World History

















































































Introduction: Waves of History

World history is the story of human experience. It is a story of how people, ideas, and goods spread across the earth creating our past and our present. To help us better understand this experience, we will divide history into four main eras: Prehistory, Ancient Times, Middle Ages, and Modern Times. Our story begins during Prehistory in east Africa where human life began. From Africa humans spread to Eurasia (Europe and Asia), to Australia, and finally to the Americas. Human migration was one of the great waves of history.

During most of history, most humans made their living by hunting and gathering. Then about 12,000 years ago, people in the Middle East learned how to cultivate a wild wheat plant, and agriculture was born—another great wave of history. No longer were humans constantly on the move searching for food. People could settle in one place, build cities, and make inventions like the plow, wheel, and writing. The complex societies that resulted are what we call civilization, another wave of history and the start of Ancient Times. In terms of a human lifetime, waves of change moved slowly, and much stayed the same amid the changes.

Waves of history were channeled over the earth by geography. The first civilizations arose in river valleys where rivers provided fresh water for raising crops and transportation for moving crops to market. Beginning in Mesopotamia, civilization spread west to Egypt and east to India. These three civilizations formed an early international trading network that eventually extended across the connected lands of Eurasia and North Africa, a vast region that lies in a temperate climate zone where most of the world’s people have lived since prehistoric times. More people meant more ideas, more inventions, and more diseases than in other parts of the world. Waves of change took longer to reach sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas because they were separated from Eurasia by physical barriers of desert and ocean.

As agriculture replaced hunting and gathering, human population increased. People in civilized societies divided themselves into unequal social classes with priests and kings at the top. Wealthy landowners collected rent payments from poor farmers, men came to dominate women, and slavery became common. In the grasslands of central Eurasia, nomadic people chose not to settle down and raise crops. They lived by herding animals from pasture to pasture with the seasons. They learned to ride horses, developed cavalry skills, and attacked settled communities. Sometimes these nomadic raiders conquered great civilizations.


During ancient times people in Eurasia invented many things that still define civilization today such as money, armies, iron, math, literature, democracy, and major world religions—to name a few. Ancient times lasted for roughly 4,000 years, ending about 500 AD after nomadic raiders brought down great classical civilizations in India, China, and the Mediterranean. The Middle Ages followed and lasted a thousand years.

Change spread to new places mostly through trading contacts. Some people welcomed change, while others avoided change and tried to maintain traditional ways. In the late middle ages, China was a superpower with the greatest navy in the world until China's rulers chose to reduce contact with the outside world and dismantled the fleet. This choice opened the door for Europeans to make the great voyages of discovery that connected the world and began Modern Times around the year 1500. Change was moving faster now.

Three centuries later, Europeans learned how to power machines by burning fuels, unleashing the Industrial Revolution—another great wave of history. Change moved even faster. At first, Europeans used their machines to dominate other peoples of the world who lacked advanced technology. Then Europeans turned their machines on each other, launching two suicidal world wars that ended European world dominance.

The stream of time flows on. As always, we humans face challenges to our survival, but in our time the challenges are global. Modern technology is consuming the world’s resources, threatening the earth’s environment, and it has produced weapons that could end all human life. The world is tied together through communications and trade, but the world remains divided between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

History created our past and our present, but the future is up to us. There is no instruction manual for the future, but we do have a guide that shows how the world works and how humans behave. That guide is history.

Prehistory = the historical period before written records.

Ancient Times = the historical period between 3500 BC and 500 AD.

Middle Ages = the historical period between 500 AD and 1500 AD.

Modern Times =the historical period between 1500 AD and the present