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Patterns in Modern History

Course Overview

In this survey course of the four “big eras” of modern times, this course examines the overarching global themes, patterns, and connections found throughout history. The course is divided into five major units that connect through major themes, including: the impact of economics and differing economic systems; types of government and power; and multicultural communication, cooperation, competition, and interdependence. The central thesis for the course is: the human experience has been one of diminishing and evolving progress throughout time as it has been influenced by the political, social, and economic conditions of the world. Each unit will connect back to this central thesis and explore the ways in which we see this pattern continuing and evolving over time.

General Unit Structure

The duration of units and topics will depend on the length of the time span covered, the sources consulted, and student interest. Each unit includes primary and secondary readings, weekly discussions, and writing exercises of various lengths accompanied by brief lectures and occasional tertiary sources (i.e. textbooks). Throughout the year, students are also working on independent research, synthesis, and analysis in creating a personal Timeline portfolio.

Adjustments will be made as necessary to meet the interests of the students and to maintain reasonable expectations (workload, reading/writing sophistication, etc). The course meets in real-time, online through video conferencing software for three hours each week. Much of live class time will revolve around student-centered discussions of primary source materials while asynchronous work will involve secondary source readings, synthesizing the course materials, and projects. Since an important element of this course is to develop historiographical awareness, secondary sources will include scholarly work – essays, journal articles, and book chapters – written by professional historians and political scientists.

Course Content

Unit 1: Becoming Modern

This unit begins with an exploration of historical thinking and works to define the term “modern.” Through these discussions, students are made familiar with the course objectives and the types of skills that will be developed by the work they will do. From there, students begin to apply these historical thinking skills to studying the early events of the “modern” era. As each historical event is introduced and discussed, students make connections about the social, political, and economic conditions that led to the event and how that event has impacted future events.

Unit Topics:

  • Introduction to Modern History & Historical Thinking
  • Renaissance & Reformation
  • Scientific Revolution & Enlightenment
  • Absolute Power in Europe
  • The Protestant Reformation


Unit 2: Revolutions

In the second unit, students continue to expand their ability to think historically and use primary and secondary sources to inform their thinking about historical events. The unit begins with a review of the Enlightenment to help students make the connections between the shifting ideas of that time and the tumultuous period of revolution that follows. Then, students will explore the American Revolution briefly in order to see how these conflicts become global as a result of colonization and imperialism, a theme that will appear throughout history. Then, students will develop an understanding of the French Revolution as a response to social, political, and economic conditions, another theme that will appear throughout history. The unit concludes with one-on-one student conferences where students have the opportunity to reflect on their burgeoning historical thinking skills and to process through the Timeline Portfolio that they have been working on throughout these first two units of the year.

Unit Topics:

  • Impact of the Enlightenment
  • American Revolution
  • French Revolution


Unit 3: Industrialization

In this short unit, students will work to build an understanding of the major shifts that happen in the world as a result of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the human condition. After studying a time of revolution, students will begin to see the pattern of revolution and advancement that leads ultimately to shifts in power and further revolution. The unit concludes with a close look at the growing imperialism throughout the world as a precursor to World War.

Unit Topics:

  • Industrialism
  • Imperialism


Unit 4: The World at War

This extended unit is broken into two parts for the students. The first focuses on World War I by looking at the social, political, and economic reasons for the war. In addition to understanding the causes of World War I, students will also gain a basic understanding of how the war takes place and how it impacts other conflicts, like the Russian Revolution. In preparation for moving into World War II, students will learn about how leaders attempted to quell the conflict and the resulting rise of dictatorships in the power vacuum created by the war. The second part of the unit focuses on World War II by exploring the similarities between the two conflicts and discussing how the same causes lead to another global conflict. To focus on the global nature of World War II, students will dive into the events in the different fronts separately while making connections between them. The unit ends with a look at how the world has changed after World War II.

Unit Topics:

  • Causes of World War I
  • Mobilization for World War I
  • Russian Revolution
  • Ending of World War I
  • Rise of Dictators
  • Between World Wars
  • Rise of Nationalism
  • Appeasement
  • Japan Before World War II
  • World War II in Europe
  • World War II in the Pacific
  • Post-World War II


Unit 5: The Cold War

This unit looks specifically at the time after World War II known as the Cold War. Students explore the origins of the Cold War by reviewing the end of World War II and how these events could lead to animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union. Students move chronologically through this era by looking at the Cold War in several decades and locations. Throughout this unit, students make connections to the world they live in today as well as to the conflicts and situations of the past that lead to the Cold War. The unit ends by exploring the idea of winning and losing in the Cold War and how this is still a question to be discussed today.

Unit Topics:

  • Origins of the Cold War
  • Testing the Cold War
  • The Cold War in the 70s & 80s
  • The Middle East in the Cold War
  • The End of the Cold War


Unit 6: A New World Order

In this final unit of the year, students will learn about the United Nations and how it functions by participating in a Model United Nations Conference. During this unit, students work in small groups to research a self-selected crisis in a country of interest to them and prepare a resolution and persuasive presentation to gain support for their solution to the crisis. Throughout this study, students display the culmination of their historical thinking skills by showcasing their ability to connect ideas across time and geography and use effective research, including primary sources.

Unit Topics – Roughly Spans 4 Weeks:

  • Introduction to the United Nations
  • Writing Resolutions
  • Research
  • Creating Presentations