Skip to main content
K12 LibreTexts

1.2: Periodization and SPICES

  • Page ID
  • Student Learning Objectives

    At the end of this section, the student will be able to

    • Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following events from 8000 BCE to 500 BCE: the development of agriculture and the development of the river valley civilizations.
    • Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following events from 500 BCE to 600 CE: the development of the classical civilizations of Greece, Rome, Persia, India (Maurya and Gupta), China (Zhou, Qin, and Han), and the development of major world religions.
    • Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following important turning points in world history from 600 CE to 1450 CE: the spread of Christianity, the decline of Rome and the formation of medieval Europe; the development of Islamic caliphates and their impact on Asia, Africa, and Europe; the Mongol invasions and their impact on Europe, China, India, and Southwest Asia.
    • Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following important turning points in world history from 1450 to 1750: the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the influence of the Ming dynasty on world trade, European exploration and the Columbian Exchange, European expansion, and the Renaissance and the Reformation.
    • Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following important turning points in world history from 1750 to 1914: the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the development of modern economic systems, European imperialism, and the Enlightenment's impact on political revolutions.
    • Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following important turning points in world history from 1914 to the present: the world wars and their impact on political, economic, and social systems; communist revolutions and their impact on the Cold War; independence movements; and globalization.

    What is Periodization?

    Periodization is a technique that is used in the study of history. Each period is defined by three conditions: the first condition is geographical; a civilization may contract or shrink or spread from a smaller to a wider area. The second condition is the increase or decrease in contacts across regions (trade, conflict, migration). Finally, parallel developments are found across the globe. Often these events do not happen at the exact same time across the world. So dates are not the best way to define a period. Rather, dates act as a guide, but often there is controversy over which dates to use.

    Two keys ideas that need to be understood are turning points and eras. First, eras are large periods of time. As you begin, you will notice that early eras, also known as ages or periods, usually stretch over longer periods of time. As history moves closer to the present, the period of time is significantly shorter. What accounts for this difference in time? Mainly, it’s based on the developments that took place during that period of time. A second factor is the amount of physical evidence, especially recorded or written evidence. Early time periods show that developments took much longer than they do today. Therefore, information is usually more generalized in the early periods and more specific in the modern era.

    The second key idea is a turning point in history. A turning point is when a common way of doing things changes. The causes may vary from region to region and from era to era. Also, as was stated before, these changes happen at different rates. A factor that affects the rate of change is contact with other societies such as trade and war. The more contact, the more that civilization will adapt or risk the chance of being absorbed by a more powerful society. Other catalysts for change include disease, natural disaster, and advances and spread of technology.

    Putting the concept of era and turning point together allows historians to group large periods of time together. The periods being introduced below begin with the rise of agriculture and civilization, followed by the rise of regional empires. This trend will continue and lead to trans-regional empires and increased contacts. Key technological advances in the rate at which these contacts take place and the methods and purposes for these contacts eventually connect the Old and New Worlds beyond the idea of trans-regional to a global community of trade, conquest, and diffusion. Finally, it ends with the 20th century when change is accelerated by communication technology, world wars, and global trade.

    Foundation Period

    The Foundation period begins in 8,000 BCE and continues to 500 BCE. As the name Foundation implies, civilization was in its early developments during this period. What is significant about this era is that the developments that occur are built upon by the following periods --a process which continues throughout time. The key firsts are the rise of agriculture and sedentary cultures. Prior to these key firsts, almost all societies were nomadic. Many were still hunters and gatherers, but several peoples had begun domesticating animals and are better described as pastoralists. Once humans learned how to farm, they no longer needed to move around to sustain themselves. Large sedentary populations emerged, driving improvements in farming as demand for food increased. These improvements in turn fueled population growth, and civilization began to blossom into generally-small city-states, or states with complex institutions. The era or period is divided into two sub-periods: the Neolithic (Revolution) and the Ancient River Valley Civilizations. Finally, the period ends with rise of large, regional empires.

    Classical Period

    The Classical period begins in 500 BCE and continues to 600 CE. The major change that marks this era is the development of large, regional empires. These empires centralized power through the use of military aristocracies and various forms of bureaucracy. This allowed them to integrate widespread regions through the use of roads and sea travel. Permanent traditions tracing their origins back to the Foundation Period became characteristic of these newly formed regional civilizations. The four main areas are China, India, South West Asia, and the Mediterranean Sea. These empires made strong contacts between regional centers. Other areas that grew in isolation from Europe and Asia are Mesoamerica and Andean America. Still, do not forget that though settled civilization grew rapidly during this period, there were many societies outside classical civilizations that made significant contributions to the regional civilizations, such as pastoralists and other nomads. The period ends with the collapse of classical empires when massive nomadic invasions swept through Asia and Europe.

    Post-Classical Period

    The Post-Classical period lasts from 600 CE to 1450 CE. The fall of the great Classical Empires created an opportunity for civilizations and pastoral societies outside of them to come to prominence. Beginning with rise of Islam, these Post-Classical Empires became the first trans-regional civilizations; the Islamic Caliphates, for example, spanned Eurasia and Africa. The major world religions developed and spread during this period, and the philosophies of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism promoted ideas about equality and reunited the old regional empires with new civilizations into a network of global contacts. These new developments caused the growth of new civilization centers. The period comes to an end with the conquest of the Mongols, the spread of the Black Death, and Asian technological innovations.

    Connecting East and West Period

    The Early Modern Period, or “Connecting East and West Era” begins in 1450 CE and ends in 1750 CE. The rise of gunpowder empires in the Middle East and Europe allowed fueled the rise of Western Europe. Navigation techniques borrowed from Asia allowed the Iberian Peninsula to discover the new world, and thus the world begins to shrink. All continents became connected in a world network, and global trade began for first time. This led to the great exchanges of goods, products, flora, fauna, people, germs, and ideas (European and Christianity) between East and West.

    Age of Revolution

    The Age of Revolution begins in 1750 CE and ends in 1914 CE. The era is characterized by massive changes brought about by technological change caused by the Industrial Revolution, political revolution brought on by the Enlightenment, intellectual change caused by the Renaissance and Reformation, and social change that moved people from rural areas to populated urban centers. Vast trade networks solidified -- dominated by Europe -- and western global hegemony developed. The nation-state rose to replace previously formed systems of political control, and the major European powers of Great Britain, France, and Germany competed to divide the world. This is referred to as Imperialism. Others, such as Russia, the USA, and Japan, emulated the older European powers. Western Culture began to dominate the globe through colonization.

    Modern Era

    The Modern era begins in 1914 with World War I and continues to the Present. “Change, Change, Change” are its main calling cards. Often referred to as The American Century and the Retreat of Europe, this period sees two World Wars severely alter the hierarchy of power and Europe’s control over its colonies. In addition, the areas of the Pacific Rim and India gained independence from European colonizers. This led to the collapse of European colonial empires. As modernization brought industrialization to the areas outside of initial influence, local values and traditions were challenged. As modernization promoted westernization, mass culture, promoted by new telecommunication technologies, began to transform, such as the development of lingua francas, and ways of the past were abandoned. Lastly, the battle between new political systems pitted democracy against totalitarianism and capitalism against socialism and communism. Issue such as genocide and ethnic cleansing promoted the development of global organizations which attempt to protect human rights and promote exchange.


    SPICES is a mnemonic tool used to help students recall the themes or structures historians use to analyze, evaluate, and compare the information of various societies within and without an era. S stands for Social Structure, P stands for Political Structure, I for Interactions between civilizations, C for Cultural Structure, E for Economic Structure, and S for spaces, which is another term used to connect students with geography.

    Social Structure

    • Economic, Social Classes
    • Gender Roles, Relations
    • Inequalities
    • Family, Kinship
    • Racial, Ethnic Constructs

    Political Structure

    • States
    • Leaders
    • Forms of Control
    • Law
    • Bureaucracy
    • State-building, expansion


    • War, Conflict
    • Trade, Commerce
    • Exchanges, Migrations
    • Diplomacy, Alliances
    • Transnational Organizations

    Cultural Structures

    • Cultural
    • Intellectual
    • Arts, Architecture
    • Religion
    • World Views
    • Philosophy
    • Lifestyles, Entertainment
    • Literatures
    • Secularism, Atheism
    • Ideologies and “isms”

    Economic Structures

    • Industrialization
    • Economic Systems
    • Capitalism, Socialism
    • Business Organizations
    • Labor, Labor Organizations
    • Technology
    • Industry
    • Science, Invention, Innovation
    • Power
    • Transportation
    • Communication

    Spaces (Geography)

    • Location
    • Physical
    • Movement
    • Use
    • Environment
    • Land forms

    Review Challenges

    1. Summarize the reasons Historians break history into eras.
    2. Create a timeline of the periodization that will be used in class. Include the name of eras, dates, and significant turning points.
    3. Explain why there is no one accepted convention for periodization.
    4. List and define the terms for each letter of the SPICES acronym.

    Discussion and Study Questions

    1. How do historians analyze and categorize thousands of years of history?
    2. What are the themes used by historians to analyze societies in a given period of time?