Journal of World History 15.1 (2004) 104-105
[Access article in PDF]
Sources of Twentieth-Century Global History. Edited by James H. Overfield. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Pp. xx + 456. $38.76 (paper).
In teaching twentieth-century world history for twenty years, I have been frustrated by the lack of a serviceable collection of primary sources. I welcome enthusiastically, therefore, the publication of James Overfield's Sources of Twentieth-Century Global History.
The 111 primary sources, mostly printed texts but also some black-and-white visual images, are organized in four parts that are further subdivided into chapters and topics. Part One, "The World in an Era of Transformation and Western Dominance, 1880-1914," includes chapter 1, "Global Interaction in an Era of Imperialism and Migration," and chapter 2, "Seeds of Change: Politics, Society and Culture." The second of three topics in chapter 2 is "The New Voice of Women" (pp. 50-60) with selections from Bahithat al-Badya, Anna Howard Shaw, and Qui Jin, early feminist spokespersons from Egypt, the United States, and China, respectively. Part Two covers the "Decades of War, Economic Upheaval and Revolution, 1914-1939"; Part Three, "From World War II to the 1970's: Decades of Conflict, Decolonization, and Economic Recovery"; and Part Four, "Century's Close: From Cold War to Globalization."
Overfield provides very good introductory overviews at every level —parts, chapters, topics, and individual sources—so that attentive students will be able to place the sources in historical context, even without the aid of a narrative textbook. However, there is some unnecessary repletion of background as the reader moves from one level of introduction to a lower level. A well-written prologue explains to students the importance of reading primary materials for understanding history, the critical task of verifying facts, and the even more critical task of using judgment in interpreting the sources.
The truly outstanding strength of the collection is its global coverage. This is not a Eurocentric collection with material on Asia, Africa, and Latin America appended as an afterthought. In the chapters on colonialism and decolonization, both the colonizers and the colonized are adequately represented. In fact, two or three documents are provided for each topic so that differing voices are heard. There are some exceptions; on the topic "The New Immigration and Its Critics," (pp. 432-440), both sources represent the view opposed to immigration from developing to developed countries.
There are some problems in the selection of material supplied for each of the four chronological parts. I am not sure I see the need in [End Page 104] Part One (two chapters, 68 pages) to include sources that date from Jules Ferry's defense of French imperialism in 1880. Part Two (five chapters, 166 pages) is the longest. This mirrors the tendency of most teaching historians to dwell on the inter-world war period with its totalitarian ideologies, resistance to colonialism, and the coming of World War II. In this part, whole chapters are devoted to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Part Three, which covers World War II, the Cold War, Western and Communist countries, and decolonization, is somewhat shorter (four chapters, 136 pages), but should not be. A single chapter and some parts in other chapters are devoted to the Third World. More sources that reflect ways the Cold War impinged on anticolonial struggles in the Third World would help. TheVietnamese wars, for example, are represented only by an exchange of letters between Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh (pp. 368-370).
Part Four (two chapters, 81 pages) provides sources on globalization, environmentalism, women in the Third World, and ethnic conflict (Bosnia and Rwanda), but the absence of more sources on the Middle East is problematic. Sources grouped under "Religion and Politics" provide insight into Liberation Theology in Latin America, Jerry Falwell's "Agenda for the 1980s," and Hindu fundamentalism, but not on Islamic fundamentalism. However, the production of this collection was well underway before the events of 9/11 made so imperative the need to teach more about Islamic cultures. And, while there is little of immediate...