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WHAT IS WORLD HISTORY?

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Goucher, Candice, and Walton, Linda "What is World History" essay written for Bridging World History (2004)

A Global Perspective

World history seeks a global perspective on the past, one that acknowledges and integrates the historical experiences of all of the world's people. Only by examining humanity's shared past is it possible to view today's world in meaningful historical context. Like all historians, world historians create narratives of the past from records of individual and collective experiences, and they interpret the past in response to questions shaped by the world they live in.

Integration and Difference

World historians look for global patterns that emerge from the world's vast collection of historical narratives. In studying patterns historians employ a thematic approach, looking for significant connections across both time and geographical space. Two broad themes can be applied to view the people and events of world history: integration (how the processes of world history have drawn peoples of the world together) and difference (how the patterns of world history also reveal the diversity of the human experience).

The very forces that accelerated the integration of the peoples of the world have also sharpened awareness of difference among them. The construction of world history reflects the same global processes that have both integrated the experiences of people all over the world and highlighted differences among them. World history seeks to bridge the tensions between these two dynamic processes.

World History and Historians

The study of world history is in itself a product of history. It might be said that it is humanity's attempt to fully understand itself in an age of globalization.

Since world history, like all history, is subject to ever-changing interpretations, it is also an arena of disagreement and challenge. The task for world historians is to construct an integrated past that retains voices of difference. World history in the 21st century will be created by an on-going dialogue between the common and collective past and the many individual voices of memory that past contains.

The advent of world history as a discrete field of study was heralded in the 1980s by the organization of the World History Association and the creation of graduate programs at a handful of universities. Over the past 20 years, scholarly publications, professional and academic organizations, and graduate programs in world history have proliferated, yet the terrain of world history education remained relatively undeveloped when compared to other fields.

Teaching and Learning World History

The challenge of creating a comprehensive starting point for exploring world history lies in the need to deliver content that reflects the multiple perspectives of the world's pasts. Successful approaches to world history must construct a meaningful context that reveals a shared human past and they must develop a global framework that makes the past both relevant and accessible.

Go to the Essays and Papers or Online Resources pages for links to articles, papers and additional resources providing multiple perspectives on teaching and learning world history.

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