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Early Civilizations

Course Overview

This survey course of the five “big eras” of ancient times will examine the overarching global themes, patterns, and connections found throughout history. After a quick overview of the Big Bang theory, the development of our universe and our planet, and the evolution of humans, students will focus on analyzing what is uniquely human, look at some of the first human settlements, and determine the differences between archeology and history. Next, students will examine the development of agriculture, specialization of jobs, and the world’s first civilizations before exploring the rise of the major world empires. Our examination of ancient history will end in the middle ages. Throughout the course, students will learn to analyze primary documents and compare and contrasting these with various secondary sources; engage in increasingly sophisticated academic discussions; and learn the basic principles of writing about (and presenting on!) history. The course utilizes a large variety of curricular materials, many of which were designed specifically for this class, and includes materials designed by the World History for Us All symposium, the Advanced Placement World History curriculum, and many others.

Course Content

Unit 1: Big Era 1

In this unit, students will look at Earth’s landmasses and how they are represented on maps. Additionally, they will look at how time is measured and represented. We are taking time to look over these topics so that we have a base of understanding and a common language as we embark on our ancient history journey. After the maps we will look at the beginning of the universe, how our planet is still changing, and our earliest human ancestors. Assignments for this unit include short diagnostic writing assignments, academic discussions, and a culminating exam.

Unit 2: Big Era 2

In this unit, students will be taking a look at our ancestors. How did we move from the single-celled organism to being the complex homo sapien of today? Historians rely on the expertise of several disciplines outside of history in order to piece together the story of Homo sapiens. In Big Era 2 we will consider the following: the earliest of our ancestors and the various changes they underwent; language and art and how it sets us apart, or does not set us apart, from other animals; collective learning; and finally what we can learn about ourselves from other species. We will also compare how scholars from multiple disciplines approach human history. Tasks for this unit include shorter writing assignments, small collaborative projects, and a culminating exam.

Unit 3: Big Era 3

Big Era 3 starts with the move from nomadic to agricultural lifestyles, and focuses largely on the major civilizations that flourished between 10,000 and 1000 BCE. These civilizations include the people of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and the people of the Indus Valley. As historians, we can compare and contrast the technological advances, belief systems, and societal organizations of groups that existed in different places at right around the same time period. For the first time in our studies, we’ll be looking closely at culture. How do we define culture? How do cultures differ, and how are the universal?

How did the cultures of these ancient people influence our culture today? The years that make up Big Era 3 were a turning point that brought early humans close to the way we live today. The assignments for this unit include a large scale charting task, smaller writing assignments, and a culminating exam.

Unit 4: Big Era 4, Part I

This era, which covers roughly 1000 BCE to 1 CE, is characterized by intense population growth. Factors such as advanced tool making, increasingly agrarian lifestyles, and collective learning helped to fuel this population boom. While this type of growth happened all over the world, we are going to be focusing on major civilizations in China, Africa, and the Americas for the first half of this unit, and Indo-mediterranea during the second half. This unit also focuses on the differences between primary and secondary sources. This tasks for this unit include graded discussions and debates, and shorter collaborative assignments.

Unit 5: Big Era 4, Part II

Big Era 4 is rather short, covering only 1000 years of human history. Yet so much happened all of the world during this period that it’s necessary to break our learning up into two units. While Part I of the unit covered Africa, China, and the Amerinds, Part II will focus on the Indo-Mediterranean Empires, Greece, and Rome. Along with shorter writing and collaborative assignments, students will also prepare a large-scale presentation on one of the major world religions. The unit will end in a culminating exam that covers Parts I and II of Big Era 4.

Unit 6: Big Era 5

Big Era 5 takes us all the way to 1500 CE and the edge of the Renaissance. This era saw massive population growth and interregional migration patterns; people, goods, and ideas traveled from one place to another via expanded and strengthened trade networks. It was a time of both unprecedented growth and unprecedented destruction. In short, it was a fascinating time, and one that will require some in depth exploration. For this unit, we will focus on two major places: medieval Europe and the Mongolian Empire. Students will conduct research and present information about specific topics in Medieval Europe. The semester will end with an analytical and persuasive essay that draw on both primary and secondary sources.