Scholars blast decision to cut 8,000 years from AP World History

Students and scholars are up in arms over a decision to cut thousands of years from the Advanced Placement World History curriculum, with some historians fretting it will make the course too “Western-centric.”

“The College Board wants to remove over 8,000 of those years, and start the course in 1450 CE,” declares a petition seeking to prevent the change, which had already exceeded 11,000 signatures by press time.

“AP World History covers, as of 2018, 10,000 years of human history stretching from the Americas, to Europe, to East Asia, and everywhere else,” the petition explains. “The class is demanding on students, but is also one of the most rewarding, life changing classes I’ve ever had the privilege to take.” 

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According to the College Board, the AP World History curriculum “will assess content only from c. 1450 through the present” starting in the 2019-2020 school year, though “the exam format and rubrics will stay the same.”

“AP World History teachers have told us over the years that the scope of content is simply too broad, and that they often need to sacrifice depth to cover it all in a single year,” the organization notes, adding that “colleges and universities typically do not cover all of world history in a single course, but in two or more separate courses,” yet still award just one course credit for AP World History “even though the current course covers the scope of two or more college semesters.”

To address that disparity, the College Board is creating a new course called Pre-AP World History and Geography, which will cover world history between the years 600 BCE and 1450.

Teachers will still be allowed to teach early world history in the abridged AP World History course, but the official exam will cover only subject matter from 1450 to the present.

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As the petition points out, eliminating early world history from the curriculum means passing over such critical events as the Neolithic/Agricultural revolution, the creation of the first civilizations, the migrations of humans across the earth, the development of world religions, the beginnings of interactions and trade, and the entire history of pre-colonial Americas and Africa. 

“College Board, we students and teachers call on YOU to fix this vital error,” the petition concludes. “Without periods 1-3, a historical foundation can’t be built, and they are some of the most important in history.”

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In addition to the large number of signatures on the petition, opponents of the new course structure appear to have some allies in academic organizations, as well.

“As you may know, we were quite critical of the previously revised AP US History exams, as well as the AP exams for European history,” Glenn Ricketts, public affairs director for the National Association of Scholars (NAS), told Campus Reform

“Especially with the US History exam, the initial revisions gave students no sense of the major events in American history—the Founding, the development of Constitutional government, etc.,” Ricketts explained. “College Board did respond to the criticism of NAS and a number of very distinguished historians, but repeated the same tendencies in the European AP course, which once again seemed to reflect the lens of the present, rather than the examination of the past on its own terms.”

Ricketts cautioned, however, that “we’ll have to wait and see what happens with the revised World History course.”

“For me personally, I’m skeptical that it’s possible to compress ‘world history’ into the space of a high school or college course,” he asserted. “By necessity, you’d have to cut too many corners, and shoehorn a huge amount of contrasts and unique aspects of individual civilizations into a pre-cut conceptual cul-de-sac. Thirty pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag, you might say.”

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The American Historical Association, meanwhile, sent a letter to the College Board earlier this month attacking the changes from the left, arguing that focusing only on recent history would make the course too “Western-centric.”

“While recognizing the challenges of teaching the current course with its broad scope, the AHA believes that this particular revision is likely to reduce the teaching of precolonial histories at the high school level,” wrote AHA President Mary Beth Norton and Executive Director James Grossman. “It risks creating a Western-centric perspective at a time when history as a discipline and world history as a field have sought to restore as many voices as possible to the historical record and the classroom.”

To address this, the AHA letter calls on the College Board to consult with “leading practitioners in the field before implementing such a significant change,” offering to “organize conversations between the College Board and historians who teach in various classroom contexts.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @The_MasonMcKie