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Book Review


Del Testa, David W., Florence Lemoine, and John Strickland, eds. Global History, Cultural Encounters from Antiquity to the Present, 4 volumes (New York: Sharpe Reference, 2003). 734 pp, $325.00.

     The four volume Global History, Cultural Encounters from Antiquity to Present, edited by David W. Del Testa, Florence Lemoine and John Strickland, is a wonderfully written and illustrated series covering several areas of world history. The series is broken into four volumes covering four time periods: Antiquity -- 5000 BCE to 400s CE; The Spread of Religions and Empires -- 400s to 1400s; The Age of Discovery and Colonial Expansion -- 1400s to 1900s; and The Contemporary World –1900s to the Present. Each volume begins with an introduction and contains articles that begin with a timeline and include a map, visuals, a gray box that details cross-cultural exchange, and a primary source supporting the main article. Each volume concludes with a chronological timeline, glossary and bibliography. 1
     The main emphasis of this volume (and all of the volumes) is cross-cultural exchange. This series can be used for general education as well as Honors or Advanced students. At each level, the material can be adapted for students. For instance, the series can be used as an overview or as an introduction for advanced levels using maps and primary documents. It can also be used in general education classes as an addition to, or in place of, the traditional textbook. 2
     Volume One, Antiquity --5000 BCE to 400s CE, begins with a preface to the series. The preface explains why the series was undertaken, why topics were chosen (emphasizing cross-cultural encounters that produced historical change on a global scale), and the scope of the series (important instances of cross-cultural contact in human history). The first article in Antiquity is Eurasian Trade and Migration (5000 BCE-500 BCE). There is a timeline and a visual of a 5th century b.c.e. bronze plaque. Both can be used in the classroom as discussion starters about inference; ie. what can be inferred about the people by the material used to create the plaque? What can you surmise was important to the people of the era based on the depiction? The answers would vary based on the age group and level, but the discussions they prompt can lead to various ends—additional questions, authentic assessment, essays, role play, etc. Additionally, there is a map depicting the migration of Eurasian steppe-dweller migration. The map shows the movement of people into Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and India. The primary document is a visual of blacksmith's tools. The visuals supplement the articles while the primary sources add substance and authenticity. 3
     Volume Two, The Spread of Religions and Empires -- 400s to 1400s, begins with the requisite introduction into the era and the topic of religion. The first article features Buddhism in China, and the map depicting the vast spread of the religion throughout China, India, Japan and various islands gives readers a clear view of the impact of religion on culture and politics. The rest of the articles in Volume Two deal with Nestorian Christianity in Asia, the Celts in Western Europe (a topic given too little space in most textbooks), and the spread of Islam and its impact in central Asia, China and Spain (the latter has a beautiful picture of a Spanish mosque, showing the influence of Islam on Spanish architecture). There are articles (and excellent maps) on the Indian Ocean trade zone, the Chinese naval expedition under Zheng He, the Slavs and the Byzantine Empire (complete with a map of Russian trade routes in Europe and Asia), the Seljuk Turks and Islam (the primary document is an excerpt from The Rubaiyat which shows the influence of Islam on western culture), the spread of Islam to Africa (again, a map gives the reader a view of the vast influence of Islam), the Frankish Crusades and the Mongol impact on Eurasia. There are two separate articles on the travels of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta (the maps more than supplement the written texts in showing the travels of Polo and Battuta throughout Asia and Africa). The map accompanying the article on the spread of Black Death emphasizes the toll the plague took on commerce and trade. This volume closes with the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire. What is most impressive in this volume is the article on Vietnam's southward expansion. Vietnam, in most traditional texts, is shrouded in French occupation and the subsequent conflict with America. This article discusses Vietnam as a power unto itself long before it became a colonial possession. This is a resource students do not come across in most texts, which makes this volume invaluable for that fact alone. 4
     Volume Three, The Age of Discovery and Colonial Expansion --1400s to 1900s, concentrates on cross-cultural exchanges and change over time—themes that blend well with the Advanced Placement program. The maps depict voluntary and involuntary migrations of people, slave and missionary trade routes, and the expansion of such diverse nations as Russia, England, Japan, Italy and France. There is a magnificent map showing the influence of Asian religion and philosophy in the west. The Opium Wars, the opening of Japan to the west, and the miles of rail lines in British India all reinforce the effects of imperialism during this era. If this volume delivers nothing new in the articles, it more than makes up for that with the maps and primary source documents, which range from a letter from Columbus during his first voyage to a eulogy for Peter the Great to the Italian peace with Ethiopia. The articles in this volume will be best used as supplements to a textbook, but the maps and primary documents are valuable for ancillary learning for general education, and are essential for understanding the time period. 5
      The final volume, The Contemporary World --1900s to the Present, deals with issues, inventions and technological advances, pop culture (through art, religion and music, as well as protest movements), and conflicts across the globe. Again, the visuals and maps do much to advance the themes of encounter and the interaction of religion and art during the period. The beginning of this volume is markedly American-centered, featuring such articles as "American Empire in the Philippines" (the title alone gives a point of view not found in most American History textbooks), and "Hollywood and the Global Film Community," as well as a map showing the synthesis of Mexican and European cultures in Texas as viewed through the topic of Tejano music. The maps showing Zionist settlements in Palestine (1920) and the Peel Commission's Plan for Partition (1937) clearly depict a conflict that is still not settled. The fourth volume is the most diverse in topics—these include rock and roll culture, the Cold War, the environmental movement, satellite broadcasting (complete with a world map showing cellular telephone use in 2001), human rights, AIDS/HIV, and the 'Internet Revolution.' While these articles initially seem the stuff that pop culture is made of, the deeper implication is that innovations and technological advancement define the world today. 6
     This four-volume set reminds me of what hard copy encyclopedias used to be: beautifully illustrated, concisely written, and well supported with primary sources. Any level of high school student could use this series successfully. General education students, with a little help in the vocabulary department, should find this series interesting and more concisely informative than a textbook. Honors/advanced students and undergraduates can use the maps and primary documents to reinforce other readings, as well as to help them understand different points of view. 7
Adele Dalesandro-Haug
Wheeling High School

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