WHP Lesson 21: Collapse or Restructuring?

In this era, we learn that both states and networks can collapse—and frequently did! Collapse could occur for many reasons. It could be brief and insignificant, or it could dramatically change people’s lives for a long time. When recovery happened, the new communities and networks often looked quite different. So, recovery could also involve restructuring.

Driving Question: Do empires collapse or simply restructure themselves into something new?

  • Looking at differences across societies can help us to understand the idea of collapse in a more nuanced way. Sometimes, collapse is dramatic, and long-lasting, like in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, it’s brief, or limited, like in the Islamic world, in the same period. Sometimes, what comes after a collapse is something really different from what was there before, and sometimes it isn’t.

Word of the Day: Restructure or restructuring

  • Definition: To organize something differently
  • Restructuring is one explanation for what may happen after a collapse. It suggests that sometimes, instead of everything being destroyed, a lot of stuff just changes—the centers of power are different than they were before, trade routes shift, culture transforms. But something lives on, and new experiences and communities and networks emerge!


  • Watch: Era 4 Overview in Lesson 4.0 on Khan Academy
  • Focus on the question of whether these empires are collapsing, or just restructuring/reorganizing themselves differently.

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • Question: How might COVID-19 represent restructuring on a global scale?
  • What kinds of changes are you seeing in your community? Are people changing their habits and are some of the changes good? People are no longer expected to shake anyone’s hand for obvious reasons, and handshaking might be something that people want to avoid even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Even though we’ve been asked to change a lot of our normal ways of life, we can focus on some of the good that is coming out of this period of restructuring.