World History

UPSC Syllabus for World History

History of the World will include events from 18th century such as Industrial Revolution, world wars, Redrawal of National Boundaries, Colonization, Decolonization, political philosophies like Communism, Capitalism, Socialism etc.— their forms and effect on the society.


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1) “There arose a serious challenge to the Democratic State System between the two World Wars.” Evaluate the statement. (250 words)
The period between the two World Wars (1918 to 1939) was marked by a serious challenge to the democratic state system across the world. The challenge to democracy was based on the idea that the state was superior to the individual, that the government should have absolute power, and that the individual should be subordinate to the state.
Challenge to the Democratic State System between the two World Wars
  • In Europe, the rise of fascist regimes in Italy (Mussolini) and Germany (Hitler) threatened the democratic order.
  • In the Soviet Union, communism replaced democracy.
  • In Japan, the military (authoritarianism) took power.
  • In Spain, civil war saw rise of military dictatorship ending the Second Spanish republic
  • In Germany the persecution of minority Jews was part of the imperialistic principles.
  • In India, the challenge to the democratic system came from the British colonial government.

These ideologies were opposed to the democratic principles of liberalism, pluralism, and individualism. However, the challenges to Democratic State System were not only limited to the inter-war years:

  • The democratic traditions in Germany had been weak since days of Bismarck.
  • Major democracies like Britain, USA, France had been practicing colonialism for centuries
  • Self-interested capitalism in democratic countries caused them to support dictatorial regimes in Germany.

Overall, the inter-war phase saw the rise of anti-democratic forces which led to the second world war. However, the failure of the dictators and peaceful struggles like in India laid a stronger foundation for democratic states to rise.


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2) Explain how the foundations of the modern world were laid by the American and French Revolutions. (250 words)
The American (1776) and French Revolutions (1789) were two of the most significant events of the modern era.
Foundations of the modern world were laid by American Revolution
  • Principles of liberty and democracy: The declaration of independence (1776) proclaimed that “all men are equal”.
    E.g.: Today over 100 countries follow democracy, many overthrowing dictatorships.
  • Constitutionalism: The revolution led to the first written constitution in the world (1787) inspiring others.
    E.g.: Fundamental Rights to Indian Constitution.
  • Federalism system of government : It gave the states and provinces power and autonomy. Helped power-sharing in diverse countries that needed complex polities.
    E.g.: Australia
  • Promotion of Human Rights: The “Declaration of Rights” of Thomas Jefferson awakened the people about their rights.
    E.g.: UN Charter on Human rights
  • Free trade : The Revolution opened new markets and new trade relationships. E.g.: World Trade Organisation and Free Trade agreements
Foundations of the modern world were laid by French Revolution
  • The democratisation of society: It ended the centuries-old feudal system and initiated a new social organization based on equality.
    E.g.: Haitian revolution ending slavery (1791-1804)
  • Ideals of modernity: liberty, equality and fraternity brought political awakening in Europe.
    E.g.: Preamble to Indian constitution
  • Secularism: Separation of religion and state by Napoleon helped founding of modern secular institutions like United Nations
  • Spirit of Nationalism : pride in culture.
    E.g.: 19th century unification of Italy and Germany
  • Napoleonic Code: It became the standard of making civil and criminal laws across the world
Limitations of French and American revolution in creating modern world
  • In USA abolition of slavery, gender and political equality were not achieved
  • Napoleon denied liberty to the population
  • The ideas of parliamentary democracy were developed long before in Britain.

Despite the limitations, the French and American revolution laid the edifice for a newly emerging egalitarian society, a new way of polity and continue to shape the modern world today.


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3) What problems were germane to the decolonization process in the Malay Peninsula? (150 words)
Malay Peninsula comprised the far south-eastern Myanmar (Burma), the south-western Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. It had been under British control since 19th century. Demands for decolonisation reached a peak in 1940s.
Problems germane to the decolonization process in the Malay Peninsula
  • Presence of different ethnic and religious groups - Malays, Chinese, and Indians each with their own aspirations and demands – difficult to put up a united front.
  • Economic structure of the region was heavily dependent on colonial interests, with a significant portion of the population working in the rubber and tin industries
  • Britain’s depleted exchequer increased need for greater resource exploitation in colonies.
  • World war destruction and Japanese occupation (1942) and withdrawal also caused confusion
  • Communist threat : presence of China and guerrillas made Britain concerned over providing independence
  • Decolonisation caused changes in political power leading to shifts in social hierarchies and the emergence of new powerful elites and social inequalities.

British fought against guerrillas making a joint front with non-communist elements of Malaysia. Consequently, communist guerrillas were defeated. Then the British made a peaceful exit from Malaya in 1957.


4) The anti-colonial struggles in West Africa were led by the new elite of Western-educated Africans. Examine. (200 words)
The anti-colonial struggles in West Africa were led by the new elite of Western-educated Africans, who emerged in the early 20th century.
Role of Western-educated Africans in anti-colonial struggles in West Africa
  • Organizing resistance using their education and knowledge to mobilize and educate the masses.
    E.g.:Nnamdi Azikiwe, educated in US, led Nigeria to a successful anti-colonial struggle, leading to its independence in 1960.
  • Provided leadership and direction to the anti-colonial movement, which was largely fragmented and localized before their emergence.
    E.g.: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah , educated in London and US, led Gold Coast to freedom in 1957, and rechristened the country Ghana
  • The Western-educated elite was able to articulate the grievances of the people in a language that the colonial powers could understand.
    E.g.: Tovalou Houenou , defended the equality of race, opposed Euro centrism and founded the Negritude movement,
  • They were also able to forge alliances with other anti-colonial movements around the world.
    E.g.: Dr. Nkrumah was inspired by the Gandhian-independence model of India

However, they faced criticisms of being far removed from traditional African values and cultures and of being elitist and out of touch with the needs and aspirations of ordinary Africans.

Just as the Indian freedom movement found a leader in M. K. Gandhi, a western-educated lawyer, freedom struggles in several West African countries were also led by such western-educated Africans. Their legacy continues to shape the political and social landscape of West Africa today.


5) Why did the industrial revolution first occur in England? Discuss the quality of life of the people there during the industrialization. How does it compare with that in India at present times? (200 words)
The Industrial Revolution was the transition from creating goods by hand to using machines that first occurred in England from the mid-18th century.
Reason for first occurrence of industrial revolution in England
  • Access to natural resources. E.g.: coal and iron ore
  • Large population of cheap and skilled workers urban migration due to black-plague
  • Stable government and legal system - democracy ensured trade flourished :away from the competition in European continent
  • Favourable climate for investment and entrepreneurship - drain of wealth from colonies, spirit of capitalism
  • Well-developed infrastructure of canals, roads, and ports, which facilitated transportation and trade.
Quality of life of the people in England during the industrialization.
Positive Developments
  • Increasing per capita income: It gave rise to working and middle classes and allowed them to overcome long- standing economic oppression that they had endured for centuries beneath gentry and nobility.
  • Modern City: During this time, the industrial factory was created, which, in turn, gave rise to the modern city.
Negative developments
  • Largely poor, Iespecially for those working in factories and living in urban areas
  • Working conditions were often dangerous and unsanitary, with long hours and low pay.
  • Lack of access to education and healthcare, and child labour was widespread.
  • Social and political unrest, with labour strikes.
Comparison of life of people in England during industrialisation and present time India
  • Condition of the labour class is better due to social security and political power – less exploitation. E.g.: enactment of Labour Rights, minimum wages Act, child labour laws
  • Industrialisation has increased income and standard of living.
  • Poor urban conditions such as housing and sanitation
  • Poor working conditions such as unequal wage
The industrial revolution in England and the present situation in India are very different in terms of their historical and social contexts. India has many challenges that need to be addressed to improve the lives of its citizens.
6) To what extend can Germany be held responsible for causing the two World Wars? Discuss critically. (200 words)
Germany played a significant role in causing both World Wars. While not fully responsible was not fully innocent either.
Role of Germany in causing World War I
  • Germany's alliance system– E.g.: Bismarck’s policy of military alliances disturbed European balance of power – Triple Alliance Austro-Hungary and Italy.
  • Wilhelm Kaiser’s policies of Weltpolitik (World imperialism) and territorial expansion E.g.: invasion of Belgium (1914)
  • German “Blank cheque” to Austria for Serbian invasion in retaliation for murder of Archduke Ferdinand – bringing Russia, France and its allies into conflict starting the world war.
  • Unrestricted submarine warfare – E.g.: 1917 attack on ships brought USA into World War.
Role of Germany in causing World War II
  • Germany Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s aggressive expansionist policies. E.g.: invasion of Poland (1939) brought Britain and France into conflict beginning the World War 2
  • Military alliances : With Italy Germany formed the Rome-Berlin Axis, and with Japan and Italy signed Anti-Comintern Pact,
  • Adolf Hitler's policies of Nazism, racism, and anti-Semitism, threatening democracy was the rallying cry of the Allied powers to come to war.
Other factors caused world wars
  • Other powers like Britain, France, Japan also followed expansionism.
  • The Treaty of Versailles had crippled Germany leading to the rise of Hitler. Britain and France
  • The following policy of appeasement failed to stop Germany when it started expansion and tried to play Germany against the USSR.
  • The League of Nations also failed to control the military expansions.
While Germany's actions were certainly significant factors in causing both World Wars, it would be unfair to solely hold it responsible for the wars.


7) What were the events that led to the Suez Crisis in 1956? How did it deal a final blow to Britain’s self-image as a world power? (200 words)
Suez Canal was busy waterway connecting Mediterranean and Rea seas. While situated in Egypt, Britain since 1936 had it on lease, allowing for deployment of troops to secure it. Suez Crisis happened in the background of Cold War.
Events that led to the Suez Crisis in 1956
  • Western bloc tried to make Egypt their ally by extending a conditional loan offer for Aswan High Dam.
  • Egyptian President Abdel Nasser rather moved closer to Eastern bloc. E.g.: signed arms deal with USSR.
  • The west, therefore withdrew the loan offer.
  • Egypt in order to mobilise funds for dam project nationalised Suez Canal (1956).
  • In retaliation, Britain and France in association with Israel invaded Egypt. It culminated in the Suez Canal crisis.
Suez crisis: Final blow to Britain's self-image as a world power
  • Britain had been devastated by the World Wars and lost considerable colonies like India
  • The invasion had to be withdrawn due to severe international criticism of military action
  • Britain was no longer able to dictate others - they were forced to rely on the United States to broker a ceasefire and end the conflict. This reliance continues even today.
  • Britain action lost support in UN as well as domestically.
  • Britain lost many allies E.g.: Iraq
The Suez Crisis marking the end of Britain's imperial power with image of superpower shifting to USA and USSR.
8) The New Economic Policy – 1921 of Lenin had influenced the policies adopted by India soon after independence. Evaluate. (200 words)
The New Economic Policy (NEP) of Lenin, introduced in the Soviet Union in 1921 as a response to the economic crisis caused by the destruction of the First World War and the subsequent civil war in the Soviet Union.
Principles of NEP
  • Mixed economy coexistence of both private and state-owned enterprises.
  • Departure from the traditional Marxist doctrine of state control over the means of production.
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship and private enterprise by returning agriculture, retail trade and light industry to private
  • Maintaining state control over heavy industries, banking, transport, foreign trade etc.
Influence of New Economic Policy – 1921 of Lenin on post-independence Indian economic policies
  • Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was inspired by the socialism of USSR which he experienced pre-Indian Independence.
  • Post-independence, India also adopted a mixed economy approach, allowing for both private and state-owned enterprises.
  • It nationalised heavy and capital goods industries, railways, banking. E.g.: bank nationalisation of 1969
  • Five-year planning with initial focus on Agriculture and Industry was inspired from NEP.
  • Land reforms, though in a limited level was also inspired from NEP.

However, India's economic policies also drew from other sources, such as the British welfare state model and the experiences of other newly independent countries. The Indian government sought to balance the interests of different groups, and its policies were shaped by the unique political and social context of India.

Indian NEP was aimed at creating a welfare state, addressing the challenge of poverty through rapid growth and increasing India's autonomy from the advanced country.


9) ‘Latecomer’ Industrial Revolution in Japan involved certain factors that were markedly different from what the West had experienced.” Analyze. (200 words)
Industrial Revolution is the process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. This process began in Britain in the 18th century and from there spread to other parts of the world. While the Japanese industrial revolution started late after the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century.
Factors in Japanese industrial revolution that were markedly different from what the West had experienced
  • Industrialization in the west was basically an economic programme but Japan’s industrialization was guided mainly by a political project to counter western imperialism.
  • Japan adopted and adapted Western industrial technologies, instead of developing its own innovations, which was different from the West's experience.
  • Industrialisation in the West was initiated by investments from independent entrepreneurial class. But in Japan, the capitalism flourished under a feudal set-up of ex-daimyo or ex-samurai.
  • Focus on heavy industry: Japan's industrialization emphasized the development of heavy industries while the West progressed from light to medium to heavy industries. E.g.: shipbuilding
  • Monopoly capitalism of Japan : led by feudal and bankers deprived Japan of a middle class. In the west, the middle class was a prime feature of Industrialisation.
  • High level of education: Japan had a high level of education and a strong emphasis on technical skills, which was missing in the west.
  • Japan was dependent on imports for resources like coal, which was abundant in the west.

However, the industrialisation in Japan, like in the west disrupted the family system. Industrialisation in both regions led to imperialism.

The distinctive path allowed Japan to achieve remarkable economic development and emerge as a major industrial power within a relatively short period of time, despite starting from a position of relative disadvantage compared to the Western nations

10) “Africa was chopped into states artificially created by accidents of European competition.” Analyze. (200 words)
European countries divided Africa amongst themselves, with little regard for the indigenous populations but rather on the interests of European colonial powers.
Africa was chopped into states artificially created by accident of European competition
  • Scientific exploration revealing resource potential of Africa E.g.: journey of adventures like Livingstone, Stanley etc
  • Monroe doctrine of USA debarred South America from European conquests.
  • European Industrialisation needed resources and slaves as man-power – competition for raw materials
  • Christian missionary activities – religious competition to convert Africans
Within a short span of time, all of Africa except Liberia and Ethiopia, was divided between European imperial powers like Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Consequences of artificial chopping of Africa
  • Creation of artificial borders and the fragmentation of ethnic and cultural groups.
  • Many African countries are struggling to build a unified national identity, with ethnic tensions and conflicts being common.
  • The colonial borders also created unnatural boundaries, separating communities, families, and trade routes, and making it difficult for African countries to develop economically.
  • The European colonial powers left behind a legacy of political authoritarianism has contributed to the ongoing challenges facing Africa, including poverty, conflict, and corruption.
The fact that 33% of African borders are straight lines point to the “paper partition” done in the Berlin conference (1884-85) by European powers. Such artificial borders created by European competition have had far-reaching consequences that continue to affect the continent today.
11) “American Revolution was an economic revolt against mercantilism.” Substantiate. (200 words)

American Revolution was a colonial revolt started by American patriots again Great Britain. It formally occurred between 1775 to 1783. It ended with Paris treaty and the result was the freedom of 13 American colonies.

Mercantilism was the economic system of trade between 16-18th century based on the idea that a nation's wealth and power was best served by increasing exports and controlling trade.

American Revolution - An economic revolt against mercantilism
  • The American colonies were seen as a source of raw materials and markets for British goods.
  • Britain imposed various taxes and trade restrictions on the colonies. E.g.: The Navigation Acts, restricted American trade with other countries, while the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act imposed new taxes on the colonies.
  • Mercantilism of Great Britain stunted the growth and freedom of colonial business. The American colonists resented these policies, which they saw as an infringement on their economic rights.
  • They were also angry that the British government was the one in charge of how their resources and goods were used and distributed.
  • They demanded representation in the British Parliament under the slogan "no taxation without representation" in order to make laws for themselves.
Along With economic reasons, democratic principles, and enlightenment ideals of John Locke (Social contract) had also inspired the American colonists. The colonists sought greater economic freedom, and their resistance to British policies eventually led to the Declaration of Independence and the war for independence in 1776.
12) What policy instruments were deployed to contain the Great Economic Depression? (200 words)
The Great Economic Depression (GED) started in the USA with the Wall Street crash of 1929. It immediately became a global economic crisis. Reasons for Great Economic Depression
  • Domestic overproduction
  • unequal income distribution
  • falling demand of exports
  • New York stock-market speculations
Important policy instruments used to contain the Great Depression
  • Monetary policy: Central banks tried stimulate economic activity by increasing the money supply and lowering interest rates. It also led to bank restructuring E.g.: Formation of National Credit Corporation to lend money to small banks
  • Fiscal policy: Governments increased spending on public works programs and other initiatives to boost employment and stimulate demand. E.g.: New Deal of US President Roosevelt – Relief, Recovery and Reform, Social Security Act (1935), Civilian Conservation Corps (provide temporary jobs)
  • Protectionism: increased tariffs and trade barriers to protect their domestic industries from foreign competition.
  • Agricultural policies: Governments implemented policies to support the agricultural sector and increase prices for farmers. E.g.: Famers’ Relief Act (1933)
  • Securities Exchange Commission (1934) was set up. It increased share purchase down payment to 50% from 10%
Overall, the policy response to the Great Depression was characterized by a mix of monetary, fiscal, and protectionist measures. It laid the groundwork for eventual economic recovery. However, some of the policy measures, such as protectionism, had long-term consequences and contributed to the economic tensions and conflict leading up to World War II.