The Americas

When examining the four IB regions the Americas seems to be the one with the most homogeneity. All countries have the same alphabet, they are all ex-colonies, they achieved independence at roughly the same time, Christianity is the prevailing religion, and they all manage a certain amount of isolation from the world’s events due to geography.

Upon closer examination, however, there is an exception to every criterion and usually there are more than two of these. Not only are these two continents (and the nearby islands) isolated geographically from the rest of the world by two oceans, but they are often isolated from one another. The Americas are defined by mountain ranges that cut across them, making travel difficult – and making transportation innovations critcially important. Today, the best way of getting from one country to the next is usually via air travel, not rail or highway. And there is little consistency in the heterogeneity of the countries. In some countries, the indigenous population is still the most populous; in others, it has been all but eradicated.

Political systems also vary tremendously, showing that the timing of independence has little to do with types of government. Democracy prevails in some countries, but in others, the military dictatorship had dominated, and in still others. Some countries have been very right-wing and arguably fascist while others are Marxist in their politics.

So how are we supposed to approach this topic?  Unlike other regional options, the Americas options demands comparison; more explicitly, the syllabus demands that students and teachers have knowledge of the US, Canada and Latin America (the Caribbean is implied here even though it is not really Latin or American).  While it is possible to study Europe without the Middle East or vice versa, the Americas must be looked at as an integral, related unit.

This is easiest to achieve in foreign policy.  From the Monroe Doctrine (1823) to the eve of the 21st century the economic, military and political agreements of the region is where this is simplest.  Two of the topics explicitly treat external relations and allow for comparisons within the region.  Teachers need to explain to students the nuances in the differing policies of these countries as often agreements and compacts seem the same.  The US may dominate the region but it by no means determines the outcomes for other countries, or the course of events outside of its own borders.

So, what is a teacher to do?  Adopt a case-study approach and, wher possible, return to the same countries over and over again, so that the students understand the history of the country on its own and in the greater context.  Mexico and Guatemala may have been part of New Spain, but after 1823 their histories diverge and they have their own paths to pursue.  General knowledge of the region is good, but specific details must be known, too.

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