Opinion: Is There Diversity in the AP World History Curriculum?

Kara Anaya, Grade 10, Staff Writer

Every student at the High School of American Studies takes an AP World History course during their freshman and sophomore years. The history of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean is studied, but the majority of the course is focused on Europe. Though it may seem as if the curriculum covers all regions of the world, too many events and groups of people are omitted.

The first months of the curriculum, during which students learn about Asian, Middle Eastern, and African empires, are arguably the most diverse. However, these units are cursory; customs and cultures are barely discussed. Instead, students learn about the major leaders, what they did, and the interactions these countries had while trading with one another. It is a brief synopsis of the places that existed before Europeans began to dominate the world.

A large emphasis at the beginning of the course is on the trade between Eurasian and African powers. When discussing the Silk Road and the Swahili Coast, for example, teachers did not explain in detail the intricacies of the cultures, with students mainly learning about the natural resources available for trade. Students also learned about different religions but focused primarily on Christianity, and not as much on the importance of animism or other smaller religions.


Once the Europeans were brought into the picture, the regions containing people of color were not covered as much in the curriculum. Lessons presented these regions only in their relation to Europe.


Ms. Peterson, a freshman global history and AP World History teacher at HSAS, believes the issue to be a complicated one because the people who most affected history during the time period are white: “Absolutely the AP Modern curriculum is very eurocentric because if you want to look at who was shaping/making history in the time period, it was predominantly Europeans – think Age of Exploration, slave trade, scientific revolution, industrialization and imperialism, etc.”


On the College Board website, Unit 6, Lesson 3, is titled “Indigenous Responses to State Expansion from 1750 to 1900.” This lesson is the first time that the name “indigenous” is included in the title of a lesson. Even so, the focus of the lesson was how the indigenous people rebelled against Europeans who were expanding into their territory. One example discussed was the Xhosa cattle-killing movement, an act of rebellion against British settlers in South Africa. Another incident was the Túpac Amaru Rebellion, an uprising against the Spanish powers in Peru. These were all reactions, as opposed to the acts of people who are protagonists themselves.


While there is a separate class for AP European History, AP World History also leans heavily towards the history of Europe. Though the written texts and the conquering nature of European nations makes their impact on the world easier to study, this does not mean that the AP World History curriculum cannot include a range of voices.


Ms. Peterson explained that she also believes there is room for improvement amongst teachers and the College Board for better educating students on non-Europeans. “What the College Board and we, as AP World teachers, could do better is to pull in more of the voices of non-Europeans,” she said. “The biggest obstacle we have to expanding the curriculum in AP World is time. The class is a survey course, so we don't have much time for deep dives on much of anything.”


Ms. Peterson continued by explaining how she was working towards enhancing her curriculum: “This summer, for example, I took a week-long course on modern Middle Eastern politics and culture with a mind to expanding and revising my curriculum so that it better represents those voices and perspectives.”


In 2020, when people are speaking up about the necessity to acknowledge the value of every race, there need to be changes to the AP World History curriculum so that it lives up to its name and educates students on the history of the entire world.