World History Environment and Periodization for AP World History

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 21, 2011

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

World History Environment and Periodization Review Questions for AP World History

Oceans and Seas

The history of the world did not occur in land areas alone; the oceans and seas also have their own stories to tell. Vast migrations of both ancient and modern peoples took place across the waterways of the world; plants, animals, and diseases were exchanged; and competition arose among explorers seeking new lands and merchants pursuing profits. A few points to understand when studying the oceans are:

The World History Environment and Periodization

  • The Arctic Ocean, the smallest of the world's oceans, is packed in ice throughout most of the year. Extremely difficult to navigate, it is the location of the famed northwest passage sought by early European explorers. The passage is barely usable because of its ice-bound condition.
  • The Indian Ocean, the third largest of the oceans, has seen extensive trade since the people of the Harappan civilization sailed through one of its seas, the Arabian Sea, to trade with Sumer. Throughout history the Indian Ocean has seen Malay sailors and Chinese, Muslim, and European traders use the ocean's monsoon winds to guide their expeditions through its waters. Africa also was drawn into this trade. Oftentimes commercial activity in the Indian Ocean produced intense rivalries, especially among the Dutch, Portuguese, and Muslim sailors in the seventeenth century.
  • The Atlantic Ocean became the scene of exchange between the Eastern and Western hemispheres after the voyages of Columbus produced an encounter among European, African, and American peoples. The Caribbean Sea saw the meeting of the three cultures on the sugar plantations of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The Mediterranean Sea, joined to the Atlantic Ocean, saw the glories of early Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman civilizations. Northern European societies traded in the waters of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
  • The Pacific Ocean, the world's largest, is dotted with islands that witnessed the ancient voyages of Polynesian peoples of Oceania. The Bering Sea was the route of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas into that continent. Societies of East and Southeast Asia communicated with one another by means of the Sea of Japan and the South China and East China seas. The Manila galleons of the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries joined Latin America, the Philippine Islands, and China in trade. World wars saw the use of Pacific islands for strategic purposes.

The chart below illustrates some of the political units and physical features of various world regions.


A unique feature of the Advanced Placement World History course is its division into five periods. It is important for you to familiarize yourself with these periods; the ability to compare and contrast societies, events, and trends within periods will be necessary skills to master both the multiple-choice questions as well as the comparative and document-based questions on the AP examination. You will also need to analyze the impact of interactions among societies. Likewise, a grasp of the changes and continuities (those things that stayed the same) between periods is important to success on the multiple-choice questions and the continuity and change over time and document-based questions on the exam. The five AP World History periods are:

  • Foundations:       8000 B.C.E.–600 C.E.
  • Period Two:       600–1450
  • Period Three:       1450–1750
  • Period Four:       1750–1914
  • Period Five:       1914–Present

Notice that dates in AP World History use the designations B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era). These designations correspond to B.C. and A.D., respectively.

AP World History Themes

In each of these five periods, there are five broad themes that the course emphasizes. These are:

  • Human-environmental interaction: disease and its effects on population, migration, settlement patterns, and technology.
  • Cultural development and interaction: religions, belief systems, and philosophies; science and technology; and the arts and architecture.
  • State-building, expansion, and conflict: political structures and forms of government; empires; nations and nationalism; revolts and revolutions; and regional, transregional, and global organizations and structures.
  • Creation, growth, and interaction of economic systems: agriculture and pastoralism, trade and commerce, labor systems, industrialization, and capitalism and socialism.
  • Development and change in social structures: gender roles, family and kinship relations, race and ethnicity, and social and economic class structures.
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