Comparison in the AP Histories

13 min readmay 12, 2023

Evan Liddle

Evan Liddle

AP World History: Modern 🌍

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📘College Board Description

In short a student will need to be able to do the following: 
  • Describe similarities and/or differences between different historical developments or processes. 
  • Explain relevant similarities and/or differences between specific historical developments and processes. 
  • Explain the relative historical significance of similarities and/or differences between different historical developments or processes.
    • This one basically means, you as a student will need to make a judgment about the importance of certain developments or processes. Compare the importance of events.

🔎Organizing Question

How are places, events, and developments both similar and different? And why are these both similar and different?


Think about an apple and an orange. You can probably think of many differences. Color, taste, size, shape and smell. Both are round, but people generally eat the skin of apples whereas most people do not eat the skin of oranges. 
Comparison enables one to explore the context of various parts of the world as it was and is. This contextualization is an important part of comparing or else looking at two parts of the world would be a fruitless exercise as we would have no idea why these things are different. From politics and culture to economics and technology, the world continues to be a very diverse place, and being able to effectively contextualize and compare parts of it is critical.  
Back to the fruit, however, what about the similarities? Initially Apples and Oranges don’t seem so similar, however look close. They are both fruit, and they are both roughly circular, they are both considered healthy to eat. And this is perhaps the tougher part of comparison, finding the underlying similarities between two places that seem obviously different.   
The following are brief summaries of comparison per AP World History’s time periods. As you read, consider the context of each situation and practice coming up with additional ways to compare these topics.  

Unit 1 Comparisons 

Short but sweet: Unit 1 focuses on the variety of political states so the college board cites political comparison among the types of states seen during this time.
Below is a breakdown of the major government types witnessed in Unit 1. 
The original Islamic form of government, a combination of classic Imperial Rule and Islamic principles. The Caliph was the leader of the whole Muslim community but also the ruler of a large empire
See the Abbasid Caliphate
Different from a Caliphate in that while the leader was Muslim, they made no claim to religious leadership, many Sultans paid lip service to the existing Caliph though they did not submit political power.
See the Delhi Sultanate or the Mamluk Sultanate  
While these states nominally had an all powerful king, for the most part local lords ran the show and used peasant labor to pay their knights and exercise control. Often, these rulers had more influence over the population than a king or queen
See both Medieval Europe and Medieval Japan
Imperial States
This applied only to China. Specifically the Song Dynasty and later Yuan Dynasty. These dynasties relied on the connection (Song) or appearance of connection (Yuan) to Confucian Values, the Imperial Bureaucracy, and the concept of the Mandate of Heaven.  
See the Song Dynasty or Yuan Dynasty
Hindu/Buddhist States
These were the slew of new states in South and Southeast Asia between 1000-1400. These states relied on connections or claims to incarnation with Hindu Gods or Buddhist rituals, sometimes both, for authority with the people. 
See the Srivijaya Empire, or Khmer Empire  
These are cities and some land around them which sit around major trade routes, giving them a power to shape the course of trade. They often were the site of major cultural interactions, and almost all major religious and cultural groups could be found here.
See Melaka, or the Swahili City States
When comparing these types of governments, ask yourself about why these types of governments exist? What role does Geography play? What role does Culture play? What role does Trade or Economics play?
For example, the Chinese Imperial State is similar to a Caliphate in that the rulers of both have absolute authority over their people. However, their justification for ruling is different. The Caliphate relied on the authority of Islam, being an Islamic State, whereas China relied on a Confucian Hierarchy and the Mandate of Heaven. 

Unit 2 Comparisons 

Short but sweet: Unit 2 focuses on trade networks and networks of exchange so the comparisons focus on the new v. old networks, and within existing trade networks.
Silk Road Trade Network (Old)
Indian Ocean Trade Network (old)
Trans-Saharan Trade Route (New)
Commercial Practices 
Bills of Credit (China) Banking (Islamic World).
Hindu Temples as banking institutions.
State support of Merchants. 
Role of Technology 
Paper Money and Caravansaries 
Dhow ships and knowledge of Monsoon Winds
Use of Camels and Camel saddles
Cultures spread
Islam to Asia, Number System to Europe 
Hinduism and Buddhism to Southeast Asia
Islam to West Africa
Goods traded
Porcelain, Precious Stones, Silk
Spices, Gold, Ivory, Textiles, Sugar, Silk, Porcelain 
Salt, Slaves, Gold, Iron Products
Impact on the Environment
Spread of Citrus Fruit and Sugar in the Islamic World
Spread of Rice Varieties in East and Southeast Asia 
Introduction of Camels to West Africa
Which trade routes expanded during this time? Well the Silk Road did not so much expand, but thanks to the Mongols it was used more, meaning the use of it intensified. The Trans-Saharan Route was new so that was a trade route expansion.
Notice: all the trade routes trade predominantly Luxury Goods.💎 This is a feature of all trade routes until modern times. The risk of trade meant merchants needed high value products to make the journey worth it. 

Unit 3/4 Comparisons

Short but sweet: Unit 3 and 4 focus on the growth of empires both across the Atlantic in the Americas and in Afro-Eurasia, so the major comparison would be in the type or style of government. 
Land-Based Empires🗾
Maritime Empires⛵
Mughal Empire
Ottoman Empire
Safavid Empire
Songhai Empire
Russian Empire 
Qing Empire (China)
Ming Empire (China)
Incan Empire
Mexica (Aztec Empire)
Tokugawa Japan
British Empire
Spanish Empire
Portuguese Empire
French Empire 
Dutch Empire
A major difference between these two types of empires is that the empires on the left were predominantly land based, meaning most of their power and wealth came from the land, rich agriculture, and profitable trade routes. Those on the right are predominantly maritime based empires, meaning that their power and wealth come from trade overseas, colonies overseas, or controlling overseas trade routes.   

Administrative Systems

Based on Religious Justification ✝
Based on Military Elites🎖
Divine Right of Kings (French Empire)
Mandate of Heaven (China)
Songhai Islam (Songhai)
Devshirme System (Ottoman Empire)
Samurai Warriors (Japan)
How governments maintain legitimacy varies across empires varies, but the chart above illustrates two general ways that empires claimed the right to rule. Military elites refer to a system of warriors who are loyal to the ruler or the state which helps them maintain power. On the other hand some states relied more on religious justification for their power, claiming direct connection to the divine as the right to rule. It should be understood, these two often mixed.  

Social Hierarchies

Social Hierarchy based on Race/Culture
Social Hierarchy based on Religion
Qing Dynasty (Restrictive Policy on Han Chinese)
Spanish Empire (The Casta System)
The Ottoman Empire (The Millet System)
The Mughal Empire (Zamindar/Rajput System)
Organizing a society is essential to maintaining stability within an Empire. A hierarchy determined one's job, what legal rights they had and proximity to power. These hierarchies can be based on physical characteristics, probably the most famous being the Casta System, which was based on perceptions of blood purity. Or they can be based on religion as in many of the Islamic empires; the Millet System gave each religion its own political zone. Although the Islamic zones were above the others, this did provide some stability as each zone was free to practice their own religion.   

Empire Type (Maritime Empires)

Trading Post Empires
Colonial Empires
The Portugese in Africa/India
The Dutch in Southeast Asia
The French in North America
The British in North America
The Spanish in North and South America
For those empires that expanded overseas, there were two major types that corresponded more to the situation of the colonized regions. During this time, Europeans stuck to themselves in trading posts and did not assert authority over land, but did overseas known as Trading Post Empires. Colonial Empires refers to places where Europeans conquered land and sometimes settled their own populations there. Trading Post Empires often confronted established and long standing empires or populations they could not eliminate or geography that was unfavorable to conquest. The opposite was true for Colonial Empires.

Unit 5 Comparisons 

Short but sweet: Unit 5 focuses on Industrialization. The major comparisons are on nations with industrialization and those nations which de-industrialized in response to expanding European economic power.  

Industrialization Outside of Europe

The United States
The Abolition of Serfdom (1861) created an Industrial Labor Force, but did not abolish the landowning class
Importing technical expertise from Europe created first factories 
Initial industry focuses on heavy industry specifically railroads and steel production 
Intensified control over Siberia as a market and location of resources
Heavy government involvement
By 1900 Russia was semi-Industrialized
The Meiji Restoration (1868) reset the political structure of Japan. The feudal landowning class was abolished  
Importing legal and technical expertise created their first factories 
Initial industry focuses on Japan’s silk textile industry and later on producing weapons
Imperial expansion in Korea and Taiwan to support economy
Heavy government involvement
By 1900, Japan was heavily industrialized
Some Industry before Civil War, but victory of the North over slavery (1865) meant Industry would be dominant politically over farming 
Long history of inventions and developments means no need to import expertise
Initial industry focuses on cotton textiles, later spreading to many other industries
Conquest of western North America to create food supply and ideological belief (Manifest Destiny)
Some government involvement
By 1900 the United States was heavily industrialized

Industrial Decline in Response to European Industrialization

British Textiles drowned the traditional market for Egyptian fabrics, putting many producers out of business by 1900.
In response, Egypt became a source of Cotton for the British Textile Industry.
British Textiles drowned the traditional market for Indian fabrics, putting many producers out of business by 1900.
In response, Egypt became a source of Cotton for the British Textile Industry.
The rise of steel ships eliminated the shipbuilding yards in South Asia that had served the East India Company.

Unit 6 Comparisons 

Short but sweet: Unit 6 is about the expansion of the European and American Empires and a comparison in this unit could focus on the types of empires created during this time, much like Unit 3/4.  

State Expansion in the Age of Empire

Settler Colonies 
Direct State Expansion
Company to Political Rule
New Zealand 
White Highlands in Kenya
Western United States
French Expansion in  North Africa 
British Expansion in West Africa
Congo Free State to Belgian Government
Dutch East India Company to Dutch Government
The Age of Imperialism, which is different from the Age of Colonialism (Unit 3/4) in the expansion of European States, involved European States asserting both political and economic control over the planet.
State Expansion varied by region. In those places where the geography and demographics were favorable Settler Colonies were either established directly by governments or by waves of immigration. These states eliminated or displaced the location populations and replaced them with the state’s own population. However, in cases where the populations were too large or state control was not as strong, direct state expansion simply incorporated a conquered region into the state itself, the traditional definition of Imperialism. During Unit 3/4 several major private companies built large colonial empires. However, by Unit 6 these companies were bankrupt or their states had grown strong enough to assume control, or in the case of the Congo, a major scandal led to the incorporation of these territories into their respective empires.      

Unit 7 Comparisons 

Short but sweet: Unit 7 Focuses on global warfare, specifically World War I and World War II, so any comparison will focus on global war or the time in between the conflicts 

Government Responses to the Great Depression

Fascist Corporate Organization 
State Development in Latin America
Social Democracy in the United States 
German government makes deals with Industrial Companies to develop certain products and keep prices low.
The Volkswagen Car and the Radio as products that were designed to be affordable for citizens. Having these items would improve Government legitimacy in the eyes of the German People.
The Mexican and Brazilian Governments took the lead in developing specific industries to  make their nations economically stronger. 
Mexico nationalized the Oil Industry creating PEMEX, Mexican Petroleum to raise money for development
Brazil nationalized its agricultural production to fund the construction of steel and autowork factories.
The United States adopted Social Democratic measures to counteract the Great Depression.
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s government created works projects and social welfare to alleviate suffering from the Depression and attempt to kickstart the economy. 

Five Year Plans in the Soviet Union

Though cut off from most international trade, the Soviet Union undertook a project of rapid internal industrialization that was controlled and directed by the state to build up arms and manufacturing industries🏭.  The First Five Year Plan (1928-1932, I know, not five years) resulted in the almost full industrialization of the USSR faster than any nation had industrialized to this time in history.

Government Conduct of World War II

Totalitarian (Facsist and Communist) Governments Wage World War II
Democratic Governments Wage World War II
Governments took control of arms production to ensure supplies for the military 
Governments used Ideology and Propaganda to gain support for the War
  • The need for the Soviet Union to defeat Fascism and spread the Worldwide Communist Revolution.
  • The need for Nazi Germany to defeat the Soviet Union for German “Living Space.”
Governments sold war bonds and made contracts with private companies to ensure supplies for the military 
France, Britain, and the United States utilized their colonial holdings to help fight the Axis Powers.
The Democratic nations made claims aspiring to self determination and democracy for all. 
  • The Atlantic Charter

Unit 8 Comparisons

Short but sweet: Unit 8 Focuses on the World from 1945-1980s, involving mainly the Cold War and the major impacts of decolonization around the World. Comparisons in this unit officially focus on decolonization methods and military action in the Cold War.

Gaining Allies during the Cold War

The Soviet Union 
The United States
Military Alliances 
  • The Warsaw Pact
  • Egypt and the Aswan High Dam
Support for newly Independent Nations 
  • Cuba 
  • Egypt 
  • China
Military Alliances
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Org.)
  • The Marshall Plan
Support for Anti-Communist Governments
  • S. Vietnam 
  • Chile

The Cold War is defined as a major political rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from the End of WWII to 1989 (1945-1989). During this time both sides attempted to gain allies and influence nations to join their respective ideologies. Military alliances and military aid were a major factor. Though the major military alliances (Warsaw Pact v. NATO) never went to war, many small conflicts were fought between and within nations, proxy wars where each side was backed by either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R.. Though it should be noted, not all of these conflicts were specifically fought by communists v. anti-communists. For example, the Arab-Israeli Wars were not about communism, but each side was largely backed by one super power.

Methods of Obtaining Independence

Negotiated Independence
Armed Struggle for Independence
India (From Great Britain)
The Gold Coast (From Great Britain)
The Philippines (From the United States)
Vietnam (From France & the U.S.)
Algeria (From France)
Angola (From Portugal)

The Cold War was also the Age of Decolonization, the dismantling of the major colonial empires from Unit 3, 4, and 6. Depending on the situation, this may have been violent or peaceful. If the colonial power in question had a large military, such as France or a strong ideological attachment to their colonies, such as Portugal, then the conflict was more likely to involve an armed struggle💪
This is another example of the proxy conflicts mentioned earlier, the Soviet Union largely encouraged decolonization whereas the U.S. wanted to keep their allies powerful, which meant quietly downplaying decolonization in the 1950s-1970s. Angola is an excellent example, where several groups (backed by either the U.S. or Soviet Union) fought Portugal, and each other, until a revolution in Portugal ended their empire.
However, in other cases, decolonization could be (relatively) peaceful. If the colonial power was too exhausted by World War II or if the colony had strong pre-existing independence movements. India is an excellent example. India had a long standing politically organized independence movement. The Indian National Congress and Muslim League and Great Britain was largely exhausted from WWII, and so India (and Pakistan) achieved independence without armed struggle against the colonizer.      

Unit 9 Comparisons

Short but Sweet: Officially there is no required example of comparison for Unit 9 as it focuses on the changes and continuity of the 20th century. However, here is one example of topics that can be compared. 
Diseases and Illnesses eliminated or reduced since 1900. 
Diseases and Illnesses on the rise since 1900. 
  • Polio
  • Typhus 
  • Mumps 
  • Measles
  • Whooping Cough
  • Rubella
  • Ebola 
  • Alzheimers 
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease
  • Animal Flus (Bird Flu, Swine Flu et all)
  • COVID-19
Facts to note about this is that the eliminated diseases often were eradicated or reduced because of vaccines or increased access to medical care or better living conditions in general such as clean water or proper sanitation. 
Facts to note about the diseases on the rise are that these are connected to an increasingly interconnected world.
For example, Ebola and various Animal Flus were previously confined to their origin points, and the other diseases such as Alzheimers are the product of humans living longer than before, which leads to problems with the function of organs. 
On a more contemporary note, the worldwide spread of Covid-19 in the year 2020, represents both of these trends perfectly. Comparing the nature of diseases in the 21th century would be one way to practice comparison in Unit 9.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🐎Unit 1 – The Global Tapestry, 1200-1450
🐫Unit 2 – Networks of Exchange, 1200-1450
🕌Unit 3 – Land-Based Empires, 1450-1750
🍕Unit 4 – Transoceanic Interactions, 1450-1750
✊🏽Unit 5 – Revolutions, 1750-1900
🚂Unit 6 – Consequences of Industrialization, 1750-1900
💣Unit 7 – Global Conflict, 1900-Present
🥶Unit 8 – Cold War & Decolonization, 1900-Present
✈️Unit 9 – Globalization, 1900-Present
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