Crash Course World History is most likely the funniest, sharpest, and silliest world history overview available on the internet. The fact that this video course, known for its superb animation, visual sources, and editing, is free on youtube only amplifies its attractiveness for teachers and students. The narrator, the famous YA novelist John Green, is a charismatic presenter who expertly transitions from sarcasm to cool factoid to big idea to silly stunt. There is really nothing else out there like Crash Course World History, which is why it plays a prominent role in many high school classrooms especially in an era of Remote Learning.

The structure of the course is in 10-12 minute “lessons” that cover the breadth of the 2012 AP World History curriculum in its 42 clips from the Agricultural Revolution to Globalization with stops in many predictable topics like “Ancient Egypt,” “the French Revolution,” and “World War II” as well as other more obscure areas of focus, such as “Venice and the Ottoman Empire” and the “Amazing Life and Strange Death of Captain Cook.” Some thematic juxtapositions may not match the choices of an individual teacher (Columbus, De Gama, and Zheng He!) so teachers may have to choose particular segments of a lesson to match their course structures or use a tool like EdPuzzle to edit the videos to their liking.

In terms of content, the lessons tend toward a straightforward historical narrative that occasionally answers a thought-provoking question (how dark were the Dark Ages really?). John Green weaves in some larger thematic questions about connections and causation that stem from the AP guidelines and throughout he adds in the type of “wow facts” that young intellectuals love to absorb and impress others with. For example, in the Mongol lesson he has an aside that discusses the 13 million current direct descendents of Genghis Khan. He does make general mentions of historians and historical debates, but deep historiographical questions and discussions is by no means the core of the video course.

The consistent short timespan of the lessons feels doable and is part of the course’s appeal, but this characteristic is also a major flaw. John Green speaks too quickly for many college-educated listeners to follow; it is mostly incomprehensible to high school students outside of the AP orbit. The way out of this problem is to play (or ask students to play) at .75 speed on youtube. The result is far more understandable even if John Green comes out sounding slightly inebriated.

Crash Course World History is a perfect supplementary video overview for AP students, but it is too fast and jumpy to be the main source of learning for a class. Its lovable nerdiness fits that audience, but unfortunately the tone, speed, and assumption of general cultural and historical knowledge means that it will rarely be the right fit for the audience that most needs a lively video history course -- the bulk of students who are struggling readers and turned off by traditional texts. Teachers in most courses would need to stop so often for explanations and checks for understanding that their own lectures would prove more fruitful.

Reviewed by David Sherrin, Scarsdale High School
How to Cite This Source
David Sherrin, Crash Course World History in World History Commons,