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Contending Voices: Problems in World History

A blog devoted to the research and teaching of the history of humanity, aimed at enlivening the teaching of history, linking it to current social problems and debates.


A mountain road in Ethiopia, photo by Clay Knight/Unsplash

Ethnic Groups Make History

In his new book, historian James Quirin examines the oral traditions, cultural practices, and written records of the Beta Israel, a community of farmers and artisans who lived near the Ethiopian kingdom. Quirin uncovers a lively historical record, showing how small ethnic groups can create significant historical change.

Grand Canyon, photo by Omer Nezih Gerek/Unsplash

UNESCO—the U.S. Rejoins

The United States is set to rejoin UNESCO. As a member state, the U.S. will pay annual dues and participate in global discussions ranging from global cultural heritage to regulations on the use of artificial intelligence.

A protester with a megaphone, photo by Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

V-Dem 2023 Report on Global Democracy

V-Dem's 2023 Democracy Report shows that the overall level of democracy has, in recent years, fallen back to levels not seen since 1986. This essay helps readers explore the report to evaluate the details of democracy and autocracy in any nation

Traffic free shopping on a Sunday in Ginza, Tokyo

How Are Ideas About Evolution Evolving? Part Three

This essay, the conclusion of a three-part series, explores the seventh phase of human evolution: the expanding scale of social organization.

Image of the output from a DNA sequencer

How Are Ideas About Evolution Evolving? Part Two

This post—the second in a three-part series—builds on the main categories and dynamics of human evolutionary change established in part one. I outline six phases of human evolution, exploring different models and hypotheses of growth and change.

Jaw bone of a gazelle from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. Photo by Teresa Steele/UC Davis

How Are Ideas About Evolution Evolving? Part One

When and how did Homo sapiens become a species? What are the roles of subgroups and migration in human evolution? The first in a three-part series, this post reviews six main categories of human evolutionary change and considers how each of them might lead to unification and/or differentiation of the human species.

Photo by Joshua Olsen/Unsplash

The Teaching of World History Around the Globe

Two recent books—when reviewed together—tell a century-long story of world history education on a global scale, accounting for almost half of the world’s high school students.

Light shines into the water just below the ocean's surface, photo by Cristian Palmer/Unsplash

Reading Oceanic History

Oceans are no longer as blank and watery separators of continents; they are dynamic containers of historical change. New studies and recently published works show both slow and rapid change in oceans—and how much of our past has been enacted on the waters.

Photo of a lime quarry by Ivan Bandura

The Lithosphere

The extraction of minerals from the Earth today—the most dangerous change in our environmental crisis—is also essential to life as we know it. In a 2017 interview, ecological historian Gregory Cushman explains his work on humanity’s relationship with the lithosphere and provides valuable insights into this issue.

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo/Unsplash

The Case for ‘Bottom-Up’ History

The “bottom-up” approach to world history focuses on the most basic elements of human existence. It identifies problems and explores them through individual and group behavior, relying on multiple disciplines, especially anthropology. The objective is to link basic levels of society to the higher scales of activity. The work of E.P. Thompson provides valuable context.

Sketch of a Cottage Yard, Winslow Homer (c. 1876)

Diasporas—Amidst Empires and Nations

Peoples of the world are divided today into nations, which replaced the empires that dominated in earlier centuries. But that is not all. Diasporas took shape as millions of people migrated from their homelands, linking common cultures across geographical and political boundaries.

Azadi Square in Tehran, 2017. Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh

Interactions in History

The events of history do not happen in a vacuum. Societies are deeply connected through their cultures and the exchange of ideas and values; they constantly interact and influence one another. This academic exercise helps students explore such interactions more deeply.