The Successes & Challenges of Teaching World History in the Twenty-First Century: Two Case Studies from Western Michigan
James R. Palmitessa
& Stephen T. Staggs
Global perspectives on the past have a long history,
but only in the last forty-five years has world history secured a firm place
for itself in history education. Its appearance on the teaching scene at
this time was linked to growing criticisms in the 1960s of the "Western
Civilization" course. The "Western Civilization" course, which, up until
then, held a privileged place in American education, first appeared after
the First World War and evolved in the decades to follow when Americans
came to see themselves, along with the European democracies, as members
of a great Atlantic or "Western" civilization. The course, which became
required at many high schools, colleges, and universities, was meant to
provide all students, regardless of major or future vocation, with a general
understanding of the major events, great people, and great ideas in western
civilization. It also provided students a brush with the cultures of a civilization
of which they were its latest benefactors. Critics argued that the Western
Civilization course rested on a fixed, mechanized and ideological concept
of the past that excluded not only the rest of the world, but also large
segments of the American population; and that its goal was to acculturate
"Jewish kids from the Lower East Side, the fair-haired children of mid-western
towns, and the heirs and heiresses of Los Angeles janitors into the world
of upper middle-class America."1 Western Civilization had fallen short, many argued, of offering "something
worth teaching to undergraduates en masse: something all educated persons
should know; something every active citizen ought to be familiar with in
order to conduct his life well and perform his public duties effectively."2
And world history, they argued, could meet such needs.
World History has since blossomed and spread, though
its impact, like the coverage networks of today's cell-phone providers,
has been uneven. At some institutions world history courses became part
of a major curriculum reform. At other institutions they have been simply
added to the curriculum alongside other courses; or ideas about world history
influenced the transformation of existing courses, creating new models such
as "The West and the World." At still other institutions, there is interest
in world history, but not enough people who are willing or feel qualified
to teach it.
|Academic years 2002 through 2004 marked the first time that world history was taught in a series of two new undergraduate courses at Western Michigan University (W.M.U.) in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and in an Advanced Placement (A.P.) History course at Holland Christian High School in nearby Holland, Michigan. The authors, a university instructor and a high-school teacher/doctoral student, believe that our experiences developing and teaching these courses for the first time, and in evaluating their success, can facilitate others who are either contemplating developing a world history course or who, like us, have taught such a course and are evaluating its success and what future directions could be taken. We have come to appreciate that there are many different ways one becomes introduced or initiated to world history. And while the prospect of developing and/or teaching a world history course may seem like a formidable task, it is a process that can build directly from one's own areas of interest and specialization and draw on local and regional resources and institutions. We have also come to see that it is important to take into close consideration the specific institutional environment in determining the appropriate type of world history course and pedagogical format of the course. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we have come to learn that commitment and collaboration on many levels - between university instructors and high school teachers, between colleagues, and between teachers and administrators – is essential for the successful development and teaching of the world history course, and to ensure that the course remains a continuing, vital element of the curriculum.||3|
James Palmitessa and Western Michigan University
Most university instructors and high-school teachers
of history did not receive formal training in world history, and we are
no exception. I am a specialist in European history, ca. 1400-1800, and
was initially hired at W.M.U. to teach this area of specialization to undergraduate
history majors and graduate students in history and Medieval Studies, as
well as to contribute to general education course offerings. W.M.U. is the
fourth-largest institution among the fifteen public universities in the
state of Michigan. It has a student enrollment of approximately 30,000.
About 400 students are history majors, and, of these students, about half
are preparing to become secondary school teachers.
My first introduction to world history dates back
to when I served as a teaching assistant in a World Civilizations course
taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst by my mentor, R. Po-chia
Hsia (currently at Pennsylvania State University). At that time the history
department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst organized a lecture
series on world history. Among the invited speakers were leaders in the
field such as William McNeill and Philip Curtin. Later, as a junior faculty
member at WMU, I became increasingly dismayed with undergraduate students'
lack of connection to Europe as well as the alarming fragmentation of knowledge
among students. Undergraduate students at WMU had the opportunity to take
courses in U.S., Latin American, European, Asian, and African histories,
but did not know how to process what they learned or to make larger connections
between these histories.
Stephen Staggs and Holland Christian High School
I pursued graduate study in history at W.M.U. and
received the M.A. in History in 2002, focusing on early modern European
and early American history on a part-time basis while teaching full-time
at Holland Christian High School. Holland Christian High School has a current
enrollment of 986 students who are required to successfully complete 22
credits in order to graduate, including 3 in social studies. The social
studies department requires freshman to take a European History course,
sophomores to take a 19th and a 20th century United
States history course, juniors to take economics and government, and seniors
to take either World Cultures or A.P. World History.
My introduction to world history came during my
M.A.-level studies at Western Michigan University. Although I had taught
world history courses in the past, I soon realized that these were like
traditional Western Civilization surveys. When the College Board began to
offer a new A.P. course in World History, then, I was handed an opportunity
to do something different. Following conversations with James Palmitessa
and my students, I realized that students at the secondary level were increasingly
frustrated with the lack of attention paid to areas beyond the United States
and Europe within the social studies department's offerings at Holland Christian,
and that they viewed A.P. World History as much more relevant than A.P.
Europe or United States.
The Important Place of European History at the High School and University Levels
We both believe that the history of Europe still
has an important place in the high school and university curriculum in the
United States. Europe was and continues to be an important world region,
which has left an indelible mark upon the institutions and ways of life
of many areas of the world, including the United States. In addition, many
people who teach "western civilization" today - including the authors -
do not teach it based on a model of linear, progressive development or with
the aim towards acculturating students to a single view of history. Nevertheless,
the course has lost its universal appeal as "the history course"
for both undergraduate and high school students. Indeed, the changing direction
of the world has brought challenges to both the university and secondary
school curricula. The students of the twenty-first century need to be conscious
of today's global society, and to acquire basic information about the world's
societies and the place of individual societies in the larger historical
picture as well as the various ways they interact with one another. We believe
world history can meet that need.
Developing and Proposing a World History Course that Adopts a "Global" Approach at the Undergraduate Level: James Palmitessa
|Developing a world history course meant that I needed to read widely in the literature of the field. While this takes time, it need not be an overwhelming project if spread over a number of semesters, or if it is shared by colleagues in the context of a department colloquium or reading group. In the end, I found this background reading to be a pleasure. After examining some first-generation textbooks, I explored the fascinating areas of cross-cultural trade, technology, disease, the environment, and hemispheric and regional approaches to world history in works by scholars such as Philip Curtin, Marshall Hodgson, and Alfred Crosby, which I shared with Stephen Staggs through an independent study that focused on the theory and philosophy behind the development of world history courses.3 One piece of scholarship that especially caught my attention was Michael Geyer's and Charles Bright's article entitled "World History in a Global Age" from 1995.4 This article presents one of the most cogent arguments for globalization as a major force in historical development. With the support of the chair of the History Department, we even invited Michael Geyer to campus, where he presented a lecture and brown bag lunch on multi-cultural education.5 He also met with me individually to discuss ideas about developing a course. Indeed, Geyer helped me understand the difference between a "world civilizations" and "global history" approach, a basic distinction that I did not yet fully understand. In essence, a world civilizations' approach provides an introduction to the major societies, religions, and cultures of the world, often comparatively, whereas a global history approach places the major emphasis on the processes of global interaction. We also discussed the problem of periodization.6 Geyer's courses deal with the modern and contemporary periods, but as a pre-modern historian, I wanted to teach a survey that covered a longer time span.||13|
As a historian of early modern Europe who is interested
in central Europe, I was already acquainted with the explosion of literature
on European explorations and encounters in the fifteenth, sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries.7 At the same time, I was also interested in the history
of small communities and regions and the history of everyday life. To me,
stories like those of Martin Guerre, the French Ursuline nun Marie Guyard,
and the Italian miller Mennochio, add a "human, down to earth, tangible"
element to the teaching of history—an element often lacking in global
these approaches into a world history course thus represented a major challenge
for me. In attempting to work through some of these problems, I found it
useful to read recent monographs dealing with some interregional developments
during important transition periods in the distant past, such as Janet Abu-Lughod's
work on the thirteenth-century world system, and K.N. Chadhuri's and Andre
Gunder Frank's books on pre-modern economic systems.9 At the same time, I began reading works that discussed technology, the environment,
and gender in world history, including the volumes in the series "Essays
in Global and Comparative History" published by the A.H.A.10
I also began searching for primary sources. Yet the catalyst that brought
it all together was Jerry Bentley and Herbert Ziegler's Traditions and
Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past.11 This book presented not just an informative and well-written
textbook narrative, but also a model of global history that accommodated
both long-term change as well as local developments.12
About a year and a half later, I prepared a proposal
for two new courses, "World History to 1500" and "World History since 1500."
Since most of the students who would take the course did not possess a background
in the traditions of any of the societies discussed, the course needed
to provide students with basic information about important individuals,
places, and events. However, the major focus of the course was on interaction:
how societies and cultures contacted one another, the ways they influenced
one another, and the way new societies and cultures emerged. Given the large
number of area specialists at W.M.U. it made little sense to offer a World
Civilizations course; students can best learn about individual societies
in other courses. For smaller colleges, universities, and high schools that
do not have the diverse faculty and course offerings, more emphasis may
have to be devoted to traditions of world societies, but we recommend
that interaction should still remain an important aspect of the course.
In the case of W.M.U., the History Department offers a number of survey
courses in the history of various individual societies and world regions:
Western Civilization, United States History, Latin American Civilizations,
Asian Civilizations, and Islamic Civilizations. The comparative religion
and anthropology departments offer courses in Religions of the World and
Peoples in the World, respectively, as well as a variety of other courses.
Students who take these courses can study developments within societies
or between societies of a region; however, such courses do not provide students
with the larger global and historical picture. My proposed courses aimed
to fill that gap.
Based on the existing area course offerings and
the W.M.U. general education curriculum structure, it made sense to gear
the course not just to history majors but to all majors. This dictated that
it would be a large course. For many students, one of these courses may
be their only history course at the university. Yet the courses were also
designed to provide a solid foundation for students who would take other
courses offered by W.M.U.'s specialists in the various regions of the world,
both in the history department and other areas of the university. In effect,
they were also meant to be a feeder for these other courses. History majors
could also take these courses to fulfill requirements in either non-western
or pre-modern coursework, or as an elective.
|The choice of the year 1500, marking the period around the Colombian voyages as a dividing line between the two courses, is a customary but essentially arbitrary one and thus we decided it would not be portrayed as the watershed of world history. In general, the periodic scheme was to be seen as a useful framing concept rather than as an abstract synthesis. It was the hope that rather than confusing students, this scheme would provide an important benchmark for placing key dates and developments of individual societies. From the outset, we also decided not to attempt to provide a linear, progressive treatment of history. In other words, we were not hoping to trace the roots of modernity or globalization, but to provide something more modest and reasonable. The primary emphasis of "World History to 1500" was to underscore that there was an important historical component to interaction in the deep past, and to emphasize the choices that were made—as well as alternatives and challenges—in the histories of those interactions.||17|
After deciding on the focus of the course, the
course format needed to be worked out. At large colleges and universities
one common model for the Western Civilization course was and remains the
survey course, which is framed around the pedagogical model of "reading-lecture-discussion."
It seemed to me that the pedagogical format of the survey course remained
a useful one, especially at large universities like W.M.U. where large classes
are common. In particular, the "reading-lecture-discussion" format seemed
to the best way to accommodate student-faculty interaction and discussion
in a course of 120 students, which is the enrollment cap for courses at
W.M.U.. A Monday-Wednesday-Friday time slot for the class was also requested.
Mondays and Wednesdays were reserved for lectures, and on Fridays students
were divided into small discussion groups (20-25 students maximum), which
met at different times and were led by me or my teaching assistants. In
preparation for Monday and Wednesday lectures, students were assigned a
reading from the textbook (customarily a chapter per week), which were meant
to provide basic information with a certain breadth and depth as well as
a narrative. The lectures were meant to highlight important issues and topics
and to get students thinking in about the material, presenting a parallel
and sometimes different narrative than the text. Some of the lecture topics
were "The Natural and Supernatural in Classical Societies" and "Trade and
Cultural Encounters on the Silk Roads" (both in World History to 1500),
and "The Myth of Christopher Columbus" and "Traders, Gun ships, and Missionaries:
Asian Encounters" (in World History since 1500). One semester included a
lecture on "Female Circumcision or Female Genital Mutilation: A Different
Cultural Tradition or Human Rights Violation," in which the class also viewed
excerpts from Femmes aux yeux overts ("Women with Open Eyes," Togo,
1994). I also invited a colleague from the school of nursing, Lisa Wolffe,
to give a lecture on her work with Inuit midwives in Alaska. [See Attachment
I: Syllabi for HIST 302 and HIST 303.] Both these sessions also served as
an opportunity to briefly step out of the survey and present students with
examples from the lives of ordinary people. On Fridays the class met in
small groups (20-25 students maximum) at different times of the day. The
small group discussions provided an opportunity to ask questions about the
readings and lectures and to analyze and discuss an additional reading -
provided in a course pack - which was usually a primary source or article
related to the weekly topic. Primary source readings included excerpts from
the Rig Vedas, Tao Te Ching, the Confucian Analects,
the Koran, the journals of Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta's account of his
journey to sub-Saharan Africa, Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanjing,
as well as articles from various newspapers in North America. Some of these
primary sources presented the lives and views of ordinary people.13
|ATTACHMENT I: World History to 1500||19|
Developing and Proposing a World History Course that Adopts a "Global" Approach at the High School Level: Stephen Staggs
|Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about teaching a world history course as my undergraduate work at Calvin College and early graduate work at W.M.U. had primarily been in United States and European history. The chronological framework for the yearlong A.P World History course thus seemed overwhelming, since it explores world history from prehistory to the present. Moreover, the course objectives appeared daunting.14||22|
|While thinking about the theoretical framework for developing a World History course that met these objectives, I approached James Palmitessa one day, asking if he could offer some advice, not knowing at the time that he had just developed the courses at W.M.U. and was teaching them for the first time. He offered to develop an independent study with me, entitled "Readings in World History," for the summer of 2001. After hearing about the strict A.P. guidelines and realizing that a high school environment would demand a different course format, Palmitessa deliberately decided to limit the reading course to the scholarship of world history. At this point, he decided to leave the pedagogical concerns to me. The readings focused on an introduction to the development of world history as a course of study, including works by Gilbert Allardyce and Jerry H. Bentley as well as the transcript of the 1976 American Historical Association Session.15 The list then moved into theory, concepts, and problems, introducing a variety of global historians such as Michael Geyer, Charles Bright, Marshall Hodgson, Patrick Manning, and Peter Stearns.16 Finally, the readings moved into a number of topical areas, including works by Philip Curtin and Andre Gunder Frank on the topic of global trade and economic systems, works by Janet Abu-Lughod and Amin Maalouf on the topic of global interactions before the "New World" expeditions, work by Miguel Leon-Portilla on global interactions since 1492, and works by Alfred Crosby and Jared Diamond on biological and environmental history.17 The "Readings in World History" course culminated in a paper that analyzed these works, including a series of reflective discussions with Palmitessa focused on the readings and their implications for the development of a world history course. The theoretical framework provided by the readings course helped immensely in the development of the A.P. course at Holland Christian. It also led me to subscribe to the Journal of World History and to become a member of the World History Association.||23|
|Later, realizing that I needed more background in the histories of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas before I set out to teach the A.P. World History course for the first time, I approached James Palmitessa and José Antonio Brandão about another independent study. Once again, James Palmitessa and José Antonio Brandão, a specialist in North American First Nations, Canada, and Comparative Colonial America, offered their time and energy, collaborating to develop an independent study for the summer of 2003 on the topic of global encounters and interaction. The course culminated with a bibliographic essay entitled A Blunted Impact: The Centrality of 1492 Reconsidered, where I concluded that recent historians such as James Axtell, Natalie Zemon Davis, Ross Dunn, J.H. Elliott, Jacques Gernet, John Hemming, R. Po-chia, Karen Odahl Kupperman, Anthony Pagden, and John K. Thornton do not consider 1492 to be a watershed moment in world history.18 This independent study not only provided an even deeper introduction to the theme of encounters—a theme that became central to the A.P. World History course subsequently developed at Holland Christian—but also offered a greater sense of the variety of sources that could be employed and referred to during the development and teaching of a world history course.||24|
|The A.P. World History course that developed for Holland Christian took a global approach to world history rather than a "world civilizations" approach. It followed the chronological framework laid out by the College Board (which has subsequently been modified), beginning with a "foundations" period that explored the traditions of the deep past and moving to an analysis of the periods 1000-1450, 1450-1750, 1750-1914, and 1914-present.19 This chronological framework was, however, scrutinized throughout the course, and students were challenged to develop other periodization schemes. The course focused on the traditions and encounters between societies in the past in order to understand present global traditions and encounters. The course followed the A.P. themes, highlighting the impact of interaction among major societies, the relationship between change and continuity, and the impact of technology and demography on people and the environment. The course also explored systems of social structure and gender structure, cultural and intellectual developments and interactions among and within societies, and changes in the functions and structures of states.20||25|
|Despite the fact that my principal and some of the parents and students thought that I should teach directly to the A.P. exam, I created a varied, interactive, and participatory course in which the contribution of students significantly shaped the learning. The course invited active and critical listening, reading, viewing, thinking, discussing, reflecting, and writing, asking learners to both 'be' and 'do.' The course challenged students to grow and change in their articulation of biblical ideals regarding relationships with other societies. For example, as the class explored the post-classical societies along the Silk Roads and the Indian Ocean Basin (600-145), students collected data in their notebooks to be used at a historic roundtable. Students were placed in into four groups, each composed of four to five students. Each group was then responsible for teaching the other societies about themselves, their place in society, and the important aspects of their society. In order to explore the idea of ethnocentrism, each society was challenged to present their society as the most "civilized" of the post-classical societies. Individuals were then expected to read the assigned chapter from Traditions and Encounters, select a historical character, and do some extra research on their society and character at the local collegiate library. Students were expected to present in character and bring at least one visual, such as a map, a depiction of their character, or an artifact, to share via a group PowerPoint. Students were also encouraged to note the bibliographies at the end of each chapter in Traditions and Encounters, in order to teach them about the important role bibliographies play in historical research. Each group was then given a class period in which to present. Such an approach not only successfully created a varied, interactive, and participatory classroom in which the students' contributions significantly shaped the learning, but also invited active and critical listening, reading, viewing, thinking, discussing, reflecting, and writing. In short, lessons such as these invited learners to be and act as the students, teachers, and researchers that I believe they ought to be.||26|
|ATTACHMENT III: Group Lesson Plans|
|The course also required students to complete periodic geography and reading quizzes on the Bentley text, which were done in pairs and in groups about half of the time, and to participate in class discussions. Students were also required to research and compose a thesis essay on a particular topic of interest related to global encounters. Students kept a research journal and composed two scholarly book reviews. Students were also required to write a research proposal and preliminary bibliography as well as an outline and an introductory paragraph for the essay. A first draft with a conference leading towards the final draft of a thesis essay on their research topic was also required. Students also took a mid-term exam that prepared them for the A.P. final, read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and composed a first draft of the research essay by mid-March that was then brought to Palmitessa's undergraduate world history course at W.M.U. and read by a number of his students during their small group discussions.||27|
|ATTACHMENT IV: Syllabus for A.P. World History|
|With fourteen students finally settling into the course, the course format at Holland Christian followed a reading-lecture-discussion-small group activities model, though the primary methods utilized were reading, small group activities, and discussion. The class met every day for 50 minutes. Eventually, following a revolt by the students that will be discussed later, Mondays became reading days in which students would individually read from the Bentley text; Tuesdays through Thursdays were reserved for lectures, class discussion of the Bentley text, or small group activities dealing with primary sources; and Friday was reserved for reading, quizzes, or essay writing. In preparation for Tuesday through Thursday lectures and discussions, students were assigned a chapter from the textbook on the preceding Friday. The small group discussions and activities provided an opportunity to ask questions about the readings and lectures and to analyze and discuss primary sources that were taken from the companion reader to the Bentley text, World Civilizations: Sources, Images, and Interpretation.21||28|
Early Experiences Teaching the Course at W.M.U. and Holland Christian
|Early concerns that it would take time for the W.M.U course to gain popularity were unfounded. The courses filled up (to the maximum of 120) the first semester and have filled every time since. Students came from all colleges in equal distribution. Each semester fifteen to twenty history majors enrolled. Finding a coherent narrative and focus were challenges that surfaced early on. Despite the useful organizing principles of "tradition" and "encounter," which the textbook and lectures adhered to, some students were disoriented by what they experienced as constant switching between countries and periods. On the other hand, an unexpected benefit of a global historical approach is that the relevance of the subject was apparent to me as well as the students, which is no longer the case with European history. That relevancy helped maintain the momentum of the course. Another benefit of world history is the freedom from the ideological paradigms that still plague the best Western Civilization textbooks. Jerry Bentley's and Herbert Ziegler's Traditions and Encounters is one of the most straightforward, clearly written and informative textbooks in any field of history. The Holland Christian students, for example, commented that it was the finest textbook they had encountered during their young academic careers.||29|
|Teaching the A.P. World History course for the first time was also a learning experience. Initial concerns that the course would not fill up to the required ten students or more were soon allayed as nineteen students signed up for the course. In the opening days, students were overwhelmed by the amount of information to be covered and what appeared to them to be a syllabus that was too rigorous. As a result, four students dropped the course, concerned that the amount of A.P. courses they were taking and/or their extracurricular activities would inhibit their success in the course. However, as with James Palmitessa's course at the undergraduate level, the relevance of the subject matter quickly became apparent. Moreover, the students found the opportunities to conduct research very useful. Indeed, most of the students had not been in a research library with five floors of scholarly works, and so their eyes widened in amazement as they walked into the research library of the local liberal arts college. Finding a book in such a library or locating a scholarly article or book review using databases such as JSTOR was new for many of them. Learning the process of historical research had begun.||30|
|In the end, we were pleased with the results, as the composition of the research essay helped meet not only many of the course objectives, but also simultaneously prepared students for work at the undergraduate level as well as the A.P. exam. Test scores on the A.P. exam bore this observation out. In the 2002-03 school year, six out of the fourteen students who completed the course took the exam. The remaining eight chose not to take the exam for a variety of reasons, including especially the cost. Four of the six students who did take the exam received a five, the highest mark a student can receive on the A.P. exams, while the other two students scored a four and a three respectively. In the 2003-04 school year, six out of the seventeen students who completed the course took the exam. Three of those students received a five, two received a four, and one received a three. In short, all students who took the exam passed the exam, supporting my contention that an A.P. course that is varied, interactive, and participatory, in which the contribution of students significantly shapes the learning, will result in critical readers, writers, and thinkers. In fact, I believe students succeeded on the exam because they were introduced to scholarly works that explored topics of interaction and encounter in even greater depth than the Bentley text offered. Thus, they learned how to interpret, evaluate, and analyze both scholarly and primary sources as well as how to construct and defend their own arguments. The testimony of my former students who are now enrolled in colleges and universities throughout the country seems to support this claim. One student in particular, who is presently pursuing undergraduate work at the University of Notre Dame, wrote to encourage me to continue challenging the students to develop their critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. Her first history course at Notre Dame was a seminar course with a challenging load of reading and writing. When the first drafts of the first paper the students were to write were returned, she received a "B" while most of her peers received "D's."||31|
|Though there were numerous successes along the way, my A.P. students and I did experience growing pains. Some of the students were not willing to put in the work that was required of them, challenging the workload and the philosophy behind the course. The result was a revolt that occurred in October. As the class was discussing the bibliographic essay, a concept some of the students were struggling to understand, a student inquired whether the methodology being employed would help them pass the A.P. exam. Suddenly, I found myself against the chalkboard as other students began hurling challenges and criticisms. Beleaguered, I turned to an A.P. teacher in the English department for advice. He told me he had experienced a similar revolt in his A.P. English class a year earlier. His solution was to come to class the next day with a short essay he composed about the differences between expectations at the high school and collegiate level. He then asked the class which type of course they wanted, a high school or collegiate course, and left the room. I chose to follow this course of action. Waiting for what seemed like hours in the hallway, I was told by the student who came to get me that I would like what had been decided. I returned to find the students sitting in their customary circle. Their response was that they wanted a collegiate level course, but desired some modifications to the course requirements. Relieved, we decided that the research journals, the portfolio, and the primary and visual source reviews would be dropped from the requirements and that Mondays would be a reading day. Despite these modifications, I believe the course remained rigorous and challenging.||32|
Evaluating the Courses
|Indeed, these modifications allowed the Holland Christian students to produce higher quality bibliographic and research essays, according to Palmitessa, who compared their essays to the essays he received at the undergraduate level. As the course drew to a close, the Holland Christian students critiqued the A.P World History course in a roundtable dialogue, unanimously suggesting that the Diamond text be dropped from the reading requirements because the course required extensive reading in the Bentley and Sherman texts as well as two essays. Students also suggested that more lectures be integrated into the course and that each week include one reading day, one to two days of lecture, one day dealing with primary sources, one to two days of discussion, and periodic days of reading quizzes or essay writing. Students also commented that they believed that the Bentley text ignored religion from 1500 to the present and that the text needed to be supplemented in that regard. These modifications were considered for the following year and followed, including dropping the bibliographic essay while increasing the number of secondary source reviews.||33|
|Meanwhile, students in the W.M.U. world history courses commented in their evaluations that they enjoyed the component on the Crusades – one of the few areas that is weak in Traditions and Encounters – the Silk Roads, Post-Colonialism, and the contemporary global problems, but felt that there was too much on religion (in World History to 1500). The reading from Iris Chang's book on the Japanese atrocities in Nanjing, China proved to be too graphic for some of the students and too difficult for the teaching assistants to deal with, which ultimately compromised its effectiveness. The broad geographic and periodic scope of these courses remained challenges both for the students and myself throughout the course. Yet despite criticisms of the course, I noticed that on the whole students performed much better on the exams in the world history courses than they did in my Western Civilization courses, especially in essay questions that required the highest level of synthesis and analysis. This indicated that although students thought there was too much to comprehend, they were in fact grasping the material. Another indication that some of the important goals of the course were being met came from a senior history major who shared her ideas with me at the end of the semester. Although some of her friends thought that lower-level courses like these are not suitable for graduating seniors, she found the course as an ideal capstone experience that provided her with a framework in which she could place her accumulated knowledge of U.S., European, Asian, and African histories.||34|
|In the midst of teaching these courses, both of us thought we might gain some perspective on our own courses by visiting each other's classrooms. Thus, in the fall of 2002 James Palmitessa visited one of the sessions in Stephen Staggs' world history course at Holland Christian High School, where it seemed that the high school students engaged in class discussions put the college students to shame. After this visit we decided to experiment by planning a meeting of the two classes. The idea was to provide the high school students with an authentic audience for their research essays—i.e. the undergraduate students in James Palmitessa's World History course—and to provide them with an opportunity to engage in the academic world of a large, public university. To prepare, the undergraduate students read and critiqued essays on encounters and interactions written by Staggs' high school seniors. In the end, both parties found the encounter to be beneficial. The high school students, who were initially anxious about having their work read and critiqued by college students, commented that the authentic audience and the feedback they received not only helped them construct a sharper historical argument, but also affirmed that they could do academic work that was equivalent to (or more advanced than) the work of some undergraduate students. The college students admitted in the next Friday discussion session that they were surprised, and even embarrassed, at the quality of the high school essays compared to their own. This provided an excellent opportunity for an open discussion of the responsibilities of being a college student, and the greater demand in college for independent reading and preparation on the part of the student.||35|
Balance Sheet and Future Directions
|In the end, after reading and hearing student evaluations about both of our courses, we believe that they were largely successful. However, we also identified three problem areas that we believe are central to conceptualizing and teaching world history at both the college and secondary levels. We expect that these are problems faced by others engaged in the field.||36|
|First, our attempt to integrate the history of individuals and local communities into the world history courses fell short of our expectations. The reason for trying to integrate this material in the first place was to present a more personal and less abstract view of global processes and to show how global developments touch individuals and local communities. In practice, this material appeared out of context with the rest of the narrative, reminding us of earlier attempts to integrate the history of women or the history of daily life into Western Civilization textbooks and courses. There are some important models that successfully integrate local communities and regions with global developments, such as Nicholas Thomas' work on Pacific Island cultures.22 However, it does not appear to us that global historical scholarship has fully come to terms with local studies. In any event, we believe that the pedagogical challenge of successfully integrating the experiences of individuals and small communities into world history remains unsolved.||37|
|This brings us to another problematic area: the survey course. In developing the world history courses at W.M.U. James Palmitessa deliberately chose this course format as it seemed a useful one to deal with long duration and large student audiences. Yet the problems with this format for teaching world history seem apparent. The survey rests on the notion that students integrate readings (prepared independently outside of class), class lectures, and discussions in order to formulate knowledge. However, today's students seem to have more problems with critical reading and note-taking skills, which are only exacerbated with the vast amount of facts, dates, etc. in a survey format. All this suggests that we may need to rethink the course format and assignments, taking an approach that combines a thematic focus with the survey, and that offers more creative assignments and discussions. The experience of the A.P. class may provide some suggestions.||38|
|Lastly, we return to the issue of collaboration. As described throughout this piece, we collaborated at some key points in the process of developing, teaching and evaluating our courses. Most of the time we worked independently. Part of this style of collaboration was dictated by our time demands, which precluded exchanging information at every stage. More importantly, we collaborated when we found it useful and meaningful to do so. Yet collaboration should not be taken for granted. When James Palmitessa first proposed the world history courses at W.M.U., there was an expectation that other members of the department would come forward to teach the courses in consecutive years. As of this date, in addition to James Palmitessa who taught the sequence three consecutive years in a row, only two other tenure-track faculty members have taught one of the courses. Other sections were assigned to term-appointed faculty or doctoral students. Similar stories can be heard from others who have developed and taught world history courses at other college and universities.||39|
|It is clear, however, that the success of such courses depends on a wide variety of colleagues who will bring their own varied expertise and experiences to the sequence. Across the country, many historians appear to be interested only in teaching introductory courses in their areas of specialization. Some were trained in academic traditions or programs that are skeptical or critical of world history. There are still lingering ideas of world history as a field for generalists or dilettantes. Some historians have trans-national or trans-cultural research topics - such as migration and religious conflict, to name just two - that directly lend themselves to a global perspective; but, for a number of reasons, these historians are uninterested or unwilling to get involved in teaching world history. Many other historians have not been exposed to world history and fear they are ill prepared for teaching it. Whatever the reasons, it is easy for world history courses to end up as just one of many service courses offered by a small cadre of the willing.||40|
|The need for world history remains as strong as it did a half century ago, but its future is in jeopardy if more historians do not get involved in the endeavor. Our experiences have shown us that for it to fulfill its promise, commitment and collaboration are necessary on many levels. Historians need to recognize that world history is not just for the African, Asian or "non-Western" historian, who has been the person to initiate and keep world history alive on many campuses, but to all historians, including Europeanists and Americanists of all persuasions and periods. Just as historians keep up on the literature of their own fields, they can benefit from reading the literature of world history, from teaching a world history course, and from mentoring graduate students and high school teachers who may not be in their major fields. Department chairs and other university administrators can help by being proactive in encouraging or requiring faculty members to teach world history courses, and by creating an environment where collaboration is supported and rewarded. High school teachers can become involved by pursuing a master's degree in history as part of their continuing education, and by immersing themselves in the historical scholarship of the field. Finally, high school administrators and parents can help by acknowledging and supporting these efforts. Through such collaboration, world history can help our students acquire basic information about the world's societies, about the place of our society in the larger world, and about the many and various ways in which societies have interacted with one another in the past.||41|
Biographical Note: James Palmitessa is Associate Professor of History at Western Michigan University. Stephen Staggs is a doctoral student in history at Western Michigan University.
1 Frederic L. Cheyette as quoted in Gilbert Allardyce, "The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization course," American Historical Review 87:3 (June 1982), 720.
2 William McNeill as quoted in "Beyond Western Civilization: Rebuilding the Survey," transcript of the 1976 American Historical Association session, The History Teacher 10:4 (August 1977), 510.
3 Such as William H. McNeill's classic The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963). Despite the problematic focus of the rise of the west, this engaging work gets one thinking about larger global issues. See also McNeill, "The Rise of the West after Twenty-Five Years," Journal of World History 1:1 (1990): 1-21; Philip D. Curtin, Cross-cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Daniel Headrick, The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in The Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1976); Marshall Hodgson, "Hemispheric Interregional History as an Approach to World History," Cahier d'Histoire Mondiale/Journal of World History 1:3 (1954): 715-23; Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism. The Biological Expanse of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
4 Michael Geyer & Charles Bright, "World History in a Global Age," American Historical Review 100:4 (October 1995): 1034-60.
5 See Michael Geyer, "Multiculturalism and the Politics of General Education," Critical Inquiry 19:3 (Spring 1993): 499-533.
6 See Peter N. Stearns, "Periodization in World History Teaching: Identifying the Big Changes," The History Teacher 20:4 (August 1987): 561-80.
7 R. Po-chia Hsia, The World of the Catholic Renewal 1540-1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Hsia, ed., Companion to the Reformation World (London: Blackwell, 2003); Guido Ruggiero, Companion to the Worlds of the Renaissance (London: Blackwell, 2002); Lisa Jardine, Worldly Goods. A New History of the Renaissance (London: Macmillan, 1996); Lisa Jardine and Jerry Brotton, Global Interests: Renaissance Art between East and West (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).
8 Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983); Davis, Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995); Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms. The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).
9 Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony. The World System A.D. 1250-1350 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); K.N. Chadhuri, Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilization of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient. Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 1998).
10 Jonathan Coopersmith, "Applying the History of Technology to World History," World History Bulletin XV:2 (Fall 1999): 16-20; Donald J. Hughes, "Ecology and Development as Narrative Themes of World History," Environmental History Review 19:1 (1995): 1-16; Sarah S. Hughes, "Gender at the Base of World History," History Teacher 27:4 (August 1994): 417-23; Richard M. Eaton, Islamic History as Global History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1990); Stanley M. Burstein, The Hellenistic Period in World History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1996); Peter N. Stearns, Interpreting the Industrial Revolution (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1991); Xinru Lin, The Silk Road. Overland Trade and Cultural Interactions in Eurasia (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1998).
11 Jerry H. Bentley & Herbert F. Ziegler, Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 2 vols., 2nd edition (New York: Mc Graw Hill, 2003).
12 See also Patrick Manning, "The Problem of Interaction in World History," American Historical Review 101 (June 1996): 771-82.
13 Most of these primary source readings were collected in course packets which were available for purchase at the W.M.U. bookstore; see the attached syllabi for a more detailed listing of these sources. Iris Chang's work is available in paperback, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
14 According to the A.P. guidelines, the objectives include constructing and evaluating arguments - using evidence to make plausible arguments; using documents and other primary data - developing the skills necessary to analyze point of view, context, and bias, and to understand and interpret information; developing the ability to assess the issues of change and continuity over time; enhancing the capacity to handle diversity of interpretations through analysis of context, bias, and frame of reference; seeing global patterns over time and space while also acquiring the ability to connect local developments to global ones and to move through levels of generalizations from the global to the particular; developing the ability to compare within and among societies, including comparing societies' reactions to global processes; developing the ability to assess claims of universal standards yet remaining aware of human commonalities and differences; putting culturally diverse ideas and values in historical context, not suspending judgment but developing understanding. See 2004-2005 Course Description for A.P. World History, College Entrance Examination Board, (2003), 7.
15 Gilbert Allardyce, "The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization Course," The American Historical Review 87:3 (June 1982): 695-74; Jerry H. Bentley, Shapes of World History in Twentieth-Century Scholarship (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1996); "Beyond Western Civilization: Rebuilding the Survey," transcript of the 1976 American Historical Association Session," The History Teacher 10:4, 510-48.
16 Michael Geyer and Charles Bright, "World History in a Global Age," American Historical Review 100:4 (October 1995); Marshall Hodgson, "Hemispheric Interregional History as an Approach to World History," Cahiers d' Histoire Mondiale / Journal of World History 1:3 (1954): 715-723; Patrick Manning, "AHR Forum: The Problems of Interactions in World History Teaching: Identifying the Big Changes," The History Teacher 20:4 (August 1987): 561-80.
17 Philip D. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998); Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System 1250-1350, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (London: Al Saqi Books, 1984); Miguel Leon-Portilla, ed., Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962); Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Voyages, the Columbian Exchange, the Their Historians (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1987); Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999).
18 James Axtell, The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985); Natalie Zemon Davis, Women on the Margins, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); Ross E. Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); J.H. Elliott, The Old World and the New, 1492-1650, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972); Jacques Gernet, China and the Christian Impact, Trans. by J. Lloyd, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500-1760, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978); R. Po-chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal 1540-1770, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Karen Ordahl Kupperman, ed., America in European Consciousness, 1493-1750, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Anthony Pagden, Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain, and France, c. 1500-c.1800, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995); John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
19 The A.P. College Board recently changed the periodization for the course to a Foundations period spanning 8000 B.C.E.-600 C.E., 600 C.E.–1450. 1450–1750, 1750-1914, 1914-present. See the 2004- 2005 Course Description for A.P. World History, College Entrance Examination Board, (2003), 5.
20 Ibid., 5.
21 Dennis Sherman, et. al., World Civilizations: Sources, Images, and Interpretations, v. 1-2, (Boston: McGraw Hill Company, 2002).
22 Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).
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