Curriculum History

Decolonizing with scissors and tape

Cut and Paste

My eight year old and I recently spent parts of a couple of summer days cutting apart the official poster and binder materials for the Course and Exam Description for the new AP World History: Modern. It was a satisfying way to work on decolonizing this course. I tweeted the process. NB: I mistook the topics for learning objectives while breaking things apart. All of my tweets about “learning objectives” should be about “topics”. There are 71 topics and 93 learning objectives. Most of the topics with more than one learning objective are from the periods before c. 1750 CE. The content with the most topics—industrialization and the world since c. 1900—are treated in the greatest detail.

The gallery below shows how I sorted the new topics into the previous CED’s Key Concepts for time periods 3-6, i.e. c. 600 CE – present. This process illuminated what was lost and what was added in the move to AP World History: Modern. I am more convinced than ever teachers should decolonize this course on arrival in part by ignoring the suggested unit structure.

Medieval Period, c. 600 CE – c. 1450 CE, Regional and Interregional Interactions

The first two units from the new course have c. 1200 – c. 1450 as their time frame, but include many continuities from earlier. Thus, I’ve used the former Period 3 dates knowing that some continuities are from even earlier than 600 CE. There are three key concepts. All of them can be used to organize this content. The new CED includes fourteen topics and twenty-six learning objectives. Students will still benefit from using key concepts to organize all of this content.

Expansion and Intensification of Communication and Exchange Networks

The main omission here is any mention of the Americas. The CED limits Americans societies of North and South America to state development before the arrival of European. I’ve been meaning to bring more of the medieval Americas into class, and I still plan to.

No one can stop me from showing this excellent turquoise snake to my students, which demonstrates exchange between today’s southwestern US and the Valley of Mexico

The Mediterranean is the other missing network, but given the prominence of Europe and the Islamic world it is not marginalized like the Americas. Silk Roads, Indian Ocean, and Trans-Sahara all rightly remain. Camel saddles and lateen sails for everyone. I’m looking forward to bringing a little more Southeast Asia into discussions of the Indian Ocean.

Continuity and Innovation of State Forms and Their Interactions

State building for most places seems to be folded into the idea of a “Global Tapestry.” Interestingly, the Americas and Africa are only noted in the topics for the state building, but not noted for developments. Teachers can illustrate this key concept with lots of topics in the new CED.

Increased Economic Productive Capacity and Its Consequences

Excepting industrialization, none of the 71 topics in the new CED focus on economic production. I’m assuming the growing productivity is part of the developments in the “Global Tapestry,” but I wonder about this aversion to addressing human-environmental interaction. A fear of addressing environmental issues seems to inform the suggested topics. Teachers will need to act on their own to make this Key Concept clear to their students.

In the coming weeks I will break down the early modern and modern periods in the same way. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Part 2 of Decolonizing with Scissors and Tape

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

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