Any educators out there interesting in contributing to an open source world history text? This would be posted on Openendedsocialstudies.org and made available for free for anyone – schools, teachers, students – struggling with a lack of quality digital resources during these distanced, virtual times.
Ancient World History: An Open Ended History is a free online history textbook adapted and expanded upon from open sources. It is an attempt to develop a middle school world history course that is truly expansive – a true world history, in other words. While it examines historical events and figures, its approach is cultural and thematic. The text does not aim to be strict chronology of the world – rather, it is a primer for the student who is not a specialist in history. A primer for being a semi-informed citizen of the world. As such, it features many “digressions” into societies and cultures that don’t always make the cut in conventional textbooks. It is also a work in progress, especially over the 2020-2021 school year. Please use and share freely – to supplement or replace what you have at hand.
If you would like to contribute chapters to the ongoing project, please click here.
Chapters will include, but are not limited to:
Sub-Saharan African Kingdoms of the Ancient World
Comparative World Religions
Art of the Ancient World
If one of these topics interests you, drop me a line and let’s hash it out!
The Great Ziggurat of Ur (Sumerian: 𒂍𒋼𒅎𒅍 or “Etemenniguru,” meaning “temple whose foundation creates aura”) is a Sumerian ziggurat – or step pyramid – built in the city of Ur in the 21st Century BCE – or about 4000 years ago. Construction started circa 2050-2030 BC and was completed circa 2030-1980 BC
The massive step pyramid measured 64 m (210 ft) in length, 45 m (148 ft) in width and over 30 m (98 ft) in height. The height measurement is only speculative, as just the foundations of the Sumerian ziggurat have survived. Like most ziggurats, the Great Ziggurat was made by stacking sun-baked mud-bricks and using additional mud to seal them together. This construction technique is relatively effective in a drier climate over the short term, but has resulted in the ziggurat’s collapse over many millennia of rain.
The ziggurat served as an administrative center for the city, and which was a shrine of the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur.
The construction of the ziggurat was finished in the 21st century BCE by King Shulgi, who, in order to win the allegiance of cities, proclaimed himself a god. During his 48-year reign, the city of Ur grew to be the capital of a state controlling much of Mesopotamia.
Using supplies found in your classroom (and approved by your teacher) – build a scale model of the Great Ziggurat of Ur. You should work in cooperation with your peers, in a group the size of your choosing. Make sure it matches the approximate proportions of the Great Ziggurat – 64 m (210 ft) in length, 45 m (148 ft) in width, and 30 m (98 ft) in height. Show your math – and be creative in following these directions to build the MOST impressive one in your class!
After all, a impressive ziggurat will inspire your followers – and unimpressive one will result in a complete collapse of your society…
In Writing/For Discussion
Each group member must provide the dimensions of their model ziggurat in inches and answer the accompanying questions in paragraph form:
What was the significance of the Ziggurat in Sumerian culture?
Can you think of any structures that perform similar functions in modern America? Explain.
Who built the most impressive ziggurat in your class? What strategies did they follow to accomplish this?
The Neolithic Revolution – also known as the Agricultural Revolution – was the wide-scale transition of many human societies from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, making an increasingly larger population possible. These settled communities permitted humans to observe and experiment with plants to learn how they grew and developed. This new knowledge led to the domestication of plants.
The Neolithic Revolution involved far more than the adoption of a limited set of food-producing techniques. During the next millennia it would transform the small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that had hitherto dominated human pre-history into sedentary (non-nomadic) societies based in built-up villages and towns. These societies radically modified their natural environment by means of specialized food-crop cultivation, with activities such as irrigation and deforestation which allowed the production of surplus food. Other developments found very widely are the domestication of animals, pottery, polished stone tools, and rectangular houses.
These developments, sometimes called the Neolithic package, provided the basis for centralized administrations and political structures, hierarchical ideologies, writing, cities, specialization and division of labor, more trade, the development of non-portable art and architecture, and property ownership.
ACTIVITY – Join the Neolithic Revolution Advertisement
Create an advertisement urging human beings to settle down and join the Neolithic Revolution. Your ad should be artistic, creative, and appealing, but should also communicate the key changes/benefits that an agriculturally-based lifestyle will bring to those who adopt it – using at least 3/4 of the vocab words found in your textbook.
You must also utilize at least two of the following – the seven most common techniques of persuasion used in advertising:
Testimonial – a story from someone, usually famous, who has used the product
Glittering Generalities – words that cannot really be measured, like “great”
Transfer – using this product will make you “cool” or “attractive”
Plain Folks – a common person who can understand and empathize with a listener’s concerns.
Bandwagon – everybody’s doing it, you’re being left behind
Name Calling – bashing the competition
Card Stacking – shows the product’s best features, tells half truths, omits potential problems.
Aside from our genes, what makes humans different from other animals?
Humans (Homo sapiens) are the only extant members of the subtribe Hominina. Together with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, they are part of the family Hominidae (the great apes, or hominids). A terrestrial animal, humans are characterized by their erect posture and bipedal locomotion; high manual dexterity and heavy tool use compared to other animals; open-ended and complex language use compared to other animal communications; larger, more complex brains than other animals; and highly advanced and organized societies.
Early hominins—particularly the australopithecines, whose brains and anatomy are in many ways more similar to ancestral non-human apes—are less often referred to as “human” than hominins of the genus Homo. Several of these hominins used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 315,000 years ago. Humans began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago, and in several waves of migration, they ventured out of Africa and populated most of the world.
The spread of the large and increasing population of humans has profoundly affected much of the biosphere and millions of species worldwide. Advantages that explain this evolutionary success include a larger brain with a well-developed neocortex, prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes, which enable advanced abstract reasoning, language, problem solving, sociality, and culture through social learning. Humans use tools more frequently and effectively than any other animal; and are the only extant species to build fires, cook food, clothe themselves, and create and use numerous other technologies and arts.
Humans uniquely use such systems of symbolic communication as language and art to express themselves and exchange ideas, and also organize themselves into purposeful groups. Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families and kinship networks to political states. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together undergird human society. Curiosity and the human desire to understand and influence the environment and to explain and manipulate phenomena (or events) have motivated humanity’s development of science, philosophy, mythology, religion, anthropology, and numerous other fields of knowledge.
Though most of human existence has been sustained by hunting and gathering in band societies, increasingly many human societies transitioned to sedentary agriculture approximately some 10,000 years ago, domesticating plants and animals, thus enabling the growth of civilization. These human societies subsequently expanded, establishing various forms of government, religion, and culture around the world, and unifying people within regions to form states and empires. The rapid advancement of scientific and medical understanding in the 19th and 20th centuries permitted the development of fuel-driven technologies and increased lifespans, causing the human population to rise exponentially. The global human population was estimated to be near 7.7 billion in 2019.
ACTIVITY – Interpreting Paleolithic and Neolithic Art
Humans have been producing art works for at least seventy-three thousand years.
Look at the following art, which dates back to the Paleolithic Age – the Old Stone Age, before humans discovered how to farm. For each piece, respond to the following:
Describe what you see with your eyes (figures, colors, size, etc)
Offer an interpretation – What was this artist trying to communicate? What was the purpose of this art?
What can we learn about this artist’s way of life from this art?
What modern artwork or form of expression does this ancient piece remind you of, and why?
A. Grotte de Niaux.
B. Laas Geel.
C. Cueva de las Manos.
D. Venus of Willendorf.
E. Bradshaw Rock.
What art will you leave behind as a testament to your presence on Earth? Create your own piece of “rock art” – though please don’t paint it on the classroom wall – depicting the important things in your life.
More information about each piece can be found here.
“My name is Thomas Kenning. I am the creator of Openendedsocialstudies.org. I am an educator with approximately fifteen years of experience in classrooms ranging from preschool to university, though my primary focus is on grades six to nine in the field of social studies. I have a bachelors in secondary education from Indiana University and a masters in history from American University. I started this website because it is the kind of resource that I am always looking for myself – digestible lessons that expand the too limited American notion of “world history,” accompanied by questions that help students to process and apply (not just regurgitate and forget) what they are reading. If the idea is to build bridges to a broader view of the world – not wall our students in – then I hope this website is one of those bridges, rickety as it may be.
I am a firm believer that the best teachers are creative and resourceful, making dynamic use of the tools they have at hand. In that spirit, some of the basic text on this website is adapted from open sources (like Wikipedia), but every bit of it has been fact checked and cross-referenced with academic sources. I’ve made every effort to ensure accuracy, as well as balance, across this website. I stand by everything I have posted here – I use many of these lessons in my own classroom on a regular basis – but if you see something that strikes you as inaccurate, by all means, please let me know in the comments section of the page in question.
Thank you for choosing to use Openendedsocialstudies.org in your classroom.”
Thomas Kenning is an author, educator, and adventurer. He has written extensively about Washington, DC, including in the recently published Abandoned Washington, DC. Mr. Kenning is the creator of the award-winning Openendedsocialstudies.org, a library of free lesson plans and travel writing designed to foster a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. When he is not travelling to some far flung corner of the Earth, he resides with his wife and daughter (a DC native!) – planning his next improbable adventure and trying to leave the planet a little bit nicer than he found it.
for use with The Material Culture of the Soviet Union: The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and with it all of the state-run industries that held a monopoly on the ordinary consumer and commercial products that make up the Museum of Industrial Culture in Moscow, Russia. The Soviet system of government was gone, for better or worse, and so too was the material culture that had defined Russian life for generations.
The Maya: Collapse at Ek Balam
for use with the The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers lesson. Take a tour of the ruins of the Maya city of Ek’ Balam, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This haunting marvel begs the question: what led to the collapse and dramatic restructuring of this ancient civilization?
Uxmal: Thrice-Built City of the Maya
for use with the The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers lesson. Take a tour of the ruins of Uxmal, one of the largest and best preserved cities of the Maya. Located in Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, the ruins of Uxmal are comprised of the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle, the ballcourt, the Governor’s Palace, and the Great Pyramid. Learn about the history and function of each of these impressive structures, as well as what they can tell us about the Maya world and culture.
History isn’t only what you read in books or see on YouTube. It’s not just big men, and they’re not all from Europe, even if mine were…
History isn’t just famous people. It’s your family, too. In that spirit, this assignment asks you to document your own family history – what kind of interesting stories lie back a generation or more in your family tree?
Often times, young people don’t ask because they assume their elders are boring – that’s just dad, just grandma, and they’ve never done anything interesting. And their elders don’t share out of modesty, or because they assume that young people aren’t interested anyway.
When my own grandfather died, it was with tons of stories – of his young years as an orphan, as one of the first Americans into Nagasaki after the bomb, as a police officer during the 1960s in the racially divided and restive city of Gary, Indiana… And now I think of all of the tragic hours that we spent sitting in the same room, some football game that didn’t really matter blasting, drowning out any potential for conversation… When I was young, I didn’t think to ask, he didn’t think to share – and now that he is gone, all I know of any of this is the barest of sketches.
The goal here is to give you a reason to document your family before it is too late… To put it in the form of a book or something else (not an over-sized poster destined for the recycling bin) that can be tucked into a drawer or a closet – until you’re old enough to care yourself…
Your family history book will include three key components:
Family Tree – stretching back in history as far as you can go, including birth and death dates. This information should be presented graphically. Along one axis of your page, include a timeline marking out key events in US history as they roughly align with your family’s. That will look something like this.
Biographical Summary – Compose a brief biographical blurb for each person including information like: profession, military service, interesting facts, etc. These can be as short as a few complete sentences. Include pictures (or your own drawings) if available.
Biography – Choose someone other than a member of your nuclear family on which to write a more detailed biography, preferably a few pages in length. (12 point font, double spaced, Times New Roman)
Sources for this project can include:
Family members (duh)
-Documents and artifacts held in your family’s possession
–ancestry.com (This costs money, but with your parents’ help you can sign up for a free trial. Just make sure you cancel your membership before the end of the trial or you’ll be charged.)
You should include a works cited page in your book.
Alternatively, you may create a website that meets all of the criteria outlined above. This need not be publicly searchable on the web.
Suggested questions if you’re having trouble interviewing someone and can’t quite get started… You should listen more than you speak, but here are some questions to get the ball rolling… Be authentic and natural, and the stories will come:
Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
What is your earliest memory?
What is your favorite memory of me?
Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
What are you proudest of?
When in life have you felt most alone?
If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
How would you like to be remembered?
Do you have any regrets?
What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me?
For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
Open Ended Social Studies collects and presents original and dynamic classroom materials focusing on parts of the world neglected by traditional world history textbooks in the United States. The middle and high school lessons hosted here aim to foster critical and historical thinking, greater cultural awareness, and a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. Open Ended Social Studies is free, always growing, and collaborative – please check back and contribute often.
Check out this new Openendedsocialstudies documentary short, shot on location at Uxmal, a Maya ruin in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This tour of the city is a great introduction to Maya culture and can be enjoyed by the casual viewer, the history buff, or in the classroom, in conjunction with our brand new (and totally free) unit on the ancient Maya.