History student studying world globe

Old World vs. New World History: A Curriculum Comparison


While history is traditionally defined as the study of the past, historians explain that its value is much more than recalling past happenings. Studying historic events and trends can help you better understand the current society and develop insight into the future. 

From the earliest forms of civilization to American industrialization, history is brimming with rich detail about different periods and locations in the world. For this reason, history students typically choose a specific historical time to study. Two areas of focus are Old World and New World history, which often correlate with World History and American History concentrations.

What Is the Difference Between Old World and New World History?

Generally, Old World history focuses on past events in Africa, Asia, and Europe—continents with ancient beginnings and places known before the exploration of the Americas. 

In contrast, New World history focuses on North America, Central America, and South America. The term New World was developed in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, arrived in the Americas.

When comparing the academic study of Old World vs. New World history, unique lessons and valuable insights are associated with each. Students studying these historical periods can apply gained knowledge to a variety of careers including researcher, curator, museum director, digital historian. Other positions for professionals with historical knowledge include history educators, editors and content producers.   

This article explores the curriculum included in Norwich University’s Master of Arts (MA) in History program to better understand the type of knowledge gained during the study of Old World and New World history.

Norwich University’s Master of Arts in History

Students enrolled in Norwich University’s MA in History program can choose an American History, a Public History, or World History track as their concentration. The World History track relates to Old World history, while the American History track more specifically relates to New World history.

Whether it’s covering an empire’s growth or a country’s progressive reform, both World History and American History concentrations share many commonalities. In each concentration, students explore historical conflicts, the impact of new inventions and technologies, the role of religion, and the influence of prominent historical figures and marginalized groups. The following sections take a closer look at each concentration’s curriculum.

Selection of World History Courses

Hunter-Gatherer and Agrarian Eras to 1500
This course provides students with an in-depth analysis of human development starting with the earliest forms of civilization. The rise of agrarian (farming) societies from hunter-gatherer societies are examined as well as the factors contributing to the colonization of the New World. Students will explore the role of religion and class structure during this transformative period, as well as the events contributing to major wars.   

The Late Agrarian Era to 1800
This course reviews the late agrarian era and the developments that contributed to the Industrial Revolution—a time commonly known as the early modern epoch (1500–1800). The Industrial Revolution transformed nations from an agriculture-based economy to one characterized by machinery, technology, and new inventions. The coursework examines trade patterns, religion, and the expansion of empires during this period.

World History from 1800 to 1991
The curriculum in this concentration provides students with a broad introduction to world history. Discussions of French Revolution include a review of the tremendous upheaval and change that occurred after the overthrow of the French monarchy. Students explore the rise and fall of European colonial empires and the disastrous consequences of World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945). The Cold War and the intense rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union are also covered as well as the USSR’s collapse.

Selection of American History Courses

Colonial, Revolutionary and Early National History
Coursework explores the historiography of early America. Students examine the significant themes of the Colonial, Revolutionary and Early Republic periods. Topics such as gender roles, political ideologies, and the growth of slavery provide students with a broad understanding of the major developments during this time. This course also reviews the experiences of Native Americans.

19th Century America
With events such as the American Civil War and industrialization, 19th century America is a period marked by unprecedented achievements and horrific events. This course provides students with an understanding of life in the U.S. between 1815 and 1903, highlighting subjects such as slavery and western expansion. 

20th Century America
The 20th Century America course reviews major developments, themes, and influences during the past 100 years. Students learn about the evolution of the U.S. during this period in areas such as minority and women's rights. The role of significant figures and groups, including immigrants, also is explored.

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Whether studying New World vs. Old World history, students develop a broad understanding of important historical events and patterns that can serve them for future historical research and understanding of world evolution.

If you’re interested in a career as a historian or broadening knowledge in your existing career, explore Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program. Graduates from this program gain comprehensive knowledge of historical developments, events, and figures as well as advanced research, writing, and critical thinking skills.

Recommended Readings
What Is a Historian and How Do You Become One?
Careers with a Master’s Degree in History
Top History Conferences for History Professionals


What Does Old World and New World Refer to?, WorldAtlas
Master of Arts in History, Norwich University
What Is an Agrarian Society?, WorldAtlas
What Was the Industrial Revolution?, WorldAtlas
French Revolution, History
The Major Battles of World War I, WorldAtlas
What Were the Main Causes of World War II?, WorldAtlas
Revolutionary War: American Revolution, American Battlefield Trust
19th Century, History
Twentieth Century: Society in the United States, Scholastic 


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