Women of the World, Re-Write! Women in American World History High School Textbooks from the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s

Article excerpt

This article is the world history counterpart to a previous paper on American history textbooks, "How Much of the Sky? Women in American History High School Textbooks from the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s," SOCIAL EDUCATION, January/February 2004.

WHEN MYRA AND DAVID SADKER asked hundreds of high school seniors to name twenty famous women in American history, they found that the average student could name only four or five. (1) How many additional names would be added to the list if the Sadkers had broadened the scope of their question to include famous women in world history? The Sadkers seem to think the list would not be much longer, and cite, as supporting evidence, their study of a 1991 world history text, one that offered "approximately 2 percent of its attention to women" and one whose "index lists 596 men and 41 women." (2) We think their suggestion that students aren't likely to list women as major figures in world history until world history books begin telling women's stories is plausible. Their further suggestion that the "omission of half of humanity leads not only to ignorance but to boredom and apathy as well" also seems plausible. (3)

We wanted to know if the Sadkers' findings could be generalized to other 1990s world history textbooks. We also wanted to know if high school world history textbooks have gotten any better at including women over time. Sadker and Sadker, Trecker, and Tetreault all observed that women in American history books were invisible compared to men. (4) However, Clark (one of the co-authors of this article), Allard, and Mahoney showed that there has been significant and substantial change in women's visibility in American textbooks, not only between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, but also between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. (5) Though Commeyras and Alvermann performed a sophisticated, computer-assisted, qualitative analysis of three world history textbooks from the 1990s, no one has done a comparable more extensive analysis for world history textbooks. (6) This paper's goal is to ascertain how much more (or less) visible women have become in popular world history books, used in American high schools, over the last three decades. One might expect that the same social forces (the second wave of feminism, for instance) that brought about change in American history textbooks would have done so in world history textbooks as well. But did they?

Method

Clark, Allard, and Mahoney examined six books from each decade, the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s, and we have done so here as well. (7) Our sample of six textbooks from the 1990s, like the previous study, included six books, in our case all six world history textbooks, mentioned on the American Textbook Council's website, "Widely Adopted History Textbooks." (8) Unlike Clark, Allard, and Mahoney, however, we were unable to draw on similar lists for the 1960s and 1980s. As far as we could tell, there are no such lists. Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn mention two texts that were popular in the 1960s, and we examined both of those. (9) We then consulted two experts (Ross Dunn, professor of history at San Diego State University, and Donald Johnson, professor emeritus of history at New York University), who supplied us with the titles of three other world history or world civilization texts that were popular during the 1960s. We then encountered Mitchell Bard's analysis of the "most widely used" history texts. (10) This essay helped us find our last 1960s texts and the first of our 1980s texts. By tracking earlier editions of some of our 1990s texts and later editions of some of our 1960s texts, we were able to find the rest of the 1980s texts we examined. Our sampling technique in this research, perhaps even more than in Clark, Allard, and Mahoney's, is an example of purposive sampling, a non-probability method that involved the acquisition of sampling units based on our judgment of what units will facilitate our investigation. …