Reframing Modern World History


Reframing Modern World History: This course seeks to reframe the Modern World History curriculum by investigating the global causes and consequences of the industrial revolution and colonialism, and the resulting climate crisis we face today, while highlighting alternate visions for a sustainable and more just future.  As shared here, the course could be taught in its entirety, or individual lessons/lesson arcs could be used to augment an existing course to help globalize the traditional Eurocentric approach to world history (see below). 

The course outline invites students to ask different questions about modern world history and study voices and perspectives that are often left out of the traditional narrative. By exploring alternative paths, dissenting voices, and integrating action civics strategies, students can become empowered to envision and work toward a more just and sustainable future.

Background: During the 2021-2022, and 2022-2023 school years, UCBHSSP's Rachel Reinhard and Devin Hess began meeting regularly with Kaedan Peters, a 10th grade teacher in the San Lorenzo Unified School District. In the 2023-24 school year, Holly Royality, a teacher from Santa Clara Unified School District, joined the process. This project is now the focus of UCBHSSP’s Teacher Research Group comprised of 15 world history teachers from across the state of California.This continually evolving map is the result of that work.  

Explore the course map at and selected lessons below 

Course map showing progression through units

Foundational Understandings

  • The current climate crisis that threatens our planet needs to be a central problem for inquiry for students, across subjects. 
  • Colonization, industrialization, and slavery provide historical context for understanding the critical issues in our world today, and solutions must address these core realities and center justice and indigenous rights.
  • People have always challenged power and domination in the pursuit of basic human rights, independence, and self-determination. It is important for students to analyze how power was used in historical events, as well as explore how power is being used and/or could be used to create a different and just future.
  • A non-Eurocentric exploration of the world is taught through global voices and experiences.
  • Critical inquiry to engage with and critique dominant narratives must be explicitly taught.
  • Inquiries should empower students to develop their historical thinking as they draw their own conclusions and articulate evidence-based narratives.
  • This course will and should look different in different contexts and locations to account for student demographics, local climate struggles and organizing work, and the impact of colonialism on the specific land and people where the course is taught. 

Anchor Lessons

Although the map outlines a full course sequence, it is possible to introduce a smaller set of 'anchor lessons' that introduce key concepts and case studies at critical points within even a standard modern world history course.

Published Anchor Lessons:

Globalizing the Industrial Revolution

Inquiry: How did global factors contribute to the Industrial Revolution in Britain?

Teaching Thesis:

The traditional narrative of the Industrial Revolution centers the developments and resources within Britain. However a global perspective needs to include the essential role of the colonies and slavery in providing the pre-conditions and resources necessary for the emergence of industrialism. These include the raw materials needed for industry (e.g. cotton), the capital accumulated through slavery that funded many of the industrial innovations and development, the plantation sugar that provided a substantial portion of the caloric intake of the emerging British working class, and the suppression of the existing textile industry in India

Lesson Components:

  • Interrogate a traditional narrative of the Industrial Revolution 
  • Counter-narrative overview - Headings and Highlights reading strategy
  • Source Analysis - Scaffolded analysis of a set of primary and secondary sources.
  • Summarize & categorize evidence - Evidence, Analysis, Relevance chart
  • Writing a revised narrative

Lesson Plan Link

WWII - A Counter-Narrative Timeline & Geography

Inquiry:  How does a truly global perspective change the narrative of World War II?

Teaching Thesis: 

The traditional framing, narratives, and timeline defining WWII tend to highlight a European perspective on the war. The conflict is often framed as a fight against facism in defense of democracy and freedom, and so starts with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and ends with the treaties signed in 1945. However, if the conflicts of the 30’s and 1940’s are viewed more globally as wars for liberation and freedom, then the war could be considered to start in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. And, after many of the colonies seized by Germany, Italy and Japan were ‘returned’ to their former European masters, the battles could be considered to extend into the 1960’s as these colonies sought freedom of their own. 

Lesson Components:

  • Timeline Analysis of Events - Exploring competing inquiries
  • Bridging Sentences reading strategy - Globalize the narrative

Lesson Plan Link 

The Cold War and National Liberation

Inquiry: What was the nature of the global wars at the end of the 20th century?

Teaching Thesis:

The anti-colonial and anti-imperialist wars of the late 20th century are often described as ‘Proxy Wars’ - skirmishes between the US and the USSR as the superpowers jockey for world dominance, painting the US as the defender of democracy against the evils of communism. While the two superpowers were engaged in a global struggle for domination, the traditional view denies the agency of the movements within the ‘Third World’ nations seeking to break free of oppressive economic and political domination by the US or European powers. Examining the historical relationship of these nations to the global powers, and exploring the voices of those engaged in these independence movements, help shed light on global economic and political dynamics in this period in history

Lesson Components: 

  • Interrogate a traditional narrative of “proxy wars”
  • Case study - Guatemalan Civil War Background
  • Close read of 3 narratives from participants in the Civil War
  • Timeline Analysis of US Interventions in Latin America 

Lesson Plan Link

Congo's Cobalt

Inquiry: How does colonialism inform our understanding of how to achieve climate justice?

Teaching Thesis:

The Belgian Congo is a case study for the notorious brutality of European colonialism, and history books celebrate the closing of this chapter as nations in Africa achieved independence in the 1950-1980’s. However, the escalating drive to extract resources and human labor from countries like the DRC illustrates the continuity of the essential extractive nature of the relationships between the ‘global north’ and the ‘global south’.  The current brutal extraction of cobalt from the Congo needed for batteries also exemplifies that there can’t be just a ‘technological fix’ to the climate crisis. Climate/environmental justice demands that any solution must center the voices from the ‘global south’ and address the persistent global economic and political inequalities. 

Lesson Components:

  • Lightning Research - Minerals used in phone/car batteries
  • Visual Source Analysis - Children in open pit mine
  • Congo & Cobalt - Jigsaw text analysis to explore history and contemporary conditions in DRC 
  • Continuity and Change - Characteristics of imperialism in Belgian Congo and DRC

  Lesson Plan Link

Choices and Action for a Sustainable Future

Inquiry: How have people most affected by economic inequity and climate change promoted a vision for a different world?

Teaching Thesis:

People around the world have continually challenged colonial and neo-liberal economic extraction and exploitation of their labor, land and resources. These challenges have included movements for peasant and indigenous rights, just economic and social policies, demands for land redistribution, and more recently climate justice. The struggles have consisted of local and international advocacy, democratic initiatives for change, up to and including revolution, civil war, and wars of national liberation from foreign domination. Understanding the visions and demands from those most affected by economic inequity and climate change can inform how we participate in bringing about a just and sustainable world

Lesson Components:

Students analyze a the UN Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and Rural Workers

  • Problem Analysis - Cause & consequence reading strategy & graphic organizer
  • Articulations of Justice - Analyze list of articles to assess overarching principles of justice
  • Analysis of Specific Articles - How do the provisions of the declaration address the problems described?
  • Student-Crafted ‘Manifesto’ - Write declarations based on their sense of justice. 

Lesson Plan Link

Pending Anchor Lessons

The following anchor lessons are nearly ready for publication. There are included here to help provide a sense of the narrative arc of the course. As they are finalized, they will be added above.

Understanding “Right Relationship”

Inquiry: What does it mean to be in “right relationship?”

Teaching Thesis:

This course seeks to examine how the last three centuries of colonialism and industrialization impacted world history and our current climate crisis and highlights possibilities for a new and different future. The course questions asks “How do we get into right relationship with the planet and each other?” To address this, we need to first explore what it would mean to be in harmony with nature and build relations among people that are based on respect, self-determination, and human rights - in other words, to ‘be in right relationship”.

Lesson Components:

This lesson introduces the overarching theme of the course and establishes a class definition of “right relationship” that can be used throughout the course. 

  • Introductory videos (students watch 3 of 4)
  • Notecatcher organizer
  • Student posters on “right relationship”

Environment as a Historical Actor

Inquiry: What role does the environment plan in human development?

Teaching Thesis: 

Human societies are heavily shaped by the environments in which they live. Changes in vegetation, animal habitat and weather can force societies to adjust and adapt, sometimes in extreme ways. Conversely, human use of resources and other activities impact the environment on local, regional and, more recently, on global scales. Climate change in particular is posing serious and far-reaching challenges to our economic, political and social structures. How humans collectively mobilize to address this potentially existential threat needs to be a central concern of this era.  

Lesson Components:

This lesson serves to ground students in the basics of climate science and gauge students current knowledge of human impacts and relationships on the environment. 

  • Environment as a historical actor: The Little Ice Age case study 
  • Climate Change 101
  • Root Causes & Consequences of Climate Change (IACP strategy)

Pre-Shift Case Studies

Inquiry: How did people pre-1500s get their needs met to survive and thrive? What was life like before “the shift”?

Teaching Thesis:

Multiple centers of civilization before 1492 thrived, developed, and interacted with each other in ways that contrasted sharply with the post-industrial world of the 1800’s. While there were notable exceptions, the local agricultural and energy resources defined their activities. Most of these civilizations far surpassed Europe of the 1500s in science, technology and associated economic activities.

Lesson Components: 

Students explore the various ways humans lived within the “environmental limits” of their surroundings and structured their societies. Understanding the state of the world in the 1500 helps students appreciate the tremendous shift that occurred as Europe rose to dominate much of the world through colonialism and capitalism.

  • Pre-shift case studies 
  • Case-study organizer chart
  • Writing Prompt and Frames

Dominant and Counter Narratives: Beginnings of Slavery and Colonialism

InquiryHow did Europeans and Africans use power in during the trans-Atlantic slave trade?

Teaching Thesis:

A dominant narrative is told from the perspective of culture in power and are the stories most often told in society, oversimplified, and are accepted as truth. A counter narrative is a story that goes against or complicates the accepted truth about history, cultures, and institutions, often told from the perspective of those marginalized within society. As an example, slavery is often taught as a European necessity in the arc of their story, but when presented from the vantage point of Africans and the resistance, the narrative gets fuller and more complicated.

Lesson Components:

This lesson introduces the concept of dominant and counter narratives, a historical device that will be used repeatedly throughout the course, and also introduces students to the beginnings of colonialism with the early Portuguese and Spanish conquests.

  • Slide presentation
  • Exploring the Concept of Dominant and Counter Narratives
  • Expressions of Power (IACP) analysis of dominant and counter slavery narratives

Indigenous Influences on the Enlightenment

Inquiry: How did interactions with indigenous communities shape the Enlightenment in Europe?

Teaching Thesis:

The early interactions between European explorers/settlers and the indigenous societies in the Americas included frequent exchanges of ideas and reflections about each others’ societies. Indigenous leaders expressed disbelief in the brutal realities of class divisions in Europe. European explorers learned new concepts of social order that stood in stark contrast to the social order in feudal Europe. The Enlightenment was in many ways a rebranding of ideas shared by Natives in conversations with European settlers. Many of the ideas of personal liberties and political leaders needing the “consent of the governed” can be found in the Jesuit Relations accounts of discussions with indigenous leaders. These accounts force us to reconsider the Enlightenment as evidence of European exceptionalism.

Lesson Components:

Students study key content about how some Native American groups structured their societies before colonialism to understand the influence of these cross-cultural interactions on the Enlightenment.

  • Close read of excerpts from Jesuit accounts
  • Introduction of the “indigenous critique”
  • Main concepts of the Enlightenment thinkers organizer chart

Reframing WWI

Inquiry: How did rising tensions between imperial powers lead to WWI?

Teaching Thesis:

The resources demanded by the emerging industrialism of the 1800s put ever greater pressure on the colonial powers to secure and expand their holdings throughout the world. The incumbent European powers that engaged in this early colonial scramble at first avoided serious conflict through peaceful means such as the Berlin Conference. Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary, as late comer insurgents to the process of colonial empire, allied in an effort to counter the domination of the established powers. Tensions escalated, alliances solidified, and leaders mobilized support for the imperial cause by elevating nationalist pride. With economic survival in the balance, nations built up military reserves and strengthened alliances. Japan also began their imperialist projects around the same time, taking over Taiwan, parts of China, and Korea. When these tensions could no longer be contained through diplomacy or smaller wars, Europe erupted into war that engulfed the rest of their colonial holdings.

Lesson Components:

This lesson reframes the traditional “MAIN” causes of WWI acronym by highlighting that Imperialism was the central driver of WWI - militarism, alliances, and nationalism all developed due to tensions between imperialist powers fighting over their colonial holdings.

  • 1884 Berlin Conference
  • Origins and Primary Sources of Triple Entente (1882) and Triple Alliance (1907)
  • Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902)
  • Continental Colonialism in the Balkans
  • Inquiry of role of colonized people and colonialism during WWI

Neoliberalism as New Colonialism

Inquiry: How do international economic institutions impact development in the ‘global south’?

Teaching Thesis:

Traditional colonialism relied on direct political control, backed by military might. The world wars and subsequent decolonization movement of the mid 20th century ushered in new global political and economic realities in which many former colonies achieved political independence. Some attempted to reconstruct society based on socialist principles and moved to nationalize land and resources to build self-reliant economies but were often met with direct military intervention to prevent fundamental change. Former colonial powers also reasserted control through international economic institutions and agreements (e.g. IMF, WTO) that placed conditions upon loans needed for economic development and in the name of free trade, superseded attempts by national or international governing institutions such as the United Nations to establish social and economic arrangements based on human needs and rights.

Lesson Components:

This lesson introduces the concept of neoliberal economics and its implications for developing countries.

  • Speech by Kwame Nkrumah
  • Neoliberalism Skits - helps students understand the key elements of neoliberalism)
  • Neoliberalism Scenarios - applying these elements of neoliberalism in real-world scenarios
  • WTO - Global/Seattle Resistance

Tale of Two UN Protocols

Inquiry: How have governments and institutions responded to environmental concerns?

Teaching Thesis:

One way to address environmental concerns is for governmental institutions to establish laws and regulations that prevent people and businesses from acting in harmful ways. The success of these efforts requires political will, agreement, and broad implementation of effective measures. Some have been highly successful, such as the Montreal Protocol that reduced the emissions of ozone-destroying gasses. However, the attempt to reach, and more importantly implement, effective measures to address climate change through the Kyoto Protocol illustrates the challenges in these endeavors.

Lesson Components:

Students compare the two processes to shed light on important factors to take into account when addressing these kinds of international concerns.

  • Overview Slide Deck
  • DBQ: Montreal Protocol documents & Kyoto Protocol documents
  • Seminar and/or Writing preparation and scaffolding

This project was supported by the campus International Area Studies Centers and their Title VI funding.