Globalizing U.S. History: The Why and How (includes lesson plans)

globe-handsIt is essential to be able to answer the “Why?” of teaching and learning. This is especially true when convincing teachers to reframe a national history and situate it in a global context.

But addressing the “How?” is an equally important conversation that moves theory into practice. of globalizing US History.  Not the whole course, but decide to consciously expand the context from the arbitrary national borders to a networked reality where the U.S. interacts with world.

Start small and be intentional and explicit…. with students.  Instead of using a dominant Military, Economic, Political perspectives for “X” unit, we will utilize a global perspective.

Some realities to contend with include:

1) The characters, events, ideas, groups, and systems that you teach will change.

2) The narrative gets broadened because you expand the temporal and spatial contexts and use multiple perspectives.

3) Remind students that this is a global perspective they are using. It will probably be new for them.  So, it is important to be explicit and clear on the why.

Regardless of the instructional strategies you select to use, teachers must decide how they will frame the nation as a tool for historical investigation with their students. Each of the approaches recognizes the nation-state as a way to explore the past, but assert that using the nation as a lens to the past is not the only way or the best way for students to conceptualize history.

Below, I have provided an overview of the 4 approaches. Please note, it is better not to view these as mutually exclusive. Rather these 4 approaches have nuances that distinguish them from each other but still overlap or are used in tandem.


 1) Comparative Approach:  Framing US events, people, ideas etc. in relation to a non-US equivalent.  By doing this, students are provided a context and relational view.

-Example:   Everything is relative, but conclusions can be made/argued in context.  Comparison informs our claims about “how revolutionary the American Revolution was” or “how powerful is the US economy.”


2) Transnational Approach: The nation is not the focus of historical engagement.  Rather ideas, groups, events  etc are recognized as phenomenons that cross borders. In addition, historical actors in this approach are not the common textbook actors.  In turn, terms like hybridity, interaction, fusion, synthesis etc. are used in opposition to claims of self-contained, static, packaged national/cultural units.

-Example: Looking at emancipation from a transnational perspective. This recognizes that ideas travel and are guided by people and groups and not necessarily by nations or governments.


3) Non-US Perspective about “US” Events:  At the heart of this approach is the question, “Can we learn about ourselves from the way others see us?” Teachers use non-US perspectives to question national claims, beliefs, and preconceived notions  about US history.

-Example:  The sky is the limit.  The book History Lessons  provides an interesting start by looking at how textbooks around the world introduce US history.  In my experience, the Civil War and Civil Rights era are commonly explored from a non-US perspective.


4) Thematic Approach: US events are situated as an example of larger themes in world history.  It is important to note that global events retain local/national variations and are not seen as simply repeated events.  In this approach US is part of world history, not an exceptional other. 

-Example: The American Civil War had a global impact.  Framing the war as part of a trend in world history that centralized political power and secured national boundaries places our historical view at 80,000 feet.



One Comment

  1. The four approaches are useful and can inform teachers who may already be familiar with some of this. For example, the IB Diploma Program’s approach to history uses approaches one and two, for the most part, but certainly IB teachers could use more from approach three–especially when exposing students to primary sources from outside the United States or outside of the English language.

    Thanks for developing the site, it is something I am encouraging my Social Science department chair to use.

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