This project allows students to gain hands-on programming experience while they learn topics from world history. Specifically, this assignment allows students to simulate trade on the Silk Road and observe the effects innovation had on trade at the time. Students will then be able to plot their results and analyze the results. The students will gain practice programming and data analysis experience while learning about history concepts. This assignment is targeted at AP World History students.


This assignment requires the students to have an extremely basic understanding of python and logical thinking. If the student has no programming experience, they can likely still complete the assignment by referencing the Python Basics guide. In addition to this, you must have python and jupyter installed on your computer, which is covered in the Getting Started with Python guide.

Getting Started

First, you have to download the files for the assignment, which are all neatly zipped up in a folder. Click here to download the zipped folder. After you download it, the folder will be in your downloads folder on your computer and you can unzip it from there and move the unzipped folder to whatever location you like. Now you'll need to navigate to that folder on your computer via your terminal (on macOS) or command prompt (on Windows).

For Mac Users

Open the Finder application and navigate to the folder you just unzipped. Right click the folder in Finder and select "New Terminal at Folder"

When the terminal opens, type

jupyter notebook

This will start a jupyter notebook in the browser.

For Windows Users

Navigate to the folder you downloaded right click the folder while holding shift. You should see an option to open "Command Prompt window here"; click on that. In the photo below command prompt is replaced with Powershell for my computer, but for our purposes its the same thing.

When the command prompt opens, type

jupyter notebook

This will start a jupyter notebook in the browser.

Using the Jupyter Notebook

After the notebook starts in your browser, click on the "innovation-and-trade.ipynb" file to open the interactive notebook. This notebook has a description of the assignment for the students and the code is grouped together in blocks. Each block can be run sequentially by clicking the "Run" button in the top menu.

The Project

Now that the students are set up with interactive notebook, they can step through the code blocks and simulate the trade of different empires involved with the Silk Road. Encourage them to add new empires with different goods based on their research about the time period as well as explore different ways of modifying the innovation index to see how that affects trade.

The deliverable for this project will be a two or three page paper where students explain the main players in Silk Road trade and how innovation affected trade. Students should include the graphs from their code and intepret their meaning.