Teaching Material Culture and the Dutch Golden Age in AP World History

The Netherlands in the seventeenth century was the center of a series of economic and social transformations that would redefine the way Europeans viewed the world around. This first age of truly global commerce saw the exchange of objects of commerce, objects of beauty, and objects of science. This moment cannot be understood without considering Dutch historical trends alongside the simultaneous power of the Scientific Revolution, the rise of the Atlantic World, and the nature of global exchange. Through the exploration of changing material culture in this moment, students can be exposed to deeper historical analysis and higher order thinking.

Experiencing the Silk Road in Dunhuang

At the end of September I traveled to Dunhuang, in western China, with a group of high school students. There were some great experiential connections to the AP World curriculum. History is more than just a skill or content from a book. History can be experienced; There is value in looking for connection to the past in order to understand the human experience. Trips like this can plant seeds for future historical interest and inquiry in ways that my classroom cannot.

Scaffolding Historical Thinking Skills

In the race to cover content it is easy to overlook the importance of scaffolding historical thinking during instruction. It is easy to ask students to analyze causes and effects, make comparisons, or effectively source documents; but harder to make sure students have a clear path to showing proficiency. Without clear scaffolding, without a system for teaching historical thinking, students are more likely to fall into "kitchen-sinkism." That is, they are more likely to think that copious amounts of detail and content, regardless of its relative significance, constitutes good history. Some students will always get to the goal on their own, but scaffolding helps all students have a clear path forward.

Historical Thinking begins with Primary Sources and Evidence

The use of primary sources has become increasingly common in history classrooms. Educators and researchers have been broadly pushing for this years. Specifically, this has been part of a call for the explicit teaching of historical thinking skills alongside prioritized content. Interestingly, the largest barriers to increased use of primary sources in the classroom that I have witnessed are not student reading ability, but a lack of teacher training and experience as well as access to materials.