Putting the World into World History Textbooks

By Paquette, William A. | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Putting the World into World History Textbooks


Paquette, William A., Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


In 1978, my division chair asked me to create a new history course for the honors program being established at the Portsmouth Campus of Tidewater Community College in Virginia, specifically to create an alternative to the surveys of United States History and Western Civilization that would be truly global in scope. The description for this new course, then and now, remains the same, "World Civilization surveys Asian, African, Latin American, and European Civilizations from the ancient period to the present." Thus was born the History of World Civilization, a two-semester course now taught at all twenty-three community colleges in Virginia and currently registered for honors and non-honors credit by Tidewater Community College students to fulfill a graduation requirement of six hours of an international course.

My course description did not take long to generate. The real difficulties after twenty-three years of teaching World Civilization remain to select what regions and/or civilizations to teach with sufficient time to provide adequate depth of content and what textbook to use. Recognizing that it is virtually impossible to give equal treatment to all regions of the world, the six hours of World Civilization I teach focus on India, China, Japan, and the Islamic World in the first semester and Europe, Africa, and Global Interactions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the second semester. I have designed additional units on Pre-Columbian civilizations (fall semester) and Latin American history (spring semester) for those students taking the course for Honors credit. Each unit immerses students in the civilization under study. Global interactions are continuously identified to the nineteenth century, with global history the focus of separate units for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Selecting a world history textbook has not been an easy task. In 1978, there were two principal world history textbooks in use: William McNeill's History of the Human Community and L.S. Stavrianos's Global History. I selected neither. Although I minored in African and Chinese history during my M.A. program, I thought both the McNeill and Stavrianos texts lacked adequate details for the civilizations I wanted to discuss. I fell back on my Eurocentric academic training and selected Western Civilization: An Urban Perspective by Willis. I liked the details, the charts, pictures, and content organization, and I accepted Willis as a good reference on Europe. However, I prepared extensive materials on the non-European regions I planned to cover. Since my first textbook selection for World Civilization, I have changed textbooks several times using Willis's Worm Civilizations: An Urban Perspective, Upshur's (now Bulliet) Worm History, and since 1990, the second, third, fourth, and fifth editions of Craig's Heritage of Worm Civilization. I still add materials I deem essential and not included in the world history textbook I use.

Since 1978, world history textbooks have increased in number, expanded their coverage of non-Western regions, and provided a longer list of ancillary options. (1) I am no longer as Eurocentric an historian as I once was. My expertise in Asian, Islamic, African, Mesoamerican, and Latin American civilizations has improved because of doctoral work, readings, travel, research, and fellowships in these non-Western regions. I am not willing to write my own world history textbook, but I have worked with several publishers reviewing world history textbooks and writing the instructor's guides and test banks.

Over the last decade the publishing business in the United States has witnessed a significant number of mergers. As a result, some textbooks are no longer available for review. The remaining publishers did not always retain copies of earlier editions of world history textbooks they published or of the world history textbooks for companies they acquired. Nevertheless, I believe that sufficient information is available for me to do a critique over twenty-five years of whether or not publishers in the United States have put the WORLD into world history textbooks. …

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