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Home > AP Courses and Exams > Course Home Pages > Decolonization: Struggle for National Identities, 1900-2001

Decolonization: Struggle for National Identities, 1900-2001

by James A. Diskant
World History Center, Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts


Most of the information on these websites is dated and refers back to the AP® World History Curriculum prior to the course revisions implemented in the 2011-12 academic year.

This five-lesson unit focuses on choices of people living in colonies around the world as they sought to create or recreate nation-states in the twentieth century. The unit will illustrate how different forms of revolutionary ideas developed in five different locations: Algeria, Ghana, India, Ireland, and Korea. The objective of the unit is for students to learn about these transnational ideas and to evaluate their effectiveness in meeting the needs of the people they claim to represent; and how these ideas developed in particular situations in representative cases on three continents.

As the twentieth century opened, people lived under colonial rule on every continent, but especially in Africa and Asia. Elites in most colonies came to contest their subordination, and to find a way to decolonize. In the first lesson, students assess the options for decolonization. The next three lessons present three transnational expressions of independence: non-cooperation with the Western world and resurrecting local traditions, the creation of new nationalisms, and the incorporation of the international language of communism into their political rhetoric. Whichever form elites chose or populations adopted, they tried hard to make sure that it was consistent with their local traditions. The fifth lesson evaluates the consequences of decolonization in the five selected countries.

Student activities include exploring perspectives through documents, a debate on violence and nonviolence as bases for political strategy, group analysis of documents using a worksheet, writing and sharing essays, and library research to find current news.

Main Points of the Unit

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

Big Questions
  • What is the relationship between the transnational theory of decolonization articulated by a Western educated elite and indigenous peoples' movements in different parts of Africa and Asia?
  • What is the relationship between this theory of decolonization and local leaders' practical actions?
  • What were the roles of different colonial powers in furthering or limiting decolonization?
  • In what ways did one's gender or age affect this practice?
  • What different models transcend local interests? What were common patterns of decolonization? What factors changed over time?
  • What was the role of different technologies in furthering or limiting decolonization?
  • What images were important for the success or failure of these movements?
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:
  • Analyze visual documents
  • Assess historical options
  • Participate in role-playing debate
  • Analyze primary text documents
Lesson Summary
Lesson 1. Assessing Options for Decolonization
Students review the effects of industrialization and colonization in colonial situations by viewing selected images of five colonies in the twentieth century. They brainstorm possible solutions to the desire for end to colonial rule, and identify the value in the different articulated possibilities: nonviolence and non-cooperation, nationalism, and communism.

Lesson 2. Choosing Nonviolence and Non-cooperation?
Students form into four groups, and debate nonviolent and non-cooperative strategies in India in the 1930s and 1940s, relying on documents read as homework. The remainder of the class assesses the arguments of the four groups, and votes to select the position best suiting the needs of the Indian population.

Lesson 3. Choosing Nationalism?
Forming into different groups, students assess nationalism in African countries (especially Ghana and Algeria) in the 1950s by analyzing primary and secondary texts. After completing document analysis worksheets, students share and discuss their work with others. Students will discuss the merits of a broader nationalism, as articulated in the form of pan-Africanism, and compare that with other forms of nationalism.

Lesson 4. Choosing Communism?
Students read a document on Korea in the 1930s and 1940s to explore the approach of communism to achieving decolonization. Through class discussion, they consider the merits of this approach. Then students participate in a general review, in which they compare and contrast the different forms of decolonization and evaluate the merits of each approach.

Lesson 5. Evaluating Consequences in Today's News
Working individually or in small groups, students choose a few local and national newspapers and look for evidence of recent developments in Algeria, Ghana, India, Ireland, and Korea. They share with the class their discoveries on the consequences of the events of decolonization on current affairs. In addition, students may complete an essay that they have prepared at home over the course of the unit.

Assessment Overview
Students assess their peers' arguments in the debate in Lesson 2. The teacher may assess students' understanding of the options for achieving decolonization in Lessons 1 through 4. In Lesson 5, the teacher may assess students' ability to connect current events to the history of decolonization.

AP World History Course Description Connections
  • Interactions in economy and politics
  • Change and continuity
  • Changing functions of states
Habits of Mind
  • Constructing and evaluating arguments
  • Using texts and other primary documents
  • Seeing local and global patterns
Major Developments, Comparisons, and Snapshots
AP World History Course Description. Major Developments, 1914 - present: 1 - Questions of periodization; 3 - New patterns of nationalism; 6 - Social reform and social revolution.

Content Objectives
  • Understand patterns of decolonization
  • Learn about and evaluate cases of decolonization in Algeria, Ghana, India, Ireland, and Korea
  • Locate similarities and differences in episodes of decolonization
  • Appreciate the role of technology in furthering or limiting decolonization
Skill Objectives
  • Work together to brainstorm solutions to difficult problems
  • Debate options in historical situations
  • Analyze contemporary newspapers
  • Overhead projector
  • Transparencies
  • Tape player or CD player (if intending to play music in Lesson 1)
  • Local and/or national newspapers for Lesson 5
General Editors: Patrick Manning and Deborah Smith Johnston; World History Center, Northeastern University

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