Teaching history and geography:
The goal of education - Combining history and geography - The nature of history - Why teach history? - What to teach - How to teach - Learning and thinking - A note to new teachers

Combining world history & geography

"...geography is by nature the constant companion of historical studies; it is hardly possible to grasp the one without the other." -Bradley Commission on History in Schools

"The historical record is inextricably linked to the geographic setting in which it developed." -National Standards for History

"History is concerned with understanding the temporal dimension of human experience (time and chronology). Geography is concerned with understanding the spatial dimension of human experience (space and place)." - National Geography Standards

"Key concepts of geography, such as location, place, and region are tied inseparably to major ideas of history such as time, period, and events. Geography and history in tandem enable learners to understand how events and places have affected each other across time..." -Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), U.S. Department of Education

Because world history and geography are inseparable, they are treated as essentially one subject on this website. When the term "history" is encountered here, it may generally be considered to include geography. History is the broader field, encompassing all of human experience. Geography's concern is somewhat narrower, focusing on human interaction with the physical environment. Therefore, geography is a major constituent of world history along with other human-centered disciplines such as political science, anthropology, sociology, economics and the arts.

The relationship between history and geography is especially close because they represent two fundamental dimensions of the same phenomenon. History views human experience from the perspective of time, geography from the perspective of space. These dimensions of time and space are locked in a symbiotic dance, a perpetual interactive feedback loop in which one dimension is constantly affecting the other. (More on this relationship, see "history and geography.")

This website advocates the integration of world history and geography in school because to do otherwise makes little sense. World history and geography are so fully intertwined that they might usefully be considered one subject at the pre-college level.

Acknowledging this reality, the Bradley Commission on History in the Schools suggested in 1988 that world history and geography be taught as a combined subject. The California Department of Education has adopted a combined approach, as have a number of other schools across the country. A 1993 report by the U.S. Department of Education's ERIC Clearinghouse noted the "utility and logic of teaching and learning geography through courses in American history and world history." *

At my high school world history and geography are integrated and taught over a two-year period during the 9th and 10th grades rather than teaching the subjects separately for one year each as was the former practice. It only makes sense. Combining world history and geography offers significant benefits:

Here are some illustrations of how historic and geographic knowledge are integrated in the textbook alternative called the Student's Friend, available on this website:

-Each unit includes several map identification locations to be learned in relation to the historical events that occurred there.

-Concrete historical examples of the "five themes" or "essential elements" of geography** appear throughout the Student's Friend. For example, the theme of "movement" is encountered as Homo Erectus moved out of Africa, Hebrews were taken in chains to Babylon, roads connected the vast Roman trading empire, ocean-going Vikings settled in England and France, Europeans extended ocean trade around the world and migrated to America, the steam engine changed the nature of travel and trade, East Germans fled to West Berlin, and Kosivars were expelled from Serbia.

-The role of plate tectonics is encountered with the formation of the Earth, fossil remains discovered in the Great Rift Valley, the physical barrier presented by the Himalayas, and the locations of the Japanese archipelago and the Andes mountains.

-The concept of region is introduced during the unit on Mesopotamia, a region within the larger agricultural region known as the Fertile Crescent that lies within the still larger region known as the Middle East.

-The geographic term "strait" is introduced when studying the migrations of early peoples to America over the Bering Strait during the Ice Ages. Another strait helped to save the ancient Greeks from Persian conquest.

-The term "isthmus" is introduced during the unit on Ancient Greece when describing the neck of land connecting the Greek mainland to the Peloponnese peninsula, source of the term "Peolponnesian War." The term is encountered again with the Panama Canal.

-The concepts of latitude and longitude are discussed within two historical contexts, their origin with the ancient Greek scholar Ptolemy and their implications for Columbus's voyages to America.

-The concept of cultural diffusion is considered in several contexts including Alexander the Great's conquests in Asia, travel over the Silk Road connecting China to the Roman Empire, the Crusades when Europeans gained advanced knowledge from the Muslin world, and nineteenth century European imperialism.

These few examples among many reveal how student understanding is enhanced when history and geography are studied together. For suggestions about combining the teaching of world history and geography at your school, see Using the Student's Friend, About the two-year sequence.

* Patrick, John J., "Geography in History: A Necessary Connection in the School Curriculum," ERIC Digests, ERIC Clearinghouse of Social Studies/Social Science Education, Bloomington, Indiana, 1993

**The five themes of geography are: location, place, human/environment interaction, movement, and region. The six essential elements from the National Geography Standards are: the world in spatial terms, places and regions, physical systems, human systems, environment and society, the uses of geography.

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