IBDP History: Study Guide and Notes – New Syllabus 2017-2025 -HLSL Paper 2

IBDP History- Syllabus content -World history topics

World history topic 1: Society and economy (750–1400)

This topic focuses on social and economic change and continuity in the medieval world. It allows the opportunity for students to examine the social and economic impact of dramatic events of the period such as the spread of the Black Death, as well as the contribution of significant individuals such as Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta.

Society and economy

  • Changes in social structures and systems
  • Impact of population change; impact of famines and disease
  • Role of women in society: economic and non-economic roles
  • Nature and development of trade; changes in economic systems; taxation
  • Changes in travel and transportation

Cultural and intellectual developments

  • Role and significance of key individuals
  • Factors affecting the transmission of ideas and cultures
  • Significance and impact of artistic and cultural developments; developments in architecture
  • Developments in science and technology

Religion and society

  • Religious institutions: religious institutions and the economy; influence of religious institutions on society
  • Religious leaders: role of religious leaders in government and administration; disputes between rulers and religious leaders
  • Treatment of religious minorities; religious persecution
  • Spread of religion

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: spread of Islam in Africa; individuals such as al-Ghazali (1058–1111) and Maimonides (1135 or 1138–1204); high taxation of peasant farmers in Egypt; Ghanaian Empire’s taxation of trans-Saharan trade; the effect of the Black Death and other diseases on Mamluk Egypt.
  • The Americas: Mayan decline in the 8th and 9th centuries; Purépecha architecture; movement of Athabaskan speakers into Pueblo Native American territories; Woodland and Mississippian cultures
  • Asia and Oceania: the spread of Buddhism; cultural developments during the Song dynasty (960–1279); architecture of Angkor Wat; trade along the Silk Road; the rise of the Samurai in Japan
  • Europe: individuals such as Dante Alighieri (1265–1321); the effect of the Black Death; manorialism in Europe; role of Venice, Genoa and other city states in European economies; transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture in western Europe

World history topic 2: Causes and effects of medieval wars (750–1500)

Wars and conflicts, either among or between communities, and military expansion played a crucial role in shaping the medieval world.

Types and causes of conflicts

  • Dynastic, territorial and religious disputes
  • Economic causes, competition for resources
  • Ideological and political causes
  • Religious causes
  • Long-term, short-term and immediate causes


  • Role and significance of leaders
  • Raising armies: knighthood, military service and mercenaries; taxation
  • Logistics, tactics and organization of warfare
  • Women and war


  • Conquest, boundary and dynastic changes
  • Treaties and truces
  • Political repercussions
  • Economic, social, religious and cultural changes
  • Demographic changes and population movements

Suggested examples

  • Examples of wars: Norman conquest of England (1066); England and France at war (1154–1204); The Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453); the Wars of the Roses (1455–1487); the Crusades (1095–1291); Toluid Civil War 1260–1264; Great ‘Abbasid Civil War (809–813); Byzantine–Seljuq Wars (1048–1308);
    Byzantinian–Bulgarian Wars under Khan Krum (807–814); the Tepanec War with the Aztecs (1428–1430)
  • Examples of leaders: Nur al-Din (1118–1174); Saladin (1137/1138–1193); Richard I of England (1157– 1199); Edward III of England (1312–1377); Louis VII of France (1120–1180); Charles V of France (1338– 1380); Genghis Khan (c1162–1227); Kublai Khan (1215–1294); Tamerlane (1336–1405)

World history topic 3: Dynasties and rulers (750–1500)

This topic focuses on dynasties and kingdoms, and their rulers. It explores the status, power and position of these rulers, and on how they came to govern and sustain their rule.

Dynasties and rulers

  • Individual rulers: nature of power and rule; aims and achievements
  • Methods used to legitimize, consolidate and maintain rule
  • Expansion of dynasties/kingdoms: reasons for expansion; methods used to expand power; invasion and settlement

Law, governing institutions and administration

  • Models and methods of government and administration 
  • Sources of religious and secular law
  • Administration and interpretation of law
  • Role and duties of officials; role of nobility and the elite


  • Successes and failures of dynasties and rulers
  • Internal and external challenges to power; the success with which these challenges were overcome
  • Rebellion and/or political opposition; rivalries and issues of succession

Suggested examples

  • Examples of dynasties: ‘Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258); Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171); Zagwe dynasty (900–1270); Carolingian Empire (800–888); Song dynasty (900–1279); Jin dynasty (1115–1234); Mongol Empire (1206–1368); Almohad dynasty (c1120–1269); Second Bulgarian Empire (1185–1396);  dynasty of Kievan Rus (882–1283); Kingdom of Cusco (1197–1438); Trần dynasty of Vietnam (1225–1400); Tulunid dynasty (868–905);  Ayyubid dynasty (1171–1341); Comnenian dynasty (1081–1204)
  • Examples of rulers: Charlemagne (768–814); Tamerlane (1370–1405); Matilda (1141); Louis VI of France (1108–1137); Harun al-Rashid (786–809); ‘Abd  al-Rahman III of Spain (912–961); Frederick I (Barbarossa) (Holy Roman Emperor 1155–1190); Empress Theodora (1042–1056); Itzcoatl (1427– 440); Hongwu (1368–1398); Basil II (976–1025); Baibars (1260–1277)

World history topic 4: Societies in transition (1400–1700)

This topic focuses on exploring societal change. It centres on the transition from the medieval to the modern world; a period of dramatic economic, social and cultural change

Social and economic change

  • Changing social structures and systems; role of women in society
  • Population expansion and movements
  • Treatment of minorities
  • Economic change: development of, and changing patterns of, trade; role and impact of merchants and travellers

Cultural and intellectual change

  • Artistic, cultural and intellectual movements
  • Cross-cultural exchange
  • Scientific and technological developments; social and cultural impact of those developments
  • Role and significance of key intellectual/scientific figures

Religious change

  • Religion and the state: interactions and relationships; religion as a support or a challenge to the state
  • Religious expansion and conversion
  • Religious division, conflict, discrimination and persecution

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: the impact of trade in salt and gold on the rise and decline of African empires; Christian art and architecture in Ethiopia; Bantu migration; impact of slavery on the economy and society in Africa; spread of Islam in western Africa and the Swahili Coast Asia and Oceania: Indian Ocean trade; collapse of the Ming dynasty; the Azuchi-Momoyama period in Japan (1568–1600)
  • The Americas: treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas; transatlantic trade; impact of slavery on economy and society in the Americas Europe: the Renaissance; the Enlightenment; Gutenburg printing press (1450); decline of feudalism;
  • the Spanish Inquisition; the Reformation and Catholic Reformation; impact of inventions such as new navigational instruments; impact of scientific pioneers such as Copernicus, Kepler, Newton or Galileo

World history topic 5: Early Modern states (1450–1789)

This topic focuses on political change in the Early Modern period. It examines the establishment and expansion of colonial empires, as well as the social, economic and cultural impact of this expansion upon the colonial states.

Nature of power and rule

  • Established and new states; states in ascendancy and states in decline
  • Methods and models of government; reasons for changes in political structures/political organization; domestic policies; treatment of subjects
  • Individual rulers: ideology; nature of rule; ambition and achievements; legitimacy; successes and failures


  • Expansion of established states; political and economic reasons for expansion
  • Political organization in established states: structures of government and political structure; models and methods of government; relationship between religion and the state
  • Establishment and expansion of colonial empires; political and economic reasons for expansion and acquisition of territory
  • Political organization in colonial states: structures of government and political structure in the colonial world; models and methods of government; relationship between religion and the state

Conflicts and challenges

  • Methods of maintaining power; treatment of opposition
  • Support and opposition; challenges to power and how successfully those challenges were overcome
  • Challenges to colonial rule: resistance, rebellions and their impact; the colonial race—competition and conflict
  • Rivalries and tensions; issues of succession

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: expansion of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle East and North Africa; Safavid Persia; Songhai Empire (c1464–1591); the Benin Empire; the Ajuran Sultanate
  • The Americas: New Spain; British colonies in North America; colonial conflicts between the British and French; the Iroquois confederation; Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire; challenges to Spanish Empire and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680
  • Asia and Oceania: the Tokugawa Shogunate; early Qing dynasty; Mughal India; the expansion and contraction of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in Thailand
  • Europe: expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe; expansion and reorganization of the Russian Empire under Peter the Great; Kingdom of  Granada from 1492; France under Louis XIV

World history topic 6: Causes and effects of Early Modern wars (1500–1750)

The Early Modern period saw dramatic increases in the size and scope of wars, as well as major changes to the nature of warfare because of developments such as the widespread use of gunpowder.

Causes of conflicts

  • Ideological and political causes
  • Economic causes; competition for resources
  • Religious causes
  • Short- and long-term causes

Practices and impact on outcome

  • Role and significance of leaders
  • Raising armies: military service and mercenaries; taxation
  • Organization of warfare; strategies: land and/or sea
  • Significance of technological developments
  • Influence and/or involvement of foreign powers


  • The successes and/or failures of peacemaking
  • Economic, political and territorial impact
  • Social and religious impact
  • Demographic changes and population movements

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: Ethiopian–Adal War (1529–1543); Ottoman–Mamluk War (1516–1517); Moroccan invasion of the Songhai Empire (1591)
  • The Americas: the Acadian Civil War (1640–1645); the “Beaver Wars” (mid-17th century); Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Incan Empires; Pueblo  Revolt (1680)
  • Asia and Oceania: Mughal conquests; Burmese–Siamese War (1547–1549); Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598); Qing conquest of Ming China
  • Europe: Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648); the Thirty Years War (1618–1648); Russo-Swedish War (1554–1557); the Great Northern War (1700–1721); the English Civil War (1642–1651)

World history topic 7: Origins, development and impact of industrialization (1750–2005)

This topic focuses on the huge social and economic changes associated with industrialization.

The origins of industrialization

  • The causes and enablers of industrialization; the availability of human and natural resources; political stability; infrastructure
  • Role and significance of technological developments
  • Role and significance of individuals

The impact and significance of key developments

  • Developments in transportation
  • Developments in energy and power
  • Industrial infrastructure; iron and steel
  • Mass production
  • Developments in communications

The social and political impact of industrialization

  • Urbanization and the growth of cities and factories
  • Labour conditions; organization of labour
  • Political representation; opposition to industrialization
  • Impact on standards of living; disease and life expectancy; leisure; literacy and media

Suggested examples

  • Examples of countries:
    • Africa and the Middle East: Egypt, South Africa
    • The Americas: Argentina, US, Canada
    • Asia and Oceania: Japan, India, Australia
    • Europe: Great Britain, Germany, Russia/USSR
  • Examples of technological developments: the combustion engine; steam power/the steam engine; gas lighting; generation of electricity; iron production; mechanized cotton spinning; production of sulphuric acid; production of steel and the Bessemer process; nuclear power; growth in information technology
  • Examples of significant individuals: Thomas Edison; the Wright brothers; Charles Babbage; Andrew Carnegie; Cornelius Vanderbilt; Alexander Graham Bell; Henry Ford; Richard Arkwright; Michael Faraday; James Watt; Jean Lenoir; Tim Berners-Lee

World history topic 8: Independence movements (1800–2000)

This theme focuses on the emergence of new states in the 19th and 20th centuries. It explores the origins and rise of independence movements, the reasons for their success, the challenges that new states faced in their first 10 years, and the responses to those challenges.

Origins and rise of independence movements, up to the point of independence

  • Development of movements: role and relative importance of nationalism and political ideology
  • Development of movements: role and relative importance of religion, race, social and economic factors
  • Wars as a cause and/or catalyst for independence movements
  • Other internal and external factors fostering growth of independence movements

Methods used and reasons for success

  • Methods of achieving independence (including violent and non-violent methods)
  • Role and importance of leaders of independence movements
  • The role and relative importance of other factors in the success of independence movements

Challenges faced in the first 10 years, and responses to the challenges

  • Challenges: political problems; ethnic, racial and separatist movements
  • Social, cultural and economic challenges
  • Responses to those challenges, and the effectiveness of those responses

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: Ben Bella and Algeria; Nkrumah and Ghana; Kenyatta and Kenya; Mugabe and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe
  • The Americas: José Martí and Cuba; San Martín and the former Viceroyalty of the River Plate; Bolivar and Gran Columbia; Dessalines and Haiti
  • Asia and Oceania: Nehru, Gandhi and India; Jinnah and Pakistan; Somare and Papua New Guinea; Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam
  • Europe: Kolokotronis and Greece; Kossuth and the establishment of dual monarchy in Hungary (1867); Collins, de Valera and Ireland

World history topic 9: Evolution and development of democratic states (1848–2000)

This topic covers the evolution and development of democratic multi-party states in a global context from the mid-19th century through to the end of the 20th century.

Emergence of democratic states

  • Conditions that encouraged the demand for democratic reform: aftermath of war and/or political upheaval; political, social and economic factors; external influences
  • The role and significance of leaders
  • Development of political parties, constitutions and electoral systems; the significance/impact of those developments.

The development of democratic states

  • Factors influencing the evolution of democratic states: immigration; ideology; economic forces; foreign influences
  • Responses to, and impact of, domestic crises
  • Struggle for equality: suffrage movements; civil protests

Impact of democracy on society

  • Social and economic policies and reforms: education; social welfare; policies towards women and minorities; the distribution of wealth
  • The extent to which citizens benefit from those policies
  • Cultural impact; freedom of expression in the arts and media

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: South Africa, Israel, Lebanon, Ghana
  • The Americas: Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile
  • Asia and Oceania: India, Japan, Malaysia, Australia
  • Europe: Spain, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland

World history topic 10: Authoritarian states (20th century)

This topic focuses on exploring the conditions that facilitated the rise of authoritarian states in the 20th century, as well as the methods used by parties and leaders to take and maintain power.

Emergence of authoritarian states

  • Conditions in which authoritarian states emerged: economic factors; social division; impact of war; weakness of political system
  • Methods used to establish authoritarian states: persuasion and coercion; the role of leaders; ideology; the use of force; propaganda

Consolidation and maintenance of power

  • Use of legal methods; use of force; charismatic leadership; dissemination of propaganda
  • Nature, extent and treatment of opposition
  • The impact of the success and/or failure of foreign policy on the maintenance of power.

Aims and results of policies

  • Aims and impact of domestic economic, political, cultural and social policies
  • The impact of policies on women and minorities
  • Authoritarian control and the extent to which it was achieved.

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: Tanzania—Nyerere; Egypt—Nasser; Iraq—Saddam Hussein; Kenya— Kenyatta; Uganda—Amin
  • The Americas: Argentina—Perón; Cuba—Castro; Chile—Pinochet; Haiti—Duvalier; Nicaragua—Somoza
  • Asia and Oceania: China—Mao; Indonesia—Sukarno; Pakistan—Zia ul Haq; Cambodia—Pol Pot
  • Europe: Germany—Hitler; USSR—Stalin; Italy—Mussolini; Spain—Franco; Poland—Pilsudski

World history topic 11: Causes and effects of 20th century wars

This topic focuses on the causes, practice and effects of war in the 20th century. The topic explores the causes of wars, as well as the way in which warfare was conducted, including types of war, the use of technology, and the impact these factors had upon the outcome.

Causes of war

  • Economic, ideological, political, territorial and other causes
  • Short- and long-term causes

Practices of war and their impact on the outcome

  • Types of war: civil wars; wars between states; guerrilla wars
  • Technological developments; theatres of war—air, land and sea
  • The extent of the mobilization of human and economic resources
  • The influence and/or involvement of foreign powers

Effects of war

  • The successes and failures of peacemaking
  • Territorial changes
  • Political repercussions
  • Economic, social and demographic impact; changes in the role and status of women

Suggested examples

  • Africa and the Middle East: Algerian War (1954–1962); Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970); Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988); North Yemen Civil War (1962–1970); First Gulf War (1990–1991)
  • The Americas: Chaco War (1932–1935); Falklands/Malvinas War (1982); Mexican Revolution (1910– 1920); Contra War (1981–1990)
  • Asia and Oceania: Chinese Civil War (1927–1937 and/or 1946–1949); Vietnam (1946–1954 and/or 1964–1975); Indo-Pakistan Wars (1947–1949 and/or 1965 and/or 1971)
  • Europe: Spanish Civil War (1936–1939); the Balkan Wars (1990s); Russian Civil War (1917–1922); Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) Cross-regional wars: First World War (1914–1918); Second World War (1939–1945); Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905)

World history topic 12: The Cold War: Superpower tensions and rivalries (20th century)

The Cold War dominated global affairs from the end of the Second World War to the early 1990s. This topic focuses on how superpower rivalries did not remain static but changed according to styles of leadership, strength of ideological beliefs, economic factors and crises involving client states.

Rivalry, mistrust and accord

  • The breakdown of the grand alliance and the emergence of superpower rivalry in Europe and Asia (1943–1949): role of ideology; fear and aggression; economic interests; a comparison of the roles of the US and the USSR
  • The US, USSR and China—superpower relations (1947–1979): containment; peaceful co-existence; Sino-Soviet and Sino-US relations; detente
  • Confrontation and reconciliation; reasons for the end of the Cold War (1980– 1991): ideological challenges and dissent; economic problems; arms race

Leaders and nations

  • The impact of two leaders, each chosen from a different region, on the course and development of the Cold War
  • The impact of Cold War tensions on two countries (excluding the USSR and the US)

Cold War crises

  • Cold War crises case studies: detailed study of any two Cold War crises from different regions: examination and comparison of the causes, impact and significance of the two crises

Suggested examples

  • Examples of leaders
    • Truman, Stalin, Khrushchev, Nixon, Mao, Castro, Brezhnev, Reagan, Gorbachev, Nasser, Brandt Examples of Cold War crises
  • Africa and the Middle East: Suez Crisis (1956); Congo (1960–1961); outbreak of Angolan Civil War (1975)
  • The Americas: Cuban Missile Crisis (1962); US intervention in Chile (1973); Contra War (1981–1990)
  • Asia and Oceania: Chinese Offshore Island Crises (1954/1958); North Korean invasion of South Korea (1950); Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979)
  • Europe: Berlin blockade (1948–1949), Berlin Wall (1958–1961); Hungary (1956); the Prague spring (1968); the USSR and eastern Europe (1981–1989)
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