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Book Review


Schwartz, Stuart B., Linda R. Wimmer, and Robert S. Wolff. The Global Experience: Readings in World History, 2 vols. (New York: Longman, 1997). 264 pp (vol 1), $59.20; 288 pp (vol 2), $59.20.

     When it comes to document sets, two questions immediately come to mind: "Can the world history teacher ever have too many document collections?" And, conversely, "Another document set? What makes this one different from the four I already have?" The answer to the first question is, obviously, "No." The second invites closer examination. 1
     Schwartz et al. originally created this document set to accompany the Stearns, Adas, and Schwartz textbook called World Civilizations: The Global Experience. However, The Global Experience: Readings in World History (hereafter Readings) is much more than merely a companion to a popular textbook. 2
     So, what does Readings offer? For the AP World History teacher and student, these books closely follow the periodization recommended in the AP Course Description. The documents are also chosen to reflect world history themes and habits of mind, and reflect an unusually varied variety of sources. The authors state that their focus is on three main themes: identity, livelihood, and community. Indeed, there are excellent selections on "Livelihood," including "Labor in the World" (500-1450), trading networks and "The World of Work" (1450-1750), and "Industrialization," which includes coercive labor in Africa and the Dutch Culture System in Java (1750-1900). 3
     Furthermore, unlike some document sets, Readings makes an effort to go beyond the history of "great" civilizations and to bring to the student at least a few well-chosen examples of documents representing the other inhabitants of the world who did not have the foresight to be born in one of the core civilizations. For example, "The Spread of Peoples and Cultures" (volume I, chapter 7) deals with the theme of movement of peoples in the period from 1000 BCE to 500 CE. Not only are the Indo-European migrations explored, but so too are the Bantu, Polynesian, and Taino. 4
     A special treat in the first unit (covering human origins and the river valley cultures) is "The First Boat People" by Josephine Flood, which includes a traditional oral account of the "Dreamtime" origins of one group of Australian aborigines. Further, Flood's discussion of the first human settlements in Australia treats the oral tradition with respect: "Some aborigines have always believed that their ancestors came from across the sea in Dreamtime, and now scientists have come to the same conclusion from archeological and other evidence. In the same way that archeology has revealed the material traces of oral traditions enshrined in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey or the Old Testament stories of the bible, it has uncovered evidence for some of the historic events remembered in the rich body of Aboriginal myths" (20). 5
      Readings also gives ample opportunities for students to interpret a variety of visual documents by including at least one in each section (such as an Aztec pictorial manuscript, a painting of Chinese peasants planting rice, an Afro-Portuguese salt cellar showing the syncretization of artistic traditions, and a news photo of a police dog threatening a civil rights demonstrator). 6
     The introduction to each volume contains a useful reminder about how historians examine documents. First there is a discussion of different types of historical sources, and then the difference between primary and secondary sources is explained. The authors help the student establish the context of primary sources by asking key questions: "What is the actual source?" Who created the source?" and "Why was the source produced?" The authors also suggest critical questions that help students assess reliability and validity: "Is the source believable?" and "Of what significance is the source?" For secondary sources, the questions include: "What is the author's thesis?" and "How would you evaluate this thesis?" The authors even tell the student how to recognize a thesis in an essay. (If only they could teach the students how to write one!) 7
     The discussion questions at the end of each unit guide students beyond mere literal understanding of the documents, maps, and illustrations to reinforce many of the world history habits of mind. For example, in the unit "The Rise of the West in World Context: 1750 to 1900," one of the questions asks: "If you were to write a history of this period from a non-Western point of view, what events would be the most important?" Not only does this question deal directly with the ability to understand the world from multiple perspectives, it also forces the student to the highest levels of Bloom's taxonomy of higher-level thinking skills. This same unit also includes several different perspectives on imperialism—European of course, but also Islamic, Cuban, Javanese, plus an interesting cartoon representing an English view of German imperialism. 8
     Readings, like most document sets, provides the teacher and student with a variety of documents while simultaneously reinforcing AP World History themes and habits of mind and providing perspectives and sources which are not often represented as clearly or in as great detail in other document sets. 9
Ryba L. Epstein
Rich East High School

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