History is a product of a debate, especially concerning recent events, not a collection of universally accepted facts. Perspective and bias come in to play to an even greater degree. Even when two groups are working towards the same end, they may differ in their interpretation of events, placing emphasis on specific areas more than others. This phenomenon can be seen in the retellings of history from 1975 onwards by both the College Board and historian Richard Bulliet. Bulliet
presents a more nuanced view of technology than does the College Board, who presents a very bipolar view of the subject.

In stating the above, there are several important caveats to note. First, the differences in medium by which these viewpoints were presented. The AP World History Key Concepts is by no means an exhaustive treatment of any subject, it is merely an overview. Bulliet, on the other hand, had an entire textbook to work with. Furthermore, Bulliet is a historian of technology, so it makes sense that he would be both more knowledgeable in and more apt to emphasize developments in that area.

Several factors that are also important to note in comparing these two works is point of view, audience, and purpose. Whereas the AP document is being presented to educators and acting as a set of guidelines to frame the textbook (whichever that may be, not necessarily Bulliet’s,) The AP document does not elucidate on the points they assert. They seem to expect that their words will be accepted by default. The College Board is attempting to streamline the teaching (and learning) of the material by presenting some information and say that these are the topics that AP World students need to know. Bulliet is presenting his interpretation of the College Board’s guidelines, while making allowances to ensure that the book will sell to a variety of groups.

Circumstantial differences aside, the two parties’ treatment of technology’s role in the last few decades differs in more ways than those. For instance, the AP document specifically refers to “new scientific paradigms” (College Board, 20) that substantially altered human understanding, such as the Big Bang Theory, relativity, and psychology. Bulliet makes referencesto these paradigm shifts, but rather than labeling them as technological developments, he calls them modernism. Furthermore, Bulliet does not make note of the link between technology and increased casualties in war, as the AP document explicitly states. This raises a valid point; the AP document emphasizes those technologies that were designed to either extend human life or end it. The Green Revolution and medical advancements such as polio vaccine and antibiotics are presented alongside the atomic bomb and trench warfare. Bulliet, in contrast, presents a less black-and-white view of technology, going into more detail concerning improved transportation, communication, and computers. In fact, the AP World History Key Concepts never explicitly mentions the appearance of computers and their subsequent integration into everything from manufacturing to entertainment. Bulliet, on the other hand, spends an entire page on the development of the personal computer, devoting an entire box to it. That would imply that he sees that as an important change. While the AP document implies that computers are significant, referencing “new modes of communication” (College Board, 20), which could reasonably include cell phones, they are never mentioned outright. Additionally, Bulliet delves more into the methods by which research and development occurred, noting that governments often subsidized research, but were later replaced by transnational corporations as the agents of major technological advancement.

In order to more fully understand the role played by technology in the late 20th century, there are three case studies that exemplify the shifts that took place during this time. The creation spread of the Internet, the Green Revolution, and the developments in the field of energy.

The spread of the internet is an incredible example of globalization. It is a technology that is barely twenty years old, yet has spread to a large portion of the world, benefitting from the connections created by globalization. In 2011, it was estimated that one-third of the world’s population has access to the internet.[1] It enables for the spread of information at rates unheard of before its inception. It is both a product and an agent of globalization. In addition to helping the spread if information, it has increased the size of commercial markets through online stores and enabled artists to more effectively spread their material through sites like Youtube. The internet has become woven into the fabric of society in the developed world, and will eventually permeate further into the developing world as time goes on.

The Green Revolution showcases several elements of technology’s role in the late 20th century. Not only did the Green Revolution increase the viability of large scale food production, it also proved to be among the more controversial developments, and continues to be so today. One case of the incredible changes brought about by the Green Revolution is that of India since the 1960s. India ended up becoming agriculturally self-sufficient since the introduction of genetically modified high yield wheat. As a result of this, there have been fewer bouts of famine in India. The Green Revolution has also been the subject of much debate due to concerns over the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Many believe that they are unfit for consumption, citing links to cancer and other such maladies. Despite these accusations, the Green Revolution had a striking impact on world food production, causing the global grain production to increase by over 250% from 1950 to 1984.[2]

A final area that exemplifies the role played by technology in the late 20th century is the set of developments that fueled the creation of new energy sources. With the rapid increase in demand for oil, coupled with the idea of peak oil, it became imperative to search out new, less environmentally damaging sources of energy. Nuclear energy underwent a period of development, but was eventually viewed as too hazardous to be a viable option. Wind power and solar power are both more modern attempts to solve the problem of clean energy generation. While those technologies were and still are in widespread use today, with some governments offering incentives for their adoption, it is unlikely that they will be able to produce the sheer volume of power required in the future.

One of the main points of the AP curriculum is that there are central themes around which the course is structured. Here is no different. Each of these cases can be tied back to one of those themes. Energy generation is just a facet of human-environment interaction, as is the Green Revolution. The Internet is “just” another revolution in communication, like the telephone or even writing systems. The only thing that is new are the specifics, the concepts themselves remain the same. The fundamental requirements for life are constant; it is the solution that changes.

Bulliet, Richard et al, “The Earth and its Peoples, AP Edition” Wadsworthh Cengage Learning, 2011

College Board, “AP World History Key Concepts” College Board, 2011

Kindel, H; Pementel, D “Constraints on the Expansion of the Global Food Supply” Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1994

Internet Usage Statistics” http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm, Miniwatts Marketing Group, Dec 31, 2011 Accessed: 5/2/2/12

[1] “Internet Usage Statistics” http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm, Miniwatts Marketing Group, Dec 31, 2011 Accessed: 5/2/2/12
[2] Kindel, H; Pementel, D “Constraints on the Expansion of the Global Food Supply” Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1994