Cultural diffusion and cultural syncretism are two important concepts in the AP® World History curriculum. Because of its importance, I’ve developed this activity as a fun and creative way to introduce or review the concept of cultural diffusion. It is best used at the beginning of the year as an introductory lesson but can also be used as a review activity near the end of the year. 


Part I asks students to look at an image and identify the country they would be in using their knowledge of the world and image context clues. The images include famous pieces of architecture, monuments, buildings, or landmarks. This first section is a set up for Part II, but it’s important to stress the cultural aspects and any applicable stories about empires/dynasties associated with each of the images. For example, this means discussing Shintoism in Japan and the importance of the Kaaba in Mecca. 


Part II of this activity introduces the concept of cultural diffusion and is more challenging. Students once again use context clues to guess the country in the world where these images would be found—and are given the definition of cultural diffusion as a hint. The answers are difficult, and the longer you play, the more students figure out that their first guess is usually not the correct one. For example, students might recognize a French cathedral and put France. However, the cathedral is found in Vietnam due to the French influence in Southeast Asia during the era of imperialism. Another example shows a colosseum leading you to believe you are in Rome, but then you learn that the Roman empire included parts of North Africa. The colosseum shown is in Tunisia. As the game progresses, teachers can ask students to identify the cultural influences they see even if they don’t end up getting the correct location—leads to great classroom discussion. 


Pro Tip: To keep it light and because of the difficulty involved, I give out prizes for students that identify the correct countries in this part. (Since I usually play this at the start of the year, my prizes are individual letters from the previous year’s students offering helpful tips on how to be successful in AP® World). 


Finally, before I end this activity, I briefly introduce the students to another AP® World History concept, cultural syncretism. I define cultural syncretism and then list several examples in an attempt to get students to understand the difference between diffusion and syncretism. In my experience, I have found that giving the students some specific examples of cultural diffusion and cultural syncretism is very useful. 


Download activity below!


Dave Drzonek is in his 22nd year of teaching at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Illinois, and has been teaching AP® World History since 2006. He is currently a Senior Reviewer and Writer for the AP® World History: Modern coursebook by AMSCO® and has developed and delivered AP® World History content for the online video-based AP® test prep service GetAFive. He has also been a reader for the Advanced Placement® World History Exam. He earned his M.A. in Teaching, Curriculum and Instruction at Governors State University in Illinois. He believes that there is no greater way to spend a lifetime than teaching.