Intro to Modern World History

2 Periodization

Shelley Rose


Fact. 1500 is a somewhat random year to begin a course. Indeed, the starting date for any history course is chosen by the instructor after careful consideration of historical context and the goals of the particular course. When historians offer a specific time frame for a narrative, in this case a world history narrative, they must choose a beginning and end point in time to help their audience contextualize the narrative. This is known as “periodization.” Even the personal narrative you created in Chapter 1 has a periodization. You chose a starting and end point for your own story, often your birth date or a childhood event, but that does not mean that the world did not exist before that day. For example, your parents’ personal narratives extend before and after the beginning point of your own periodization. The same process occurs in world history. While historians may study global events from a particular national context, the narratives they create often overlap in time and space.

Fact. Modern World History courses often begin in 1500. A simple reason for this is the fact that many narratives of world history we encounter in the United States are written from a “western” or “Anglo-American” perspective. These narratives center world history on the economic, political, and cultural exchanges across the Atlantic Ocean after Columbus’ voyages in 1492, contributing to a “rise of the West” thesis (a.k.a argument) for the narrative. As is the case with all historical narratives, this is one interpretation. The pre-1500 world was not centered on the Atlantic Ocean, but on the trade routes of the Silk Road in Asia, the Sahara Desert in Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Here we will focus on what the world looked like just before 1500 and how that global system differed in many ways from the post-1500 interactions between historical actors.

Objectives: After completing Chapter 2, you will be able to:

  • Identify the key economic and political powers in the pre-1500 world
  • Understand the importance of the Indian Ocean in pre-1500 networks
  • Explain the cause of the Black Death, its relationship to the Mongol Empire, and its long term consequences for world history

Global Connections & Sites of Exchange

  1. Read “The Mongols in World History” on the Asia for Educators site.
  2. Listen to the 15-Minute History podcast “Indian Ocean Trade from its Origins to the Eve of Imperialism” with Susan Douglass. You may also want to explore her website:  As you listen to the podcast, think about how geography affected the development of trading routes in the Indian Ocean region.

Information Literacy & Historical Thinking 

Maps are important primary sources for historians, especially those interested in interaction and geography like Susan Douglass. In this section you will analyze a map as a primary source.

  1. Visit Locate the Indian Ocean and choose an historical map of the region created no later than the 1800s.
  2. Analyze your map using the historical thinking worksheet. Post your worksheet to your learning platform.

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