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Home > AP Courses and Exams > Course Home Pages > The Economic Role of Women in World History, 600-1914

The Economic Role of Women in World History, 600-1914

by Linda Black
World History Center, Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Note: Please be advised that these teaching units were created prior to the course revisions implemented in the 2011-12 academic year. However, the units still address topics central to the revised course.

This unit explores the gradual changes in women's status and economic roles in six geographical regions over the past millennium. The lessons in this unit are intended for periodic use throughout a semester or yearlong high school-level AP World History course. Using primary and secondary documents, analysis charts, mental maps and graphic organizers to research continuity and change in women's lives, students critically evaluate the global political, economic and social factors -- such as family structure, belief systems, educational opportunities, industrialization, and colonialism -- that have shaped gender dynamics across time and space.

A central objective of the unit is to encourage students to broaden their world historical perspective by re-examining AP World History course material over a long time frame, and from the perspective of groups of women whose lives and experiences are sometimes marginalized in world history textbooks. Students also sharpen their critical thinking skills as they analyze the documents included with the unit and gain practice in making meaningful comparisons across regional societies and the unit's three main timeframes: 600-1450, 1450-1750, and 1750-1914.

The initial lesson introduces the concept of "gender roles" as a tool for study of world history. Subsequent lessons apply the concept of gender roles to analysis of women's economic contributions in the period 600-1450, analyses of gender and empire in the period 1450-1750, and exploration of women and industrialization in the period 1750-1914. The Introduction is followed by three successive lessons (2, 3, and 4) that provide an activity intended to help students process the information they have compiled while doing research on women and women's issues in different areas of the world.

Student activities include both individual and group work. In Lesson 2, students use an analysis chart to survey the influence of religion and belief systems on women's economic and social status; in Lesson 3, the focus shifts to mental mapping and the effects of imperialism on women's lives; in Lesson 4, a graphic organizer helps students to record the impressions of the relationship between industrialization and women's work. Two assessment alternatives -- an inner/outer circle seminar discussion (Lesson 5) and a change-over-time essay (Lesson 6) -- round out the unit. Each of the assessment activities stresses the requirements for tracing the process of change and continuity in women's work over the period 600-1914.

Main Points of the Unit

Big Questions
Best Practices
Lesson Summary
Assessment Overview
AP World History Course Description Connections

Big Questions
  • How have women's economic roles in society changed over time?
  • How can we make accurate generalizations about women's roles across a multiplicity of cultural contexts and over long periods of time, with limited documents?
  • How have the experiences of both elite and non-elite women been used to illustrate women's varying economic roles?
  • How have global processes in world history, such as industrialization and imperialism, shaped women's economic roles?
Best Practices
Best Practices are teaching strategies that are interactive and involve high-level thinking skills (see AP World History Best Practices Guide, eds. P. Manning and D. S. Johnston). The appropriate Best Practices vary widely with teacher strengths, school environment, student population, and experience. But all student populations will benefit from experience with strategies showing that world history is much more than lectures and more than a survey of facts and dates. This unit, within its individual lessons, includes the following examples of Best Practice teaching strategies:
  • Create dictionary entries
  • Organize historical comparisons into a chart
  • Analyze and compare text documents
  • Analyze evidence with a graphic organizer
  • Participate in graded seminar discussion
Lesson Summary
Lesson 1. Introduction to Gender in World History
Lesson 1 asks students to think about how gender issues might fit into the study of world history. As a background for students who may not be familiar with gendered analysis, the lesson's handouts include a secondary reading and thought questions detailing major historiographical changes in gender history. Also included is a list of vocabulary terms students should be familiar with in order to understand the gendered terminology that will be used in later lessons.

Lesson 2. Comparing the Economic Roles of Women
Lesson 2 begins the process of researching women's traditional economic roles through the use of primary and secondary sources. A chart that compares different societies in the period 600-1450 is included to help guide students' research. In this lesson, students also begin the analysis of global processes that influence gender relationships, specifically the influence of religion and belief systems on defining social and economic roles.

Lesson 3. Gender and Empire
Lesson 3 continues the exploration of women's economic role in society, but it shifts the focus to political factors in six world regions for the period 1450-1750. Using primary and secondary sources and a world map, students analyze the levels of interaction between women, the economy, and the state.

Lesson 4. Women and Industrialization
Lesson 4 examines the influence of global processes (including colonialism, industrialization, and nationalism) on women's lives and economic opportunities in the period 1750-1914. Students analyze these issues using both primary and secondary sources and a graphic organizer.

Lesson 5. Inner/Outer Circle Seminar Discussion
As a wrap-up activity, students participate in a graded seminar discussion on change and continuity in women's economic roles over the past millennium.

Lesson 6. Change-Over-Time Essay
As an alternative to the graded seminar discussion, students complete a change-over-time essay on women's economic roles in world history, making connections across the unit's three main time periods.

Assessment Overview
Teachers may assess the dictionary entries from Lesson 1. In Lesson 2, students conduct self-assessment and peer-assessment in their group work on analysis charts, and teachers assess the essays written as homework. For Lessons 3 and 4, the teacher assesses student work in the discussion of research questions. For Lesson 5, the teacher assesses the students' written questions and answers, and their work in the inner/outer circle seminar.

AP World History Course Description Connections
  • Interactions in economy and politics
  • Change and continuity
  • Systems of social and gender structure
Habits of Mind
  • Using texts and other primary documents
  • Assessing change and continuity
  • Seeing local and global patterns
Major Developments
  • 600-1450 -- The Islamic world
  • 1450-1750 -- Changes in trade, technology, and global interactions
  • 1750-1914 -- Changes in social and gender structure
Content Objectives
  • Analyze the economic roles of women in different societies and across different time periods
  • Identify the political, economic, and cultural factors that have played a part in determining the economic opportunities available to women across time and space
  • Evaluate change and continuity over time using gendered analysis
Skill Objectives
  • Use the concept of gender relationships to develop a world historical perspective
  • Analyze primary and secondary text documents
  • Analyze continuity and change over a long time period

General Editors: Patrick Manning and Deborah Smith Johnston; World History Center, Northeastern University

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