Themes in world history

While historical events are unique, they often are driven by similar, repeated forces. In telling the history of our world, one needs to pay special attention to eight significant and recurring themes. These themes are presented to show that from America to Africa, to Asia, people are more alike than they realize. Throughout history, humans have confronted similar obstacles, have struggled to achieve similar goals, and continually have strived to better themselves and the world around them.

Theme 1: Power and Authority

History is often made by the people and institutions in power. As you read about the world’s powerful people and governments, try to answer several key questions.

• Who holds the power?

• How did that person or group get power?

• What system of government provides order in this society?

• How does the group or person in power keep or lose power?

Theme 2: Religious and Ethical Systems

Throughout history, humans around the world have been guided by, as much as anything else, their religious and ethical beliefs. As you examine the world’s religious and ethical systems, pay attention to several important issues.

• What beliefs are held by a majority of people in a region?

• How do these major religious beliefs differ from one another?

• How do the various religious groups interact with one another?

• How do religious groups react toward non-members?

Theme 3: Revolution

Often in history, great change has been achieved only through force. As you read about the continuous overthrow of governments, institutions, and even ideas throughout history, examine several key questions.

• What long-term ideas or institutions are being overthrown?

• What caused people to make this radical change?

• What are the results of the change?

Theme 4: Interaction with Environment

Since the earliest of times, humans have had to deal with their surroundings in order to survive. As you read about our continuous interaction with the environment, keep in mind several important issues.

• How do humans adjust to the climate and terrain where they live?

• How have changes in the natural world forced people to change?

• What positive and negative changes have people made to their environment?

Theme 5: Economics

Economics has proven to be a powerful force in human history. From early times to the present, human cultures have been concerned with how to use their scarce resources to satisfy their needs. As you read about different groups, note several key issues regarding the role of economics in world history.

• What goods and services does a society produce?

• Who controls the wealth and resources of a society?

• How does a society obtain more goods and services?

Theme 6: Cultural Interaction

Today, people around the world share many things, from music, to food, to ideas. Human cultures actually have interacted with each other since ancient times. As you read about how different cultures have interacted, note several significant issues.

• How have cultures interacted (trade, migration, or conquest)?

• What items have cultures passed on to each other?

• What political, economic, and religious ideas have cultures shared?

• What positive and negative effects have resulted from cultural interaction?

Theme 7: Empire Building

Since the beginning of time, human cultures have shared a similar desire to grow more powerful—often by dominating other groups. As you read about empire building through the ages, keep in mind several key issues.

• What motivates groups to conquer other lands and people?

• How does one society gain control of others?

• How does a dominating society control and rule its subjects?

Theme 8: Science and Technology

All humans share an endless desire to know more about their world and to solve whatever problems they encounter. The development of science and technology has played a key role in these quests. As you read about the role of science and technology in world history, try to answer several key questions.

• What tools and methods do people use to solve the various problems they face?

• How do people gain knowledge about their world? How do they use that knowledge?

• How do new discoveries and inventions change the way people live?

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