June 16, 2018
Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction
The College Board
250 Vesey Street
New York, NY 10281
Dear Mr. Packer,
I am writing in regard to the recent changes made to the AP World History exam. I am an Assistant Professor of Latin American History at the University of South Alabama, but during the previous academic year, I was employed as a lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh. In this position, I taught multiple sections of World History. This course dealt briefly with the emergence of homo sapiens and their ascendance as a species; it then moved on to cover world history from the agricultural revolution to the present.
Such an expansive course – in terms of regions and time – was a challenge for me, as I am trained as an historian of modern Latin America. However, as I crafted course content for this particular survey and as I learned new lessons from that content (particularly the pre-modern topics), I was challenged to change the way I teach non-world history courses in the future.
Even more important than my own personal intellectual development, however, was the growth I saw in my students over the course of the semester. When framed to include all regions of the world (or as many as possible), from the beginning of human settlement, world history stands apart from other historical surveys in its potential to teach students lessons that they probably have never encountered (and perhaps will never encounter again). I could identify a long list of these lessons, but for now I want to focus on the two that I consider to be the most important.
First, in a world historical survey that begins in the ancient period of human history, students have their assumptions about the “center of the world” confronted. They can trace how concentrations of wealth and power shifted back and forth over time, from Southwest Asia to India to China, and back again, long before wealth and power accumulated in the western corner of the Eurasian landmass (Europe). (And, as a corollary development, they see the hard division between the “East” and the “West” dissolve.)
Second, this historical survey offers students a chance to see history not as a narrative of those of European descent (or of Americans) versus “others” (whether that be people in Asia, or the Middle East, or Africa), but to see it as a narrative of humankind. They also understand that history is not only driven by individuals’ actions, but is frequently shaped by the material environment and the natural world around them. World historical content before 1450 forces students in American schools to confront their assumptions about history and about national/racial/cultural superiority in ways that historical content after 1450 cannot.
High school students will enter adulthood in a world with very serious problems – not the least among them are climate change and the violence caused by human-created divisions (e.g.,
nationalism, religion). I firmly believe that in order to confront these challenges, students must have a global understanding of themselves (i.e., as citizens of the human race) and a world historical literacy.
In an anonymous evaluation of my World History course from the past semester, one student wrote, “[T]his course in world history was taught with a wholly universal....lens, opening my eyes and making me think about humankind in ways I never had before.” This sort of comment does not reveal as much about my teaching as it does about the invaluable lessons that a long durée world historical survey offers to students.
University of South Alabama