Historical Consciousness and Active Citizenship

Changing World Order: Historical Consciousness and Active Citizenship

Teaching modern history, among other things, is supposed to create democratic and active citizens who appreciate certain values as described in the NSW History syllabus. History matters as it makes citizens more informed and inspires them to be more active in politics and communities. Simultaneously, students’ historical consciousness is developed through specific cognitive abilities, allowing them to interpret modern history on their own (Oldham, 2020). Historical consciousness can be defined as understanding the historical experience’s temporality or how the past, present, and future are understood to be interconnected (Glencross, 2015). The modern history students engage in learning about past human experiences to increase their society’s understanding today. Studying modern history fosters historical consciousness as the students investigate important features, individuals, events, and issues, from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Here, the aim is to gain an understanding of the influence of the past on both the present and future by analyzing primary and secondary sources. Students can also test their ideas and thoughts about historical issues and events and communicate about modern history in various forms. This essay examines how teaching the ‘Changing World Order (1945-2011)’ topic fosters historical consciousness and active citizenship.

The Changing World Order 1945-2011

The Changing World Order topic covers an understanding that History is an interpretative study of the past that will allow students to develop a better appreciation of the making of our modern world. The historical consciousness is produced by understanding the past and present in Year 12 History that extends on the skills acquired in the previous years. Each student will apply a broad range of historical skills, such as research, assessment, synthesis, communication, and analysis. Students will depend on their past knowledge of the historical concepts like evidence, significance, continuity and change, empathy, cause and effect, contestability, and perspectives to foster historical consciousness by understanding and inferring past societies. The Changing World Order topic examines the complex dynamics of the international power balance after World War Two, spanning 1945 to 2011. The main focus is on the Cold War and consideration of the implications of the global system’s various changes after the close of this conflict and tension period between the U.S, the communist Soviet Union, and allies to encourage students to nurture active citizenship. The topic examines some of the essential and distinctive elements of the modern world from 1945 to 2011 to build the students’ understanding of our contemporary world. This comprises changes to the world order. It includes the shifting international tensions, power blocs and alliances, the emergence of some Asian countries like China as a global economic force and political, nature of different conflicts, and international and regional attempts to generate security and peace.

The Role of the U.S. A in the Modern World

The topic aids students gain an understanding of the role of the U.S. during the post Second World War world. The students will learn the advent of the ‘American Century’ from 1941 and the role of the Superpower rivalry and Cold War influence on the second half of the twentieth Century. They will also recognize both factions and opponents of U.S foreign policy in Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Students will study the post-Cold War, End of History’s triumphalism and U.S unilateralism after the September 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

First, the American Century’s emergence was evidenced during the post-World War II period when the United States underwent a phase of unparalleled economic prosperity for most white Americans. This coincided with the intensification of the struggle among black Americans for economic justice and civil rights. After the Second World War, the U.S. emerged as one of the dominant superpowers, shifting away from the traditional isolationism towards greater international involvement (Walker, 2019). Thus, the United States assumed a pivotal role through its drastic transformation and global influence in technological, political, economic, military, and cultural matters. The unprecedented U.S. economic growth translated into the nation’s prosperity, which led to millions of factory and office workers upgrading into the rising middle class, which embraced the use of consumer goods and moved to suburbs.

Despite the economic predominance phase, the United States instantly faced challenges from the Soviet Union, Communist China, and others. In 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon, thus intensifying the risks of warfare. The threats of mutual assured destructions prohibited both superpowers from using excessive force and led to proxy wars, notably in Vietnam and Korea. In the U.S., the Cold War provoked concerns about the influence of the Communists. In 1957, the unforeseen leapfrogging of American technology by the first Earth satellite (Sputnik) initiated a Space Race that was won by the U.S. in 1969 as the Apollo 11 sent astronauts to the moon. Thus, post-second world war internationalism served U.S. interests by making the modern world safer and stable. The U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid supported substitutes of depression, war, and communism, which means that the United States played a role in leading a diverse group of countries to work together towards mutual interests. But, in recent years, U.S. policy has undermined the postwar internationalism in favor of U.S. unilateralism following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Europe and Russia

The post-Cold War world disintegrated the past communist Soviet Union and led to Russia’s re-emergence as one of the regional powers. There are complicated and extensive factors that led to the dissolution of the global superpower and subsequent collapse of the USSR. Mikhail Gorbachev played a role in the collapse as he instituted openness and restructuring policies (Seliktar, 2015). But, these policies opened floodgates to vast criticisms of the whole Soviet Union apparatus. Ultimately, Gorbachev’s drastic reforms and desertion of the Brezhnev Doctrine accelerated the collapse of the Soviet empire.

The students will also learn about a summary of the leadership transition of Mikhail Gorbachev to Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, along with post-Soviet Russia, the transition to democratic capitalism, and the phase of economic shock therapy. Specifically, they will gain an in-depth understanding of the nature of Russia’s military, economic, and political role under the leadership of Putin and the emergence of the oligarchs. Towards the end of Yeltsin’s tenure, Putin started playing an important role. He established the Russian Federation law supremacy in the country. Also, even though Putin wanted to maintain strategic partnerships with the U.S, he concentrated on strengthening Russia’s security and economic relationships with Europe. He undertook steps to restrict the infamous oligarchs’ economic and political powers as thieves and a significant cause of Russia’s problems. Simultaneously, the European Union experienced severe challenges and threats to its future amid the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. After decades of close regional integration in Europe, there was an emergence of nationalism linked to economic chaos in the PIIGS economies, which resulted in the emergence of nationalist forces in Italy and Greece.

New Centers of Power

In this module, the students will learn about the new power centers, which emerged after the end of the Cold War in 1991. First, the students will learn about China’s role as one of the world’s powerful economic, military, and political forces. The new center of power left a large number of analysts and commentators inquiring if China would actually challenge the U.S for the mantle of the number one economy globally. Also, the students examined the growing influence of the EU (European Union) after the end of the Cold War. Following the collapse of communism in eastern and central Europe, Europeans become close neighbors. The Single Market was completed with freedoms of movements of people, money, goods, and services in 1993. Also, there was the formation of treaties: the ‘Maastricht’ Treaty and Amsterdam’s Treaty in 1993 and 1999, respectively.

Next, the students explore the emergence of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) in response to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. In 2001, the term BRIC was formed as a concept representing the changes that were occurring in the international order, where nations of the “South” were assuming a progressively important role in international economic growth and international politics (Iqbal & Araújo, 2015). Besides, the BRIC nations wanted to harness a more significant say in global institutions like the United Nations Security Council and World Bank. Also, a new class of non-state actors emerged in a bid to challenge the conventional nation-state in the face of the changing world order.  Finally, the students will study the modern nationalism and the role of varied non-state actors like technology companies such as Google and Facebook and terror groups like Al-Qaeda that brought horror to the world from 2001.

The United Nations

First, the students will examine the challenges faced by the United Nations in the Cold War. The United Nations was established in 1945, after the destruction of World War II, with a primary mission of maintaining security and peace across the world. This is achieved by preventing conflict, aiding conflicting parties to make peace, and creating conducive conditions that enable peace and security to hold and thrive. When the Cold War was over, the U.N. finally fulfilled its promise of preserving security and peace in the world. At the end of the Cold War, there was a change in the nature of the conflict. It became more complicated and necessitating effective responses by the global community. The U.N. peacekeeping, formed in the Cold War, was the preferred technique of intervention in international conflict. Thus, there was a surge in the size, magnitude, and the number of U.N peacekeeping projects. Though, the hastened evolution of peacekeeping also had challenges, which threatened to weaken the peacekeeping effectiveness. However, striking a balance between the sovereign nation-states’ rights and attaining international cooperation was challenging throughout the 1990s.

The case study that will be discussed includes the failures of the United Nations missions in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in 1991 and 1994, respectively. From 1992, the United Nations has received most of the blame for its failure to stop the Bosnia War. The major powers were compromised by sending the peacekeeping troops into a no peace situation. The U.N. troops’ primary tasks were purely humanitarian, but they were given additional responsibilities, which required force (Biermann & Vadset, 2018). The troops were not given the resources to perform the enforcement tasks. The fall of Srebrenica was a detrimental symbol of the U.N. failure at peacekeeping during the new age of civil wars, and confirmed the inadequacy of the system, which permitted political concerns to color army decisions when the troops were under the United Nations’ command. Through errors, misjudgment, and incapability to identify the scope of evil, the U.N. failed in its role to save the Srebrenica from the mass murder campaign. The failings were partly attributed to the philosophy of nonviolence and neutrality that was wholly unsuitable to the Bosnia conflict.  Thus, the U. N entire approach was inadequate to the ethnic cleansing and mass murder campaign that culminated at Srebrenica. The cardinal lesson from the U. N failures is the deliberate and systematic attempts to terrorizing, expelling, or murdering an entire people should be made authoritatively using all necessary means. These failures compelled nations to reconsider their roles and commitment to the U.N. Following the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. start to act unilaterally.


Studying Modern History engages the Year 12 students in in-depth investigations of the various forces that have shaped our contemporary world by analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources. Specifically, the ‘Changing World Order’ topic offers students a perfect opportunity for investigating the likely motivations, events, and activities of groups and individuals. It includes an understanding of how they molded the modern world socially, politically, economically, and culturally between 1945 and 2011. Instructing the topic is subdivided into four distinct modules: The role of the U.S. A. in the world, new centers of power, Europe and Russia, and the United Nations. This essay examined how teaching the ‘Changing World Order’ topic can foster historical consciousness and active citizenship among the Year 12 students consistent with the rationale of the NSW History syllabus. This was accomplished by allowing students to investigate the main aspects of the changing world order, including the American Century, the downfall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and its effects on both Eastern Europe and Russia. The Modern History topic also covered the nature of post Soviet Union Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, US foreign policy challenges, and the different roles of the US during the post-Cold War international history and the significance of the United Nations.

As a result of the teaching, students stimulated their imagination and curiosity. They augmented their appreciation of humanity by presenting them with various historical developments, events, and experiences which define our modern world. Tracing the historical accounts of issues and exploring the implication of crucial individuals, ideas, and events, students enhanced their historical consciousness. Similarly, equipping students with understanding, skills, and knowledge allowed them to study and make sense of their world around them to transform them into active global citizens. Therefore, studying the ‘Changing World Order’ topic provides a solid foundation for further studies, lifelong learning, as well as active and well-informed citizenship. Also, it nurtures a critical approach towards understanding the interconnection of the past, present, and future events, concerns, and interpretations, which enhances their historical consciousness. In summary, teaching the ‘Changing World Order’ topic will enable each student to appreciate influences of the past events on both present and future, along with the value the contributions to active and well-informed citizenship in our contemporary world.


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