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UNIT 1: Maps, Time, and World History

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READINGS

Reading 1

Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, In the Balance: Themes in Global History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998), pp. 10–12 "The Measurement of Time"; 13–18 "Origin Myths: The Creation of the World"; 37–38 "Origin Myths: The Flood."

Abstract: This essay explores notions of time, oral tradition, and myth, and how these factors have affected the ways in which humans—in the distant past as well as in the present—have understood their origins and place in the world. Human groups in different times and places have often conceptualized time quite differently: some have viewed time as linear, some as cyclical, and some in terms of dynastic events. Human origin stories also differ, especially in detail, but common themes and patterns in most such stories suggest common human experiences and concerns. Historians use these stories—collected through oral, written, and archaeological sources—to develop a greater understanding about both the distant and the more recent human past.

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Reading 2

Jerry Bentley, "Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks of Historical Analysis," Geographical Review 89, no. 2 (April 1999): 215–25.

Abstract: Since the mid-nineteenth century, historians have taken national states as the principal focus of their scholarship. Since the mid-twentieth century, they have increasingly recognized the importance of large-scale historical processes that transcend the boundaries of national states, and they have identified large-scale zones of interaction that help to bring these processes into clear focus. Sea and ocean basins show considerable promise as frameworks for the analysis of some historical processes. They would not serve well as the absolute or definitive categories of historical analysis because their contours and characteristics have changed dramatically over time with shifting relationships between bodies of water and masses of land. But they are especially useful for bringing focus to processes of commercial, biological, and cultural exchange, which have profoundly influenced the development of both individual societies and the world as a whole.

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Reading 3

David Christian, "World History in Context," Journal of World History 14, no. 4 (December 2003): 437–52.

Abstract: World history can provide a context for regional and national histories, but what is the context for world history itself? If world history is about the history of human beings, asking this question means asking about the place of human beings within modern knowledge. While most traditional cosmologies put humans at the center of the picture, the temporal and spatial scales of modern science are so vast that humans can seem to vanish entirely. Yet if we order the contents of our universe by complexity rather than by size or longevity, things look different. This paper explores arguments suggesting that human societies and their evolution may be among the most complex objects available for scientific study. Such conclusions hint at the significance of world history beyond the history profession and also suggest the extraordinary difficulty of the challenges world historians face.

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