the increased flow of people across their borders. (College Board: 72-73)

Q: How will the new curriculum affect the test in May?

A:  According to the College Board Course and Exam description, the new curriculum will be reflected in the test in the following way:

• All key concepts and themes are required and therefore must be taught in the AP World History course. Questions on the AP World History Exam will require specific knowledge from the concept outline.

• The exam will assess all the historical thinking skills.

• In order to answer multiple-choice questions correctly, students will not be required to recall specific illustrative examples. However, an illustrative example may appear on the exam provided that the question includes sufficient information to enable students to answer the question.

• In the continuity and change over time and the comparative essays, students will be expected to provide appropriate historical evidence to support their arguments. Students can draw upon the illustrative examples or any other appropriate, relevant examples in order to answer the questions.  (College Board: 92)

Q: So how does this information influence what the world history exam syllabus should include?

A: The course audit page of the College Board site has an extensive step-by-step guide to what each syllabus should contain.  The guide can be found at

There are also four sample approved syllabi that can be used as guides.  These can be found at

Generally, there must be a specific activity tied to each theme and each historical thinking skill.  Each Key concept must also be specifically addressed in the syllabus.  Each major region of the world must be addressed in more than one unit, with Europe comprising no more than 20% of the course.  As in the past, a college level textbook must be specifically used in the class, along with a variety of primary sources.  These primary sources must specifically include pictorial, and quantitative (maps graphs and charts) sources as well as textual. Additionally, scholarly secondary articles must be used more than once during the year.  The influence of disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, geography, or various sciences should also be mentioned at least once. Lastly, the syllabus should provide plenty of opportunities for students to write so that they are able to demonstrate historical thinking (and writing) skills – particularly the ability to craft an historical argument and support it with specific historical evidence or examples, whether they address similarities and differences, change and continuity, cause and effect, or more than one interpretation of historical primary sources.

It is clear that most teachers concerns focused on how to teach illustrative versus required examples and how much make sure that the 20th century is truly covered.  Teachers also really want to know how much of the world history course has changed.  It is our hope that this format will be of assistance in preparing teachers for the initial revised exam in June.

Andie Morgan has taught Advanced Placement World History for 11 years at Lake Highlands high school in Richardson, Texas where she served as social studies department chair.  She has been an AP World History course examination Reader since 2002 and a table leader since 2009.

Barbara Brun-Ozuna serves as a College Board consultant for Advanced Placement World History.  She has taught AP World History since its inception in 2001 at Paschal high school in Fort Worth Texas where she also serves as the advanced academic coordinator.  She has been an AP World History course examination Reader since 2002 and a table leader since 2006. The authors can be reached at


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