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UNIT 1: Maps, Time, and World History



World history is a way of seeing the world — a worldview. It asks us to look for global patterns as we consider what has drawn humanity together. It also asks us to ponder what accounts for human difference through time. World history offers a way of grasping the Big Picture — seeing the history of the world not as separate elements but as an integrated whole.

In order to capture both the diversity and similarities of human experience, world history draws on case studies. These studies illustrate how people have faced global challenges in interacting with each other and the environment. Because of the breadth of world history, decisions must be made about organization and selection. By taking a thematic approach, by paying attention to space, scale, and time, and by using appropriate units of analysis, world history can be made meaningful in many ways to many people.

World historians recognize that there are multiple narratives and multiple perspectives through which to understand world history. The themes for this course involve the fundamental questions of how people and societies through time have experienced both "accelerating integration" as well as "proliferating differences."

This unit specifically focuses on the spatial and temporal frameworks world historians use to organize their discipline. Through an exploration of historical map projections, it illustrates how spatial constructs influence the ways we understand, interpret, and portray the past. In addition, it demonstrates how the units of analysis historians choose to investigate the past-whether civilizations, area studies, cities, water regions, or nation states-influence the stories told about history as well as the questions that are asked. Finally, this unit discusses how world historians organize their studies through temporal frameworks like periodization, chronology, and sequencing. This temporal dimension allows historians to interpret how things change over time. It also illustrates how a society's worldview might be affected by linear or cyclical understandings of time.


Time Period: All-inclusive

This is a unit designed to provide an overall framework for the study of world history, so its chronological scope is all-inclusive. However, it is important to note that just as European national histories in the nineteenth century were the product of the rise of the nation-state, world history is a product of the forces and processes of globalization in the twentieth century.

AP Themes:

  • Explores change and continuity by demonstrating the ways that perceptions of time and space have changed over time and vary by culture.
  • Examines technology and environment by looking at map-making tools and techniques, and the ways these affect human perceptions of the world.
  • Discusses cultural and intellectual developments by comparing the different ways societies have approached the concept of time and periodization.


  • Question 1: What kinds of geographical and chronological frameworks do world historians use?
  • Question 2: What are the units of analysis used by world historians, and how do these differ from those used in other fields of history?
  • Question 3: Why are so many historians interested in studying world history at this particular moment in our own history?
  • Question 4: What is the purpose of studying world history?


How is this topic related to Increasing Integration?

World historians try to integrate the human past into a comprehensive big picture that emphasizes the shared experiences of all humans.

How is this topic related to Proliferating Difference?

World historians also understand that the human past is marked by important differences between peoples across space and time, and try to place that difference in a common historical context.

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