Kenneth Campbell. Western Civilization: A Global Comparative Approach

By Maher, Matthew | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Kenneth Campbell. Western Civilization: A Global Comparative Approach


Maher, Matthew, Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


Kenneth Campbell. Western Civilization: A Global Comparative Approach. Vol. 1: To 1715. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2012. Pp. 496. Paper, $47.95; ISBN 9780-7656-2253-2.

Kenneth Campbell, a professor of History at Monmouth University in New Jersey, has written an appealing, thoughtful, and much needed comparative history text, which would work well in any first-year college-level history course on Western Civilization. To fit 5,000 years of history into a scant 496 pages is an enormous (and perhaps impossible) task, yet Campbell convincingly succeeds with his synthesis, and he does so with elegance. The work is masterly and thought provoking, without lapsing into the encyclopedic blandness of many history textbooks.

Campbell wants to distance himself from more Euro-bound discourses by comparing the traditions of Western Civilization with those of different parts of the world, in hopes that students might gain "understanding of some of the underlying similarities of the human experience." His success along these lines is mixed. He is particularly effective when discussing the peoples of Mesoamerica--the Incas and the Aztecs. As well, the influence of Islam on the West is not ignored, and the topic fits nicely with the discussion on the shaping of Medieval Europe. His effort to integrate the Han Dynasty of China into the discussion on Ancient Rome should be applauded, as there is a great deal of historiography comparing the two empires. Still, the discussion here is much too brief and adds little to the understanding of the Roman world. This particular segment (along with some others, e.g. Kangxi) reveal the limits of Campbell's approach: The attempt is to append Western Civilization (with interesting comparisons to other parts of the world) rather than reframe Western Civilization into a broader world context. …

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