NYSED Global History and Geography Online Resource Guide

What is a Turning Point?

“Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the Western Hemisphere mark one of the clearer turning points in world history. Since the year 1492, the cross-cultural contacts inaugurated by Columbus have clearly influenced the experiences of all peoples on earth.”
Jerry H. Bentley

A turning point is an event, era, and/or development in world history that has brought about significant social, cultural, ecological, political or economic change. Many turning points focus on such world history connections and linkages as: belief systems, conflicts, migrations, trade, multi-regional empires and ideas, technology, foods, and diseases. Many are representative of comparable events that have occurred elsewhere in the world. Thus the Iranian Revolution of 1979, is, for example, somewhat related to the later Revolution of the Taliban and other activist Islamic political movements. On a technological and commercial level, the reference to the Industrial Revolution refers to an entire sequence of industrial and economic changes that have transformed the modern world.

The Turning Points component of the Global History and Geography Online Resource was developed to stimulate a conversation or a discourse, not as a list to be memorized by students. When the editors developed the initial listing, five criteria were taken into consideration. The turning points:

  • Have brought about significant change
  • Can be viewed from multiple perspectives
  • Concentrate on the “big ideas” of world history
  • Focus on the concept of continuity and change, and
  • Reflect all world regions

There is no absolute, set number of Turning Points. The 62 Turning Points that are included in this component of the Online Resource are indicative of major world history turning points. After each unit, semester, or year is completed, teachers might have students create their own lists of turning points. What events would you place on a Top 10 World History Turning Points listing?

"History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves."
Jared Diamond

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2008 NYSED