Advanced Placement European History Theme

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Advanced Placement European History

Theme The study of European history introduces students to cultural, economic, political, and social developments that played a fundamental role in shaping the world in which they live. Without this knowledge, we would lack the context for understanding the development of contemporary institutions, the role of continuity and change in present-day society and politics, and the evolution of current forms of artistic expression and intellectual discourse. In addition to providing a basic narrative of events and movements, the goals of AP European History are to develop (a) an understanding of some of the principal themes in modern European history, (b) an ability to analyze historical evidence and historical interpretation, and (c) an ability to express historical understanding in writing.

Strand History

Topic Introduction to Historiography and Review of Pre-Modern Europe

The discipline of history is made complex by its reliance on human sources which are incomplete and imperfect. Bias and perspective (point of view) influence individual accounts of historic events, which forces the historian to pursue multiple sources as he/she attempts to explain “what happened.”

The history of modern Europe is characterized by notable continuities with the pre-modern Era. Contributions of the ancient Greeks and Romans and the power asserted by medieval European authorities continued to resonate as modern European ideas and institutions emerged and evolved.


Weeks 1-3, but the Historiography concepts and skills, though introduced at the beginning of the course, will be present and constantly referenced throughout the course.

Content Statement

1. History is an academic discipline that seeks first to explain what happened – a task made difficult by the complex nature of sources – and then to explain why it happened.

Learning Targets:

 I can explain and suggest solutions to the pitfalls involved in writing history.

 I can define and evaluate various theories of history.

 I can discuss the influence of context on a historical event.

 I can examine how historical processes influence events.

 I can evaluate and synthesize evidence from both historical sources and background knowledge to produce critical commentary and reasoned arguments.

 I can examine historical events, people, and trends using evidence to support relevant, balanced, and focused historical arguments.

2. The ideas and institutions that characterize modern Europe had their origins in the works of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Medieval Europeans.

Learning Targets:

 I can examine the Ancient Greeks’ contributions to modern European history and culture. I can examine Ancient Romans’ contributions to modern European history and culture.

 I can describe the process by which the Greek/Roman heritage was lost and preserved.

 I can describe the role of the Frankish kings in preserving and expanding the Roman Catholic Church in Europe.

3. The power and wealth that characterized modern absolute monarchs was preceded by a dynamic which saw power held by the Church and distributed among nobles. Elements of this dynamic persevered into the modern era.

Learning Targets:

 I can analyze the sources of the nobles’ power in pre-modern Europe.

 I can analyze the sources of the Roman Catholic Church’s power in pre-modern Europe.

 I can analyze the emerging struggle between secular and spiritual authority in pre-modern Europe.

 I can examine the relationship between the power of the Roman Catholic Church and the success of the First Crusade.

Content Elaborations

History is a very difficult and complex discipline, made so by the fact that it relies on human sources, which are notoriously unreliable and idiosyncratic, as evidence. The historical record from which historians seek to synthesize evidence is often incomplete, either because certain events or people were deliberately or accidentally excluded. To the extent that the record is present, it is made the less reliable by bias and its less insidious, but utterly ubiquitous “partner-in-crime,” point-of-view, also known as perspective. The trouble that these have caused historians has led many to adopt an over-simplified “cause and effect” approach to understanding history, which abandons the attempt to synthesize a true narrative and in doing so deprives individuals of their role in history.

The alternative is to embrace the complexity of history and accept the challenge of constructing a narrative from an array of diverse and often conflicting sources. In doing so, the historian must have at his/her disposal not only an understanding of events or people, but the broader context in which those events and people were situated, as well as a sense of the processes which influence those people and events. This understanding allows for a rigorous examination of sources designed to extract the best information available from those sources, despite the presence of bias and/or perspective. By combining the information thus extracted with factual evidence, a balanced and coherent historical narrative or argument may be produced.
For Europeans, history began with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greeks established the very concept of citizenship that is practiced in Europe today, and created standards for structured thinking in science and philosophy that influenced modern European thought. Similarly, their standards in the literary and visual arts have stood the test of time. Their concept of individual achievement has been perhaps the most lasting and deeply-rooted of their many contributions to modern Europe. The Romans were less creative and lofty, but their practical focus on how to provide for and govern large populations (through civil engineering and a republican government structured with checks and balances) also served as models for modern Europeans. When the Roman empire collapsed, much of the accumulated knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans was lost in western Europe, but its preservation by the Byzantines and Arab Muslims allowed it to be reintroduced, sparking the Renaissance 1000 years later.
In the meantime, the only surviving institution was the Church, headquartered in Rome. The Franks emerged as the only organized Christian kingdom of the early medieval period and, as such, became the chief defenders of Christian societies and institutions against barbarian and Muslim challenges. Under the rule of Charlemagne, the Franks established the first European empire since the fall of Rome and forcefully expanded Christianity into eastern Europe. The Viking invasions, however, sent western Europe into chaos, and kings were forced to invent new structures to secure their kingdoms.
In this environment, kings found themselves bereft of real power. On the one hand, the Church and its leader, the Pope, held spiritual powers that could bring monarchs literally to their knees by threatening them and their subjects with eternal damnation. On the other hand, kings had become totally reliant on their nobles to secure and administer their kingdoms. When kings tried to lord over their nobles, they might be “put in their place,” as happened to King John of England when Magna Carta placed legal limits on his power; then kings tried to challenge the Pope, they were forced to back down, as happened to Henry IV, HRE in the lay investiture controversy.

Content Vocabulary

 historiography  feudal system

 Narrative Model  lord/vassal

 Cause and Effect Model  manor

 bias/propaganda  serf

 perspective/point of view  knight

 “Great Man” Theory  Battle of Hastings

 Grand Theory  Magna Carta

 determinism  sacraments

 “history repeats itself”  Pope/Bishop of Rome

 postmodernism  Doctrine of Petrine Supremacy

 chaos theory  Lay Investiture controversy

 polis  Concordat of Worms

 demos  “People of the Book”

 citizen  dhimmi

 civil liberty  jizya

 social contract  Seljuk Turks

 civil power  First Crusade

 political power  Siege of Antioch

 democracy  Siege of Jerusalem

 philosophy  Solon

 pre-Socratics  Cleisthenes

 sophists  Pericles “Funeral Oration”

 classical philosophers  Thales

 Socratic method  Democritus

 world of ideas vs. objects  Protogoras

 form vs. matter  Socrates

 hero  Plato

 arete  Aristotle

 hubris  Homer

 nemesis  Pindar

 patricians  Aeschylus

 republic  Tarquinus Superbus

 senate  Publius Valerius

 consuls plebeians  Lucius Jun. Brutus

 comitia  Tiberius/Gaius Gracchus

 tribunes  Gaius Marias

 plebeian assembly  Lucius Cornelius Sulla

 latifundia  Gaius Julius Caesar

 landless/urban poor  Octavian/Augustus

 dictatorship  Scipio vs. Cato

 Cloaca Maxima  Constantine

 aqueduct  Justinian

 plebs frumentaria  Karl Martell

 panem et circenses  Pepin

 “universal city”  Charlemagne

 Germanic tribes/Goths  Harold Godwynson

 “Fall of Rome”  William the Conqueror

 Byzantine Empire  John

 Arab Muslims  Augustine, City of God

 majordomo  Gelasius I

 Moors  Gregory VII

 Battle of Tours  Henry IV, HRE

 Lombards  Alexios I

 partible inheritance  Urban II

 Vikings

Academic Vocabulary

 analyze  evaluate

 define  examine

 describe  explain

 discuss  suggest

Formative Assessments

Students are required to create a chapter outline or synopsis weekly that measures their comprehension of the major people, events, and trends that characterize the era or theme being studied during that portion of the unit. They may be quizzed or required to produce a written response to prompt. Evidence of students’ miscomprehension or lack of comprehension is addressed by the teacher in subsequent lessons. Assessment of students’ mastery of historiography will be ongoing; it will be inherent in students’ formative and summative assessment work, and the instructor must provide constant feedback in order to reinforce or adjust students’ practice of historiography.

Summative Assessments

Students are required to complete a series of multiple choice questions modeled after those which will appear on the AP European History Exam. In these, more than one plausible response is provided, and the student must distinguish the correct response from among the merely plausible. Students are also required to complete an essay that integrates content and concepts from throughout the unit into a coherent written argument. In the case of a document-based question, the student is required to also integrate evidence from a series of provided primary sources.


 Palmer, R. R., Colton, Joel, and Kramer, Lloyd, A History of the Modern World Tenth Edition

 Caldwell, Amy, Beeler, John, and Clark, Charles, ed., Sources of Western Society

 Davies, Norman, Europe: A History

 Davison, Michael Worth, ed., Everyday Life Through the Ages

 Lualdi, Katharine, ed., Sources of The Making of the West

 Sherman, Dennis, Western Civilization: Sources, Images, and Interpretations

 Tierney, Brian, Kagan, Donald, and Williams, L. Pearce, eds., Great Issues in Western Civilization

 Burke, James, The Day the Universe Changed

 Cahill, Thomas, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter

 Dodge, Theodore, Alexander

 Durant, William, The Life of Greece

 Durant, William, The Story of Philosophy

 Hall, Sir Peter, Cities in Civilization

 Hamilton, Edith, The Greek Way

 Keegan, John, The Mask of Command

 Norberg-Schulz, Christian, Meaning in Western Architecture

 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

 Caesar, Gaius Julius, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars

 Cahill, Thomas, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World before and after Jesus

 Dodge, Theodore, Hannibal

 Durant, William, Caesar and Christ

 Gibbon, Edward, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

 Hall, Sir Peter, Cities in Civilization

 Payne, Robert, Ancient Rome

 Cahill, Thomas, Mysteries of the Middle Ages

 Churchill, Winston, History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Vol. I)

 Durant, William, The Age of Faith

 Manchester, William, A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance

Enrichment Strategies

Due to the nature of the AP European History curriculum, it is difficult to envision an approach to enrichment. The course is taught with the expectation that its content and standards for performance are equivalent to those of a first-year college survey course, and students who choose to enroll in this course do so in anticipation that the course, in and of itself, is an enrichment of their education in history. Students may choose to read the complete versions of texts referenced during the course, with the encouragement and support of the instructor.


 ELA: Historical background for works of literature; writing analytical essays

 Geography: Geographic context and influences on culture

 Latin: Historical background for works of Latin literature/Roman culture

 Visual Arts: Historical background for works of art and architecture

Intervention Strategies

The most common deficiency of students who take AP European History is in writing. For these students, it is necessary to: (1) review the process of creating a coherent historical written argument; (2) break down the process into its constituent parts and have the students practice those parts individually; (3) meet individually with those students to consult with them about their progress.

Another area of struggle for students is with exams. For these students, it is important to: (1) develop daily skills that will allow them to summarize and organize the information they will need to be successful on exams; (2) teach them to develop a systematic approach to exam preparation; (3) provide extra assistance with exam preparation in the form of student- or teacher-led study groups/review sessions.
For students who struggle to read, it is advised that an alternative text be provided that the student may read prior to reading the chronologically similar sections of the main text.

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