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The New World History: A Teacher's Companion (review)

From: Journal of World History
Volume 13, Number 1, Spring 2002
pp. 183-186 | 10.1353/jwh.2002.0013

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Journal of World History 13.1 (2002) 183-186

Book Review

The New World History:
A Teacher's Companion

The New World History: A Teacher's Companion. Edited by ROSS E. DUNN. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000 . Pp. xi + 596 . $49 .70 (paper).

Historians who teach world history, or are planning to, will find this collection of articles essential to understanding the field. (As for those foolish enough to aspire to write world history, they should be required to read this book first, and then take a quiz.) Many of the essays included here will already be familiar to readers of this journal: of the fifty-six articles and essays, eleven are reprinted from the Journal of World History and five from its companion, the World History Bulletin; four are from the American Historical Review and seven from its companion Perspectives; ten from The History Teacher; and the rest from other journals and books. The authors include the founding fathers of the field -- for example, William McNeill, Philip Curtin, Leften Stavrianos, Eric Wolf -- as well as the newer practitioners like Jerry Bentley, Patrick Manning, and Judith Zinsser.

Of the eleven sections, the first two deal with the history of the world history survey and its rivalry with Western civilization. Several sections cover the different approaches to world history: the early practitioners' emphasis on isolated civilizations; the more recent stress on encounters between societies and the diffusion of ideas and technologies across cultural boundaries; the promise of gendered world history and the role of women; thematic and comparative approaches such as the history of migrations and diseases; and the histories of large regions covering several cultural areas, such as the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, or the Islamic world. Finally three sections--"Teaching Regions and Civilization in World Context," "Periodizing World History," and "Constructing World History Programs and Curricula"--offer practical ideas for teachers of the world history survey and those who are trying to convince their departments to switch from Western civilization.

An editor's preface introduces each section, outlining the essential points of the articles it contains. These prefaces and Ross Dunn's introduction to the entire volume constitute a valuable overview of the field. Rather than try to digest the entire book in one reading, readers new to the field should read these introductions first, then pick and choose among the sections. Finally, the short bibliographies at the end of each section constitute a precious resource for those wishing to broaden their understanding of the field even further. The entire book, in fact, will prove useful in graduate seminars in historiography and a good preparation for new teachers in the field.

Needless to say, a book of this kind raises many questions. One such question is the purpose of the world history survey. While some authors imply that the field, like virtue, is its own reward, others give it a moral or political justification. William McNeill claims that "historians can play a modest but useful part in facilitating a tolerable future for humanity as a whole and for all its different parts . . . a clear and vivid sense of the whole human past can help soften future conflicts by making clear what we all share" (p. 157 ). Likewise, Edmund Burke III reminds us that Marshall Hodgson "saw in world history a means of combating ignorance, prejudice, and ethnocentrism" (p. 165 ). A more practical purpose is that offered by Thomas Davis: "Boards of trustee are inclined to support the shift to global history, particularly those trustees who work in the business community and regularly think about international markets and the movement of goods and services across cultural boundaries" (p. 499 ).

The issue is political because world history is not just another college course, but a replacement for the Western civilization survey. While three authors -- J. H. Hexter, Jacob Neusner, and Michael Doyle --make a spirited defense of Western civilization, the others reject it as Eurocentric, supremacist, or obsolete. As the historiographical articles in Part One point out, Western Civ was created after World War I to justify America's entanglement in European affairs after a century of isolation. That course taught students that the United States was...

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