More Criticism of AP World History Timeline

July 25, 2018

While some have praised the College Board’s recent decision to begin its Advanced Placement World History exam in 1200 instead of 1450, as previously planned, concerns linger. The World History Association previously urged the board to “not to truncate the time depth of the course but rather to reassess the density of topics” in a concept timeline. Currently, the exam covers about 10,000 years of history, and the board and some teachers say that’s too much for one year of high school. So the 1200 start date, announced last week, is a concession to critics who said another plan to begin exam questions around the year 1450 risked making world history too centered on Europe. In introducing the 1200 decision, the board said it tentatively planned to create another AP course on ancient world history.

In response to the 1200 start date, the World History Association again wrote to the College Board, quoting its first letter, saying that this “does violence to the basic premises of the field,” for “only by examining the human past over the very long term can we discern the shared history of our humanity.” And “promising to look into offering a course on world history before 1200 is no solution,” Merry Wiesner-Hanks, distinguished professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and president of the World History Association, wrote in the follow-up letter to Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and instruction at the board. Wiesner-Hanks also expressed concern about the pace of change, saying that 2019 was too soon for teachers to develop a “thoughtful and coherent course in what is basically overnight, as professional development for the revised course would have to begin this fall.”

Amanda DoAmaral, a K-12 educator who previously challenged Packer about the 1450 plan, said via email that a start date of 1200 instead of 1450 “is virtually the same and does not address our concerns of the post-classical era removed from assessment.” The extra 250 years include the Mongol Empire and Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire, “two of our major grievances,” she said, but “still excludes several West African empires, Chinese dynasties and the Islamic caliphates, who were all crucial in the development of the modern world. Starting the course in 1200 is detrimental to students and is especially offensive to students of color.”

The board said in a statement Tuesday that it “engaged with a range of stakeholders -- teachers, students, college faculty, leading historical organizations and other advocates -- to understand concerns and identify the best approach for changes to the AP World History course. We heard from those who brought to light principled concerns and opportunities for improvements.”

That feedback “underscored that we share the same priorities: engaging students in the rich histories of civilizations across the globe and ensuring that such important content is given the time it deserves,” the board said. “We’re grateful for the principled feedback from the world history community. We believe this new approach -- which represents the unanimous position of the AP World History Development committee -- will best serve students and educators, balance course breadth and depth, and honor the full, essential story of human history. We're grateful for those who support these changes and we equally respect the views of those who still have concerns.”

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