Academic journal article Social Education

The Two World Histories

Academic journal article Social Education

The Two World Histories

Article excerpt

"Research & Practice," established early in 2001, features educational research that is directly relevant to the work of classroom teachers. Here, I invited Ross Dunn to examine the world history curriculum in U. S. schools in light of new developments in world history scholarship.

--Walter C. Parker, "Research and Practice" Editor, University of Washington, Seattle.

Playing off the title of C.P Snow's famous essay "The Two Cultures," I would like to argue that public discourse over world history as a school subject has largely taken place in two separate arenas, neither of which has fully understood or engaged with the other. In consequence, world history as a developing and intellectually lively academic discipline has not had as much impact on school curriculum as it should have. Conversely, state education agencies and school districts have in recent years written scholastic standards that embody outdated and inadequate conceptions of world history. On the whole, world history curriculum in public schools lags well behind the research curve, and it fails to pose enough of the key questions that might help young Americans better understand how the fluid, transnational, economically integrated world in which we live got to be the way it is. This state of affairs needs to change.

In the arenas where the two world histories have taken shape, educators vigorously debate among themselves intellectual, pedagogical, and policy issues surrounding world history as a school subject. The people in each arena tend to share, despite internal disagreements, a common set of premises and assumptions for ordering the discussion of world history as a research and teaching endeavor. But in the two arenas the premises are quite different. Individual educators sometimes leave their own arena to visit the other one, but the two groups rarely hold joint meetings.

World History in Arena A

Gathered in what we will call Arena A are scholars and teachers who subscribe to the premise that the primary field of world historical investigation must be the planet as a whole, that is, the human species in its changing physical and natural environment. This group holds contentious debates over evidence, interpretation, and teaching strategies, but its conversations tend to be protean, multi-sided, and, for the most part, affable. The leading organizations in this arena are the World History Association (WHA) and its several regional affiliates. The key media are the Journal of World History, the World History Bulletin, the new Journal of Global History, the online journal World History Connected, and the H-World email discussion group. The majority of educators in Arena A are academic historians, but WHA meetings, summer institutes, workshops, and various collaborative projects bring them together with K-12 teachers, publishers, and a few scholars from university education departments. For high school teachers, the main stage in Arena A has in the past few years been the Advanced Placement World History program, which sponsors its own institutes, website, print resources, and email list.

Discussions in Arena A center on the history of connections and interactions among human societies, patterns of change that cut across and transcend particular countries or civilizations, studies of societies in world-scale contexts, and comparisons of historical phenomena in different parts of the world. The denizens of Arena A are also inclined to investigate globalization, that is, the making of connections among peoples and societies, as a long-term historical process, not just a phenomenon of the past century.

Most Arena A dwellers are interested in exploring patterns, connections, and comparisons within limited frames of time and space rather than in constructing holistic histories of humankind. On the other hand, they work from the premise that the grand sweep of the past, not just the histories of particular aggregates like nation-states or civilizations, can, indeed must be, made intelligible. …

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