An Open Letter from the Medieval Academy of America to the College Board

Trevor Packer
Senior Vice President, AP and Instruction
The College Board
250 Vesey Street
New York, NY 10281

Dear Mr. Packer,

The Medieval Academy of America (MAA) and especially its K-12 Committee urges the College Board to reconsider its recent decision to revise the Advanced Placement (AP) World History exam to “assess content only from c. 1450 to the present.”

As the largest organization in the world dedicated to the study of the Middle Ages, we have noted with alarm a clear decline in representation of this important epoch in core standards at the secondary school level. This trend has reached a tipping point with the College Board’s decision to begin its AP World History curriculum at the year 1450 while recommending that schools develop their own pre-1450 coursework. To assume that schools will do so and that students will take these courses, especially at a time of limited resources and even more limited faculty, is highly speculative at best. In addition, relegating the premodern world to “pre-AP” certainly diminishes its standing. Because pre-AP courses are required to be made available to all students enrolled in a school, and do not carry weighted grades or the distinction of an AP examination for college credit, students do not typically view them with the same level of respect or afford them the same level of importance that they assign to AP courses, unless a school offers them in combination with Honors or some other academic distinction.

There are several further problems with this strategy. By beginning “world history” in 1450, the College Board is essentially sending the message that premodern culture and events are unimportant. It is impossible to make sense out of the political and historical climate of the mid-fifteenth century without a grounding in what came before. It is especially unfortunate to suggest, with the 1450 start date, that “world history” effectively begins with the arrival of white Europeans in North America, coupled with the mass extinction (chiefly through disease) of substantial segments of native populations. A pre-1450 start date would facilitate study of a global Middle Ages, a period when regions such as China, Mali, Ethiopia, Armenia, and Egypt had great achievements, in conditions of relative parity, before the oceanic dominance of a few western powers (Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, France). We have all seen how misappropriation of medieval history leads to the advancement of dangerous, racist narratives. Only education can counter such misuse of history. Teaching the reality rather than the fictionalized fantasy of the Middle Ages has never been more important than it is today.

A few alternative suggestions to this decision might be:

● Split the World History AP course into two courses with two exams: “AP World History to 1450” and “AP World History after 1450” (this configuration corresponds more clearly with the World History offerings at most universities and reinstates the importance of the premodern world in the curriculum);
● Rethink the designation of the medieval as “The Postclassical Period,” which again privileges Europe while simultaneously ignoring the vital impact of a thousand-year period on today’s world;
● Consider thematic strands that cover the crucial historical timelines (for example, “race,” “gender,” “governance,” etc.).

The Medieval Academy of America K-12 Committee is focused on improving representation of the medieval period in K-12 curricula, and we would be very happy to partner with the College Board in thinking through these issues.


Medieval Academy of America – Council

Medieval Academy of America – K-12 Committee

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