Chronological and Thematic Structure

The chronological and thematic structuring of a curriculum both come with positives and negatives. Chronological structures add stability and a more defined structure than a thematic. However, picking a chronological structure does seem to limit the area and content that can be covered. I think that it has a hard time adding perspective since it can be difficult to analyze a larger catalogue of material where students can study cultures that they might not be used to, or ones that do not get very much attention. Where as a thematic structure provides a wide range of topics that can be hand picked by the instructor, and also allows for more off the cuff substitutions of subject material. A thematic structure also seems to take much more preparation, because a chronological approach is very straight forward and largely following the same formula, and stays predominantly European focused.  Say if an instructor chose a thematic course and wanted to teach a unit on religions, it won’t just follow the ordinary “Christianity vs. Islam” narrative that is so pervasive in most world history courses. An instructor can choose to speak about the Hindu and Muslim kingdoms of India, or perhaps the impact of Confucianism in China, or its attack in a Communist China. It even allows a great starting off point for topics that are usually secondary importance. Topics like gender as written by Sharon Cohen, is something that is usually relegated to the back of a unit but are typically not pursued in such a head first strategy. However, a thematic approach allows for a different type of course that would hopefully be a breath of fresh air for students who are used to a predictable structure that does not allow for a setting that produces new and critical thinking.

I think that there is a way to have the best of worlds and keep the stability of a chronological structure, while still having the flexibility and broad ranging structure of thematic. The way I think and structure this hybrid is pretty simple. I take the chronological timeline by focusing on one civilization and everything that entails. Then you can tie that back to a thematic focus of the instructor’s choice. Take the idea of technologically advanced societies interacting with less advanced ones, this could be added onto a discussion of European colonization. There are many different branches that can be followed with a topic like this. You could follow the accounts of Spanish conquistadors like Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro. While connecting it back to the response and feelings of the Aztec and Inca.