WHP Lesson 36: The Great Convergence and Divergence

The First World War (1914-1918) came at the end of a complex era. The long nineteenth century had seen the rise of democracies, increased economic production, and reforms, but also empire, racism, and terrible poverty. The years since the war have been similarly complicated. In the last century, we have seen another world war and a great deal of suffering. But, there’s also evidence that things are getting better. What is the human experience of the century we have just lived through, and is this experience the same for everyone?

Driving Question: What has changed in the past century and has that change been a good thing?

  • The world in 1914 was pretty different from the world today. Some of the most important innovations of the industrial age already existed. For example, the car, trains, and telephones had been invented but not very many people had the opportunity to use them. There were many nation-states with democratic styles of government and some sense of rights and citizenship. But most of the world’s population was still ruled by kings, shahs, tsars, or emperors, and many people lived in colonies where they had almost no rights at all. Lots of people worked in jobs in factories, or transportation systems where they got wages. Most people still produced food and goods for themselves, many were farmers, and there were still many independent artisans.
  • Most people lived lives that were much more local than our own. Not only did they not travel or talk much to people in other regions or countries, but most of their goods were still locally produced. In fact, people owned less ‘stuff’ overall. So even though the world in 1914 had some similarities to the world today, quite a bit has changed as well. It has changed faster and more for some people than for others, of course, but hardly anyone has been unaffected by the events of the last hundred years or so. But were these changes good?

Word of the Day: Progress

  • Definition: Moving forward towards a goal.
  • In this case, the idea is that history can lead to progress in terms of human living situations and standards of living. Lots of historians, for a long time, assumed that history was all about the progress we were making. But not everybody is convinced that we’re making progress, even in the last century. As you work through Era 7, consider whether or not you think things have actually been getting better over the last 100 years.


  • Watch the Era 7 Overview in Lesson 7.0 on Khan Academy.
  • As you watch, think about whether things have gotten better or worse in the last hundred years.

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • How has the human experience been different for people globally during COVID?
  • Our world is more interconnected than ever. How has a global pandemic like COVID revealed to us how similar and how different our lives are? Does living is a specific country matter? Does living in the city versus a more rural area matter? See if you can find some examples of how people in different places and circumstances have experienced COVID, and compare them.