Academic journal article World History Bulletin

East-West Stimulus and Response: The [Cotton] Fabric of the Modern World

Academic journal article World History Bulletin

East-West Stimulus and Response: The [Cotton] Fabric of the Modern World

Article excerpt

As the world enters a new phase of globalization in the 21st century, attention is again turned to Asia, much as it was 500 years ago when ocean voyages sparked a new era of interconnectedness. World History textbooks of today mark this early era with words such as "the Globe Encompassed or World Entangled." In that earlier period, the drive to directly reach the Asian sources of the spice and silk trade motivated small European and Mediterranean powers to launch their "Age of Exploration." Over the ensuing 300 years, until the early 19th century, Asia remained the economic core area of global production, serving as the workshop of the world, exporting more of its goods to other regions than it imported. Recognition by Western scholars of the scale and volume of this handicraft production has often been overlooked. New visions of global history, shaking off the Eurocentric perspective of "the Rise of the West" have, on the one hand, forced historians to re-Orient [to borrow from A. G Frank] and, on the other hand, to critically revisit Wm. H. McNeill's work while learning more about alternate interpretations of the role of both Asia and the West in the emergence of the Modern World. As McNeill's own essay in the inaugural issue of the Journal of World History put it, a major failing of his work went beyond its Eurocentrism to "its inadequate attention to the emergence of the ecumenical world system within which we live today." (1)

Unfortunately, the academic discipline of history on the whole has been slow to acknowledge the value of world historical perspectives and even slower in its academic preparation of future teachers at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. The result is the continuation of world history perspectives that are mostly focused on Europe [and its ancient predecessors] and North America [after Columbus], with only a brief nod to the "other" peoples who have little or no history of their own and matter only as they "respond" to the "stimulus" offered by their "encounters" with the dynamic West.

The recent series of teaching-focused articles on both regional and topical issues offered in the World History Bulletin and the series in Education About Asia are an attempt to provide teachers with the materials, resources and insights on how to move beyond their training and explore both the theoretical and practical content that can help them in their classrooms. Actually, the demands of various States' standard course of study guidelines make secondary teachers more willing and able to move beyond the limits of their training than are most historians more narrowly trained for college and university teaching. This latter group has followed a pattern of narrowly focusing on smaller and smaller time periods, single geographical locations and on the archival research needed to meet the criteria for advanced degrees. When required to teach introductory survey classes in world history they find themselves uncomfortable with "big" history and sometimes overwhelmed by the energy required for global conceptualization and course preps that deviate beyond their North Atlantic comfort zone.

Training in Asian history and culture, does not automatically make teaching world history come with the ease our US and European history colleagues seem to think it should. [The same applies to scholars in Latin America, African, Middle Eastern, etc. area studies] Less than a decade ago, area studies were under attack as having outlived their usefulness, having lost their relevance to the emerging global discourse. Much of this critique was coming from those eager to minimize differences, toss off the cloak of the "otherness" for various "civilizations", and see the commonalities as the earth became more "flat." This trend, too, seems to have rested on an assumption of the victory of the Western model of political and economic systems and even, perhaps, an end to history, as it had previously unfolded. …

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