[This is the fifth in a series of reviews of world history texts by Northeastern University graduate students.]
Albert Craig, William Graham, Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank Turner, THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS, 2 vols.
--reviewed by Christopher Cook, Northeastern University
As a teacher and student, I find there are many issues to keep in mind when choosing a world history textbook, so as to make the learning of world history a meaningful and memorable experience. For instance, what is the text's readability: is it appropriate for the audience you are trying to reach? What issues does it focus on: religious, military, economic, cultural or social? Is any one of these issues too heavily emphasized, or is there a good balance that will allow the reader to understand the full range of dynamics that have influenced world history? Looking at how the book is organized is a quick way to get a grasp of what the authors are trying to do. Are they trying to foster debates by presenting different interpretations of world-historical events? Are they ttrying to get across their own interpretation of world history? Are they trying to draw connections among different groups of people throughout world history?
Some other questions that should be asked by the teacher concerning a more immediate connection with one's students are: is the text presented in a way that will make it memorable from a student's point of view? Does the book go into too much detail (an easy tryap to fall into when trying to present the history of the world in little more than a thousand pages)?
THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS is well written, with a reading level geared toward high-level high school or college freshman students. The reading level is not at that of world history source books that ask the reader to examine primary source documents in the process of analyzing and interpreting world history, such as Andrea and Overfield, THE HUMAN RECORD.
The reason for this slightly easier reading level lies not so much in the wording of the text itself, but rather in the way the authors choose to present world history. THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS presents the reader with much more of a historical narrative than does the Andrea-Overfield reader. Because THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS reads as a narrative, it does not place as much responsibility on the reader to interpret the events of world history, thus making it more straightforward and less complex to read. This, I find, is one of the book's drawbacks in that it does not allow much for the formation of one's own opinions concerning world history because of the shortage primary source material. In this new age of history, where we as teachers must refrain from the old ways of telling history to the students rather than letting them formulate their own opinions about it, the use of primary source material is a very useful tool. THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS is not totally devoid of primary source material: a few pieces are usually placed throughout the chapters. However, this by no means accounts for the main body of the text. I have found that more primary material allows students to debate openly on issues of world history, while a narrative form usually cannot help but fall into the trap of dictating world history to the student.
While including questions in a text could be interpreted as providing tools for the purpose of leading the reader towards a certain conclusion, this does not always have to be the case, and when done properly can become a very useful tool for the student. Andrea and Overfield do a great job of using questions to serve as a guide which allows the student to focus more closely on certain issues. They also use the questions as a means of extracting the student's opinion, by placing questions at the beginning of each reading. In contrast, THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS has no questions at the point where they would most benefit the student. While this could be seen as the authors abstaining from forcing their opinions on students, I believe that the posing of questions is necessary: without the questions to serve as guide, there is a great possibility of the student losing focus.
One of the most important issues for a world history text, I feel, is that of balance. That is, does the text present world history in such a way that many areas of the world are represented on a somewhat even level? In the case of THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS, the answer seems to be no. A glance at the index will reveal to almost anyone that the text is written with a heavy emphasis on Europe and the West. Of the thirty-nine chapters in the text, twenty-one -- over half the book -- are devoted almost entirely to Europe and the West. The most glaring example of omission comes in the lack of coverage for the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, and the history of Native Americans after European arrival. Native Americans are mentioned once within the chapter titles themselves, and twice, very briefly, in other chapters. In the one chapter where they reach the title -- "The Americas: Native Peoples and Colonial Revolution," they must share the spotlight with Europeans. Within this chapter such events as the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution are all discussed without any real tie to the ways these events affected Native Americans. Native Americans are mentioned in the contents only twice more throughout both volumes, and this totals no more than four pages of text. In this trend THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS is, unfortunately, not alone. Many world history texts do not do justice to the peoples, cultures, and traditions of Native Americans, and this problem needs to be rectified. While finding evidence to support the history of these peoples may be difficult, the lack of mention for them in this text is disturbing. Perhaps archaeologists and anthropologists need to be consulted when writing the histories of Native Americans. Whatever the solution, the absence of these peoples cannot continue in the field of world history.
THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS, because of its emphasis on narrative text, does not do as well in fostering connections between world civilizations as might come from a greater reliance on primary source material. Having been exposed to both forms of world history texts throughout my schooling, I feel that the use of primary sources is of the utmost importance if one wishes the student to get a sense of a "world" history, rather than just a fragmentation of the different histories of separate societies.
Concerning the more prevalent traps of world history, that of interpreting mostly from a military-political point of view, THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS does a good job of including other aspects of world history. The text includes looks at philosophy, economics, culture and religion. In so doing it allows the student to realize that there are many aspects, angles, or lenses through which to view world history. This gives the student a fuller and more modern sense of world history: they see, for example, that there are many concepts which need to be explored if onehopes to see the whole picture of world history.
The text also looks at women, who, as a group, have often been disregarded in history texts, but falls into the trap of looking at women mostly through the experience of Western women. Only once throughout the table of contents is there a place for non-Western women, that being Japanese women in warrior society. Still, the text devotes large sections to Western women, especially when the authors consider them to be "making" history: that is, gaining the right to vote, own property, and work alongside men in the West.
One area that I found well handled in THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS is the use of maps. I was glad to see maps accompanying many of the items being discussed in the text. This use of maps helps students get a better understanding of the area being discussed in relation to the world around it at the time, and also allows them to see how the political geography of countries has changed so much throughout world history. This is evident, for instance, in the discussion of the expansion of the Russian Empire.
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