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UNIT 26: World History and Identity



Globalization is not a new phenomenon. However, the level, pace, and intensity of interaction between societies and cultures has increased dramatically in the last one hundred years, and seem set to continue in the future. Communications technologies, economic relationships, wars, dislocations, and migrations have all increased the rate at which peoples from widely disparate areas have become linked.

The accelerating pace of these interactions and linkages has had a profound effect on the ways individuals and groups perceive themselves and those around them. New and often disruptive ideas can now easily penetrate most societies of the world, while communities separated by millions of miles can maintain cohesive group identities. These processes place all societies under a great pressure to adjust and adapt; these adjustments can be expressed in terms of embracing integration, maintaining a sense of difference, or a combination of both.

At the most basic level, globalization requires very individual and personal assessments of one's place in the world. This unit explores questions about what it means to become a member of a global community; whether the introduction of new elements from outside weaken old ties; and what impact our expanding affiliations and/or animosities have on our concepts of self. Globalization operates on many levels, either to broaden or to threaten group cohesiveness. Globalization can also supplement or supplant both individual and group perceptions of identity. The contemporary study of world history has been shaped by the experiences of globalization, and it provides a perspective to help us grasp the complexities of modern global identity.


Time Period: 1914-present

Global integration accelerated in the twentieth century. It became increasingly clear that events occurring in one area frequently came to involve far distant areas- through economic connections, cultural and political influences, and wars. World War I, which began as a Balkan conflict, eventually entangled much of the world through a complex system of alliances and through Europe's colonial possessions. The Great Depression of the 1930s provided an excellent example of the ways that the world had become economically connected for better or worse, as financial failures in the United States had repercussions in Europe, Asia, and Africa. World War II, as well, demonstrated that most of the world's peoples could become embroiled in war. After this war, both decolonization (1947-1980s) and the Cold War (1945-1989) transformed the world's borders, economies, and political alliances. Throughout the twentieth century, long-distance trade and long-distance travel have continued to make the world's regions both more integrated and more diverse. Ironically, these very forces have often prompted people to emphasize ethnic, national, and racial differences.

AP Themes:

  • Explores interactions in economics and politics by focusing on the globalizing effects of twentieth-century trade and international exchange.
  • Examines change and continuity by exploring the ways globalization leads to cultural and economic change while also prompting people to focus on the need for preserving cultural continuity.
  • Discusses technology, demography, and environment by looking at the ways that technologies such as rapid transport, media, and computers aid the process of globalization and allow for the maintenance of connections between distant peoples.
  • Pays attention to cultural and intellectual developments by showing how globalization modifies and shapes cultures all over the world.


  • Question 1: Globalization refers to the process by which the peoples of the world become increasingly integrated-socially, economically, and culturally-into a larger world community. How does globalization shape and redefine identities, whether individual, ethnic, or national?
  • Question 2: How is it possible that globalization can both increase the integration of the Earth's people and sharpen the differences between them?
  • Question 3: The process of globalization is at least five hundred years old. Despite the fact that globalization is not a new phenomenon, in what ways does the globalization of the last one hundred years differ from globalization in earlier periods?
  • Question 4: In what ways is the study of world history itself a product of globalization?


How is this topic related to Increasing Integration?

The very term "globalization" refers to the increasing integration of the world's people through economic, cultural, and social ties. This pattern has intensified greatly in the last one hundred years.

How is this topic related to Proliferating Difference?

Although globalization entails increasing integration, some communities, groups, or nations respond to these forces by developing increased awareness of cultural or ethnic difference.

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