How To Prepare World History for UPSC Civil Services Mains?

World History for UPSC

The General Studies Paper-1 will test your knowledge on Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society. While Indian Culture and World Geography are topics that aspirants get familiar with while preparing for Prelims, an encounter with World History occurs only during Mains prep.
As a subject that is absolutely unfamiliar to a large majority of students, World History might have you on tenterhooks. In this comprehensive guide, we help you tell you, how you can tackle this subject in a simple manner.

1. WHAT TO STUDY – Syllabus for World History

The World History section features events from the 18th century and some political philosophies. As per the UPSC, the history syllabus is as follows:

a. Industrial Revolution

This will cover the period in Europe just before the Industrial Revolution, events leading to it and its effect on the global social, political and economic scenario. You will distinguish between the contemporary world and the modern world (on which we have to focus). Renaissance, State building in Europe, American War of Independence and French Revolution are important topics.

b. World Wars

The two world wars have to be covered thoroughly. You must emphasize on the political scenario at that time, the causes of the wars, the role of the countries and peace treaties signed thereafter.
In the case of WW-I, Paris Peace Conference, Russian Revolution, League of Nations is important topics.
In WW-II, the entry of USA, Holocaust, bombing of Japan, birth of the United Nations, emergence of the US as a super-power and the US-USSR rivalry are topics to touch on.

c. Redrawal of national boundaries.

The post-war scenario changed the political map of the world. Here you should read about the division of Germany, the break-up of USSR into 15 countries, the straight cut boundaries of Africa and the division of Korea, Vietnam, and India, along with the Israel-Palestine issue.

d. Colonization & Decolonization

So far, the UPSC papers have only focused on the Asian and African region. So concentrate on those but give a cursory read to Latin America as well.

e. Forms of political philosophies like communism, capitalism, and socialism, etc., and their effect on society

In studying about communism and socialism, you also need to be aware of the conditions in Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution and leaders like Lenin and Stalin. Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism will, of course, be the central focus.
While studying for Capitalism you need to understand its functioning and the way in which it affected the American and European society, along with its role in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Decoding the syllabus

A large part of the focus here is on European history, with the secondary focus being on USA, Russia and the colonized world. Since the UPSC asks broad questions, one need not mull over the minute details but just cover the topic at large. Concentrate on 5 things- What, When, How, Why and Where. For example, the Industrial Revolution can be dissected like:
What- Industrial Revolution (with a brief description)
When-18th century
Where- Western Europe, primarily England.
How- Know the background and circumstances that led to the event. In this case, the Renaissance, end of feudal society, etc form the background.
Why – Here you can mention the immediate precipitating causes that led to the revolutions like an increase in population, technological innovations, etc.
Apply this format to all the sub-topics of the subject for a clearer understanding. When you make your notes in this format, you will also read about the event accordingly. Your mind will automatically sieve out the required information and you will be able to make concise notes with all the important information.
For political philosophies, it is imperative to understand the circumstances they were born in. The political and social conditions prevalent at a particular time were responsible for shaping these theories.
Simply mugging the theories will lead to confusion, so it is best to have an overview of the entire situation. Thereafter just focus on the keywords of each theory for answer writing. For example, in capitalism, a market economy, laissez-faire,
etc are important keywords that must feature in your answers.

2. Books to Read for World History for UPSC Mains

Being a sub-topic, World History should be prioritized accordingly. Do not refer more than 2 books at the most otherwise you will just end up wasting your time; remember there are other topics in the paper that need to be covered too. The World History syllabus has been clearly mentioned and can easily be covered even with one book.
a. Referring to Class 12th NCERT is a MUST and should not be avoided at any cost. It is written in a simple and easy to understand language and will form the core of your comprehension of the subject.
b. Thereafter you can consult wither Norman Lowe (Mastering Modern World History) or Arjun Dev (History of the World). The difference in the two lies in their focus. While Lowe is a lengthy book not written with the UPSC syllabus in mind, Arjun Dev is shorter and centered around the syllabus. That said, Lowe’s book will give you in-depth coverage of topics like Syria issue, Iran-us conflict, Israel-Palestine, Myanmar- Rohingya, etc, which are important from the 2019 exam perspective. Both books have their pros and cons; you can take your pick depending on the time in hand and your strategy.
c. Besides the books, we have compiled a few videos that will be helpful in understanding the subject.


1. A good starting point for this subject would be to refer to the previous year’s papers. Scan the papers and identify the type of questions asked. This will be instrumental in laying out the path you need to follow in your prep. As you go through the questions, you will realize that the UPSC has asked very direct and general questions which can be answered easily with a fair amount of reading. This will help reduce the fear of the subject and guide you in strategizing as per marks weightage. Topics like colonialism have consistently been asked in various forms in all the years, so cover that aspect thoroughly.
2. A lot of people will advise using Norman Lowe’s book. If you are heeding that advice, do not make the mistake of reading it cover to cover. Lowe is an excellent book for its lucid description of current affairs but it must only be used as a reference book. Making it your primary book will eat into the limited time you have to prepare for the entire paper. Pick out selected topics from here and read only those.
3. The atlas is your best friend when it comes to world history prep. World history will take you to various continents and countries, make sure you are sitting with an atlas as you do so. Knowing the region on the map has many benefits-

  • Including a map in the answer will fetch you extra marks and set your answer apart.
  • Your knowledge of the world map and location of countries/physical features will increase immensely; a fact that will be useful in other subjects as well.

4. Be aware of current world events that relate to the syllabus. For example, in 2016, a question on decolonization of Africa was asked, and the India-Africa summit had just concluded in 2015.
If approached in an organized manner and with an open mind, preparation for world history is neither tough nor time-consuming. Having knowledge about the history of the world will contribute to your overall personality and reflect in your interview as well.

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