Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 256-260
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A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World History is the latest reference book "for both students and the general reader" from the sixty-plus-volume Oxford Paperback Reference Series, which has included everything from a medical dictionary to books of sailing terms and geography, and even a work on the popes. It was compiled by Jan Palmowski, a junior research fellow at Christ Church, Oxford University, whose book on nineteenth-century German liberalism is forthcoming. The creation of a comprehensive dictionary of twentieth-century world history is an ambitious project indeed. The twentieth century has witnessed such rapid change that in some instances these transitions were incomprehensible to generations living just before the shifts occurred. A sweeping synopsis of these changes would certainly be a useful tool for students, teachers, and researchers alike. In this era of "instant communication," more people around the globe have more [End Page 256] knowledge of, and participate in, what are to become historic events. As readers of this journal are aware, focusing on the global nature and impact of twentieth-century historical changes would make this reference work additionally valuable.
Palmowski takes on this daunting task with great enthusiasm. A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World History includes approximately 2,500 entries, averaging about 175-250 words apiece. Of course, some entries, such as "World War Two," cover three full pages and others, such as "Sabah" (a state in the federation of Malaysia), receive fifty words. Considering the number of topics covered in this dictionary, the entries were for the most part sufficient in length. Palmowski attempted to provide entries that were "as much about why things happened and the way they did, as about what happened" (vii). However, this proved to be a difficult task within such limited space, and the entries are mainly descriptive. For example, the "World Bank" entry primarily describes the bank's purpose as declared by the United Nations, and little more could be expected from a ninety-word entry. But the World Bank has been a contested political issue, and a dictionary balancing "why" and "what" happened should address this. In the end it is left up to the reader to analyze the presented events, peoples, and places of the twentieth century.
Palmowski has provided a cross-reference tool by placing an asterisk before most terms in an entry that also have independent entries of their own. This handy feature allows a clueless reader to learn a little more about the context of any particular item. For example, Kwame Nkrumah is cross-referenced to J. B. Danquah and Pan-Africanism. Although Danquah is only cross-referenced with Nkrumah, the entry on Pan-Africanism refers the reader to the following entries: Garvey, Du Bois, Nkrumah, Kenyatta, and the Organization for African Unity. Although none of these cross-references will point an African history specialist in any new direction, they might be helpful to an instructor of world history surveys whose training was on medieval Spain. These cross-references will certainly be useful for a student trying to research a term paper on an unfamiliar topic. Almost every entry is cross-referenced with two or three other entries, which helps to present the entries as links in a larger chain rather than as isolated historical events. This cross-referencing device serves to illustrate the interconnectedness of historic phenomena, thus making this much more a work of world history than books that just present an aggregate of data with no attempt at linkage.
A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World History is more comprehen-sive than most works of this type. For example, although disappointed [End Page 257] in Palmowski's failure to connect Royal Dutch Shell to Ken Saro-Wiwa's execution, I was pleased to find an entry on Saro-Wiwa at all. Numerous examples of this type could be listed to demonstrate Palmowski's effort at...