You are here

World History Standards (National Center for History in the Schools)

January 1, 2007

National Center for History in the Schools Standards

The National Center for History in the Schools worked for more than two years with experts in academia and distinguished veteran K-12 teachers to develop a comprehensive set of United States and World history standards. Although these standards are not mandated by the U.S. government, they have profoundly influenced the writing of standards in the states and are increasingly used by teachers throughout the country as curriculum guides. NCHS, based at UCLA, has produced a number of teaching manuals and curriculum units to further aid teachers. These are listed on the NCHS website and those focusing on Asia are included in the UCLA's Asia Institute K-12 Curriculum Resources pages.

Not everyone embraced these standards, however. The Wall Street Journal quoted Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers: "It's a travesty, a caricature of what these things should be -- sort of a cheapshot, leftist point-of-view of history. Everything that is European or American, or that has to do with white people is evil and oppressive, while Genghis Khan is a nice sweet guy just bringing his culture to other places." Ross Dunn, editor of the standards and a professor at San Diego State University, "said he would rather have students graduate from high school knowing less detail about European history, than for them to graduate 'not knowing anything about the history of China, the industrial revolution in Japan or the Middle East, where we just fought a war.'"

[Please note that these are selections from the relevant sections of the standards.]

National World History Standards

Introduction || Emergence || Early Civilizations || Classical Traditions || Expanding Zones of Contact


Developing Standards in World History for Students in Grades 5-12

Significance of History for the Educated Citizen

Setting standards for history in the schools requires a clear vision of the place and importance of history in the general education of all students. The widespread and growing support for more and better history in the schools, beginning in the early grades of elementary education, is one of the more encouraging signs of the decade. The reasons are many, but none are more important to a democratic society than this: Knowledge of history is the precondition of political intelligence. Without history, a society shares no common memory of where it has been, what its core values are, or what decisions of the past account for present circumstances. Without history, we cannot undertake any sensible inquiry into the political, social, or moral issues in society. And without historical knowledge and inquiry, we cannot achieve the informed, discriminating citizenship essential to effective participation in the democratic processes of governance and the fulfillment for all our citizens of the nation's democratic ideals.

Thomas Jefferson long ago prescribed history for all who would take part in self-government because it would enable them to prepare for things yet to come. The philosopher Etienne Gilson noted the special significance of the perspectives history affords. "History," he remarked, "is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought." History opens to students the great record of human experience, revealing the vast range of accommodations individuals and societies have made to the problems confronting them, and disclosing the consequences that have followed the various choices that have been made. By studying the choices and decisions of the past, students can confront today's problems and choices with a deeper awareness of the alternatives before them and the likely consequences of each.

Current problems, of course, do not duplicate those of the past. Essential to extrapolating knowledgeably from history to the issues of today requires yet a further skill, again dependent upon one's understanding of the past: differentiating between (1) relevant historical antecedents that properly inform analyses of current issues and (2) those antecedents that are clearly irrelevant. Students must be sufficiently grounded in historical understanding in order to bring sound historical analysis to the service of informed decision making.

What is required is mastery of what Nietzsche once termed "critical history" and what Gordon Craig has explained as the "ability, after painful inquiry and sober judgment, to determine what part of history [is] relevant to one's current problems and what[is] not," whether one is assessing a situation, forming an opinion, or taking an active position on the issue. In exploring these matters, students will soon discover that history is filled with the high costs of decisions reached on the basis of false analogies from the past as well as the high costs of actions taken with little or no understanding of the important lessons the past imparts.

These learnings directly contribute to the education of the public citizen, but they uniquely contribute to nurturing the private individual as well. Historical memory is the key to self-identity, to seeing one's place in the stream of time, and one's connectedness with all of humankind. We are part of an ancient chain, and the long hand of the past is upon us - for good and for ill - just as our hands will rest on our descendants for years to come. Denied knowledge of one's roots and of one's place in the great stream of human history, the individual is deprived of the fullest sense of self and of that sense of shared community on which one's fullest personal development as well as responsible citizenship depends. For these purposes, history and the humanities must occupy an indispensable role in the school curriculum.

Finally, history opens to students opportunities to develop a comprehensive understanding of the world and of the many societies whose traditions and values may in many ways be different from their own. From a balanced and inclusive world history students may gain an appreciation both of the world's many peoples and of their shared humanity and common problems. Students may also acquire the habit of seeing matters through others' eyes and come to realize that they can better understand themselves as theystudy others. Historical understanding based on such comparative studies in world history does not require approval or forgiveness for the tragedies either of one's own society or of others; nor does it negate the importance of critically examining alternative value systems and their effects in supporting or denying basic human rights and aspirations. Especially important, an understanding of world history can contribute to fostering the kind of mutual patience, respect, and civic courage required in ourincreasingly pluralistic society and interdependent world.

If students are to see ahead more clearly, and be ready to act with judgment and with respect for the shared humanity of all who may be touched by the decisions they as citizens make, then schools must attend to this critical field of the curriculum.

Definition of Standards

Standards in history make explicit the goals that all students should haveopportunity to acquire, if the purposes just considered are to be achieved. In history, standards are of two types:

1. Historical thinking skills that enable students to evaluate evidence, develop comparative and causal analyses, interpret the historical record, and construct sound historical arguments and perspectives on which informed decisions in contemporary life can be based.

2. Historical understandings that define what students should know about the history of their nation and of the world. These understandings are drawn from the record of human aspirations, strivings, accomplishments, and failures in at least five spheres of human activity: the social, scientific/technological, economic, political, and philosophical/religious/aesthetic. They also provide students the historical perspectives required to analyze contemporary issues and problems confronting citizens today.

Historical thinking and understanding do not, of course, develop independently of one another. Higher levels of historical thinking depend upon and are linked to the attainment of higher levels of historical understanding....

Criteria for the Development of Standards

The development of national standards in United States and world history presents a special challenge in deciding what, of the great storehouse of human history, is the most significant for all students to acquire. Perhaps less contentious but no less important is deciding what historical perspectives and what skills in historical reasoning, values analysis, and policy thinking are essential for all students to achieve.

The following criteria, developed and refined over the course of a broad-based national review and consensus process, were adopted by the National Council for History Standards in order to guide the development of history standards for grades kindergarten through 12.

1. Standards should be intellectually demanding, reflect the best historical scholarship, and promote active questioning and learning rather than passive absorption of facts, dates, and names.
2. Such standards should be equally expected of all students and all students should be provided equal access to the curricular opportunities necessary to achieving those standards.
3. Standards should reflect the ability of children from the earliest elementary school years to learn the meanings of history and the methods of historians.
4. Standards should be founded in chronology, an organizing approach that fosters appreciation of pattern and causation in history.
5. Standards should strike a balance between emphasizing broad themes in United States and world history and probing specific historical events, ideas, movements, persons, and documents.
6. All historical study involves selection and ordering of information in light of general ideas and values. Standards for history should reflect the principles of sound historical reasoning careful evaluation of evidence, construction of causal relationships, balanced interpretation, and comparative analysis. The ability to detect and evaluate distortion and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts is essential.
7. Standards should include awareness of, appreciation for, and the ability to utilize a variety of sources of evidence from which historical knowledge is achieved, including written documents, oral tradition, popular culture, literature, artifacts, art and music, historical sites, photographs, and films.
8. Standards for United States history should reflect both the nation's diversity, exemplified by race, ethnicity, social and economic status, gender, region, politics, and religion, and the nation's commonalities. The contributions and struggles of specific groups and individuals should be included.
9. Standards in United States history should contribute to citizenship education through developing understanding of our common civic identity and shared civic values within the polity, through analyzing major policy issues in the nation's history and through developing mutual respect among its many peoples.
10. History Standards should emphasize the nature of civil society and its relationship to government and citizenship. Standards in United States history should address the historical origins of the nation's democratic political system and the continuing development of its ideals and institutions, its controversies, and the struggle to narrow the gap between its ideals and practices. Standards in world history should include different patterns of political institutions, ranging from varieties of democracy to varieties of authoritarianism, and ideas and aspirations developed by civilizations in all parts of the world.
11. Standards in United States and world history should be separately developed but interrelated in content and similar in format. Standards in United States history should reflect the global context in which the nation unfolded; and world history should treat United States history as one of its integral parts.
12. Standards should include appropriate coverage of recent events in United States and world history, including social and political developments and international relations of the post-World War II era.
13. Standards in U.S. history and world history should utilize regional and local history by exploring specific events and movements through case studies and historical research. Local and regional history should enhance the broader patterns of U.S. and world history.
14. Standards in U.S. and world history should integrate fundamental facets of human culture such as religion, science and technology, politics and government, economics, interactions with the environment, intellectual and social life, literature, and the arts.
15. Standards in world history should treat the history and values of diverse civilizations, including those of the West, and should especially address the interactions among them.



Students Should Understand:

The processes that led to the emergence of agricultural societies around the world.

Students Should Be Able to:

2A Demonstrate understanding of how and why humans established settled communities and experimented with agriculture by:

5-12 Inferring from archaeological evidence the technology, social organization, and cultural life of settled farming communities in Southwest Asia. [Draw upon visual sources]

9-12 Describing types of evidence and methods of investigation by which scholars have reconstructed the early history of domestication and agricultural settlement. [Evidence historical perspectives]

9-12 Describing leading theories to explain how and why human groups domesticated wild grains as well as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs after the last Ice Age. [Evaluate major debates among historians]

7-12 Identifying areas in Southwest Asia and the Nile valley where early farming communities probably appeared, and analyzing the environmental and technological factors that made possible experiments with farming in these regions. [Incorporate multiple causation]

Grades 5-6 Examples of student achievement of Standard 2A include:

Define wild and domestic plants and animals and draw charts illustrating differences between wild and domestic crops during the early agricultural period.

Draw upon resources such as Skara Bare by Oliver Dunrea, the story of a prehistoric village in Scotland, in order to create illustrations or dioramas of early farming villages. Dioramas can include cultivated fields and domesticated animals. How did the practice of agriculture influence patterns of human settlement?

Create a "you are there" travel brochure for the early agricultural era. Include information on geographic sites, food production, shelter, specialization, government, and religion.

Grades 7-8 Examples of student achievement of Standard 2A include:

Write an account comparing the daily life of a hunter-gatherer and of an early farmer. What problems and benefits are associated with each way of life?

Analyze illustrations of some of the new tools and other objects, such as sickles, grinding stones, pottery, blades, and needles, that appeared in the early era of agriculture. In what ways are these objects likely to have affected daily life in early far ming settlements?

Use a source such as Richard Leakey's Dawn of Man to determine how human communities might have unconsciously domesticated wheat.

Draw upon evidence developed by scholars to describe the role of fishing as a sedentary but nonagricultural way of life.

Grades 9-12 Examples of student achievement of Standard 2A include:

Drawing evidence from scholarly sources, debate the questions: Did human beings invent or discover agriculture?

Examine archaeological reconstructions of hunter-gatherer and agricultural sites, including objects found there. Compare and contrast these sites posing questions such as: Is the presence of permanent structures evidence for an agricultural community? Is the presence of tools such as grinding stones or sickles evidence for an agricultural society? Is a spear an indication of a hunter-gatherer society? What kind of evidence would reliably distinguish a hunter-gatherer from an agricultural site?

Debate questions such as: What do historians mean by the "Neolithic revolution" and is the term "revolution" used here in a valid way? What does the term "Neolithic" mean? Is this term adequate to explain the complexities of early farming life?

Hypothesize ways in which hunter-gatherer societies could try to gain control over food supplies (such as fertility and hunting magic, protection of self-sown seeds, or confinement of a herd). What part did the ability to store, as well as to control food supplies, play in the "Neolithic revolution"? Were gourds, baskets, and pottery integral or peripheral to the shift toward settled agriculture?

Construct historical arguments to assess the interconnection between agricultural production and cultural change (such as division of labor, change in concept of time, gender roles).

Based on scholarly accounts, construct a hypothesis to explain the development of wild grain husbandry in Southwest Asia.

Students Should Be Able to:

2B Demonstrate understanding of how agricultural societies developed around the world by:

5-12 Analyzing differences between hunter-gatherer and agrarian communities in economy, social organization, and quality of living. [Compare and contrast differing behaviors and institutions]

5-12 Describing social, cultural, and economic characteristics of large agricultural settlements such as =82atal H=9Fyuk or Jericho. [Obtain historical data]

7-12 Analyzing how peoples of West Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Americas domesticated food plants and developed agricultural communities in response to local needs and conditions. [Compare and contrast behaviors and institutions]

7-12 Assessing archaeological evidence from agricultural village sites in Southwest Asia, North Africa, China, or Europe that indicates the emergence of social class divisions, occupational specialization, and differences in roles between men and women. [Hold interpretations of history as tentative]

7-12 Assessing archaeological evidence for long-distance trade in Southwest Asia. [Draw upon visual sources]

9-12 Assessing archaeological evidence for the emergence of complex belief systems, including worship of female deities. [Interrogate historical data]

Grades 5-6 Examples of student achievement of Standard 2B include:

Locate on a map the site of the ancient town of xx and describe the natural environment surrounding this town. Construct a model or illustration of xx and describe daily life in the community. What problems needed to be solved that resul ted from large numbers of people living together on a permanent basis?

Formulate evidence for the comparative lifestyles of hunter-gatherers, fishermen, and farmers. What tools would these different groups need to make a living? How would they make these tools and where would they find materials for manufacturing them?

Explain the development of tropical agriculture in Southeast Asia. What role did bamboo play as a major tool in this area?

Grades 7-8 Examples of student achievement of Standard 2B include:

Construct a map demonstrating possible long-distance trade routes in Southwest Asia. How does archaeological evidence support the routes in this map? What is obsidian, and why was it such an important item of trade?

Make a time line tracing the emergence of agriculture worldwide up to about 4000 BCE, and identify on a world map both the major areas of agricultural production and the distribution of human settlements. Why was it in these areas rather than elsewhere that agriculture became a way of life? What connections are there between the practice of agriculture and the pattern of settlement?

Make a chart comparing the positive and negative effects of agricultural life compared to hunter-gatherer life and debate the following question: Did the emergence of agriculture represent an advance in human social development? What criteria would you us e to evaluate whether or not it was an advance?

Grades 9-12 Examples of student achievement of Standard 2B include:

Analyze pictures of hunter-gatherer sites in places such as Danube fishing villages, the Lascaux caves in France, and hunter sites in northern regions. Contrast these with agricultural sites such as those found in Jericho, Banpo village in North China, and the Tehuac Valley in Mexico. How do hunter-gatherer sites differ from agricultural sites?

Chart the probable differences between a hunting/gathering community of a few dozen people, a village of a few hundred, and a town of several thousand in relation to storage needs, sanitation, social hierarchy, division of labor, gender roles, and protect ion. Find evidence for your hypotheses.

Map the distribution of sites where each of the following kinds of communities was found in the period of about 10,000-4000 BCE: hunter/gatherers; wheat/barley/cattle/sheep farmers; millet farmers; yam farmers; rice farmers; maize/squash farmers. List possible explanations why some groups developed or accepted completely sedentary agriculture, while others partly or fully kept to earlier patterns.

Make inferences based on scholarly evidence to explain the level of social specialization and political organization in such sites as =82atal H=9Fyuk and Jericho. How might the development of patterns for layout, fortification, and standardization transform human culture?

Analyze scholarly evidence to explain the varied methods of crop cultivation. How were methods of agriculture different in Southwest Asia as compared to West Africa and Southeast Asia?



What Students Should Understand

Standard 1: The major characteristics of civilization and how civilizations emerged in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley.

1. How Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley became centers of dense population, urbanization, and cultural innovation [CORE]
2. How commercial and cultural interactions contributed to change in the Tigris-Euphrates, Indus, and Nile regions [RELATED]

Standard 2: How agrarian societies spread and new states emerged in the third and second millennia BCE

1. The emergence of civilization in northern China [CORE]
2. How new centers of agrarian society arose in the third and second millennia BCE [RELATED]

Standard 3: The political, social, and cultural consequences of population movements and militarization in Eurasia in the second millennium BCE

1. How population movements from western and central Asia affected peoples of India, Southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean region [CORE]
2. The social and cultural effects that militarization and the emergence of new kingdoms had on peoples of Southwest Asia and Egypt [CORE]
3. The development of new cultural patterns in northern India [RELATED]


What Students Should Understand

Standard 1: Innovation and change from 1000-600 BCE: horses, ships, iron, and monotheistic faith

A. How state-building, trade, and migrations led to increasingly complex interrelations among peoples of the Mediterranean basin and Southwest Asia [CORE]

D. How pastoral nomadic peoples of Central Asia began to play an important role in world history [RELATED]

Standard 2: The emergence of Aegean civilization and how interrelations developed among peoples of the eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia, 600-200 BCE

Standard 3: How major religions and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean basin, China, and India, 500 BCE-300 CE

C. The unification of China under the early imperial dynasties [CORE]

D. Religious and cultural developments in India in the era of the Gangetic states and the Maurya empire [CORE]



What Students Should Understand

Standard 1: Imperial crises and their aftermath, 300-700 CE

1. The decline of the Roman and Han empires [CORE]
2. The expansion of Christianity and Buddhism beyond the lands of their origin CORE]
3. The synthesis of Hindu civilization in India in the era of the Gupta Empire [CORE]
4. Hindu and Buddhist expansion in Southeast Asia in the first millennium CE RELATED]

Standard 2: Causes and consequences of the rise of Islamic civilization in the 7th-10th centuries

1. The emergence of Islam and how Islam spread in Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Europe [CORE]

Standard 3: Major developments in East Asia in the era of the Tang dynasty, 600-900 CE

1. Political and cultural expansion in Tang China [CORE]
2. Chinese influence on the peoples of Inner Asia, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan [RELATED]





May 28, 2020 - 4:00pm

Please join the USC U.S.-China Institute for an online discussion with Nick Cull to look at the impact of the Covid 19 crisis on the battle of images between the United States and China.