Focus on Societies

World History Association

The World History Association (WHA) is a professional association of scholars, teachers, and students organized to promote world history by encouraging teaching, research, publications, and personal interactions. It was founded in 1982 by a group of university faculty and secondary-school teachers determined to address the needs of a newly emerging historical sub-discipline. As described in its constitution, its mission is to “promote activities which will increase historical awareness, understanding among and between peoples, and global consciousness.”

The WHA brings together university professors, college and community college instructors, secondary school teachers, graduate students, and independent scholars in a collegial camaraderie rarely found in more narrowly focused academic and professional societies. Its mission remains the advancement of scholarship and teaching within transnational, transregional, and transcultural perspectives, designed to prepare students and the public for an increasingly interdependent world.

In the United States, world history emerged in the 1970s, a field created by historians and teachers who wanted to move away from an emphasis on national and regional histories toward broader cross-cultural, comparative, and global approaches. Some of these pioneering world historians were trained in area studies programs that focused on regions beyond Europe and the US; some were self-taught. They all carried out research and laid theoretical groundwork for the field. Dissatisfied with the scope of most history courses at the secondary and university level, they created world history courses that emphasized connections, comparisons, and large-scale processes. In the early 1980s, a group of these instructors and scholars formed the WHA, set up a governance structure, began to hold meetings, and established ways to share scholarship and ideas, including a newsletter, which later grew into the World History Bulletin. They planned a journal, the Journal of World History, which saw its first issue in 1990, under the editorship of Jerry Bentley at the University of Hawai‘i. He remained its editor until his death in 2012. Meetings turned into a regular conference that has been held annually since 1992. Membership grew and regional affiliates were formed in various parts of the country, holding their own conferences and meetings.

Since its founding, the WHA has played a central role in shaping the field of world history in the US and around the world at every level from elementary school through graduate education. The Journal of World History, its official journal, has earned prizes and is highly ranked in various measures of scholarly impact. WHA members have been instrumental in establishing standards for world history teaching in US secondary schools at the national and state levels, as well as designing the Advanced Placement World History course and exam, which grew from several thousand test-takers when it first began in 2001 to more than 300,000 in 2017. At present, although its membership is still predominantly North American, the WHA has members in many countries and is part of the Network of Global and World History Organizations (NOGWHISTO), an international umbrella group.

For more information on the World History Association, visit www.thewha.org/