History can be defined in several ways:
- as a description of what happened in the past to people, places, groups, animals, or objects.
- as a study of the past, where events are recorded and analyzed
- as a record, usually chronological, of events that took place in the past
Studying world history provides students at the upper elementary level with opportunities to carry out research on a topic that greatly interests them — how the world became what it is today. Another topic of great interest for students at this level is the nation in which they live. In its upper elementary curriculum, NAMC includes two other manuals about history — one of Canada and the other of the US. Teachers can refer to these manuals for information and activities specific to either of these countries.
In upper elementary, the students build on what they studied in history in previous years. This manual begins by suggesting ways teachers can help students link history with the passage of time. Next, the manual looks at prehistory, the period before written records. This section turns to when people began to live in larger and larger groups, forming early cultures and societies. A culture refers to a group’s shared way of life, including language, beliefs, customs, food, clothing, art, music, and literature. Societies refer to groups of people who lived and worked together for mutually beneficial reasons. The section examines the common needs of early people, the characteristics of early groups, and some of the methods of archeology, about language the scientific study of how humans have lived by the examination of their material remains such as buildings, graves, and tools.
As human culture evolved, so did early civilizations, societies with distinct cultures and complex levels of social organization, and these are the focus of the next major section of the manual. This section presents examples of several early civilizations in various parts of the world. The next major sections look at early exploration and European history, and history through art. At the upper elementary level, the history of modern countries is presented as an opportunity for older students to carry out a major research project and discover information for themselves. The final section of this part of the manual outlines how students can go about researching the history of modern countries, including using modern current events and art as routes into the study of history. A student or a group of students can choose a country, examine it using the research skills they have acquired, and compile a research report.
All of the sections described above produce a wide range of topics for research and report writing. The last major section of the manual, Historical Research, shows ways teachers can guide students in using research tools common to historians, carrying out research, and writing research reports.
Note to the teacher:
Language used among scientists varies when referring to early people. In this manual, hominids refer to the first human-like beings to appear on earth, early people or early humans refer to those from whom many historians believe modern humans are descended, and aboriginal peoples, indigenous peoples, and native peoples refer to the original inhabitants of a particular part of the world before explorers arrived from other parts of the world. How teachers define these terms, how much they develop each topic, and how far back in time they choose to go is of course a personal decision.
Note to the teacher about “facts”:
In carrying out research, the teacher and students will soon notice that not all resources, including this manual, publish identical “facts” for people, dates, or events in history. Discrepancies are often the result of continuing historical research and new findings, but can also result when historians simply disagree about what certain information means.
The teacher can make sure that
students use up-to-date resources
while conducting research. Many are
listed throughout this manual, and the
teacher will find others. However,
through discussion, the teacher can
also help the students realize that the
modern understanding of history
continues to change and evolve, just
as people continue to change and
evolve, and that for some events,
especially events in the distant past, it
is almost impossible to know exactly
what happened and when.