in World History Textbooks
Springbrook High School
World history teachers can easily teach about gender
issues using the four college world history textbooks that currently dominate
the market.1 These
books include analysis of gender status and gender roles in the textual
narrative, in the special boxes of primary and secondary sources, and in
the voluminous visuals prominent in all of the texts. In general, the latest
editions of world history textbooks can aid world history teachers in explicitly
addressing both the changing status of women in many different societies
over time, and the roles that men and women played in those same societies.
That said, however, a few simple refinements to the current texts would
enhance even further their usability for teaching about gender.
What is most exciting about using these textbooks
to teach about gender status and gender roles is that students will become
more familiar with key vocabulary words associated with gender analysis.
For example, all four textbooks regularly use words such as patriarchy
in explaining the origins of inequality in gender status. Indeed, each of
the texts explain the origins of patriarchy as a response to the shift from
gathering and hunting to sedentary agriculture. They also each trace the
effects of developing belief systems such as Buddhism, Christianity, and
Islam on patriarchal societies.
Although a majority of the space that directly
addresses gender issues (ie. in special sections labeled "Class and Gender,"
"Society and Culture," "Economy and Society," "Family and Society," and
"Social Change") are in fact primarily about women and women's roles, there
are also a few attempts to discuss gender in terms of men. For example,
the Stearns book discusses "Symbols of African Kingship" (458) and the "Era
of Warrior Dominance" (293) in Japan, both of which deal with ideologies
about masculinity. Bulliet also deals with the "Persian Idea of Kingship"
(100), and Spodek analyzes the ideals of being a Confucian gentleman (208).
Finally, both Bentley and Stearns include special attention to a primary
source that outlines the correct behavior for Mexican boys as well as girls
in the early post-Conquest period (Bentley 545, Stearns 248-249).
In the era of Atlantic Revolutions, all of the texts
devote attention to the increasing calls for women's political and economic
rights„especially to the radical views of Mary Wollstonecraft's and/or Olympe
de Gouges. In the modern period, all four books give some attention to women
working in textile factories during the Industrial Revolution (both in Europe
and sometimes in Japan), and they all call attention to women's expanded
roles in the industrialized economies during the two World Wars. While Spodek
deals most directly with gendered European attitudes towards colonized peoples
in the late nineteenth century, all four texts devote some attention to
the expansion of employment opportunities for women in Communist Russia
and China. Moreover, each text covers the (mostly successful) struggle for
women's political rights in the twentieth century.
The most common place where gender status is addressed
shows up in the visuals in all of the textbooks. All four books have at
least a dozen images with captions that direct students to consider gender
issues. The captions range from pointing out the distinctions that religions
made regarding gender roles, to recognizing the economic contributions that
women made in textile production, or to appreciating the leisure activities
available to elite women. For example, the Bulliet book has an image of
Tang elite women playing polo (250), and of Muslim women playing chess in
Andalusia (211). A student learning world history from these textbooks would
become habituated to reading about gender issues in the text and in the
captions of visuals. Of course, if every relevant image included a caption
that indicated some recognition of gender issues, then students could have
even more opportunities to work on expanding their knowledge of gender status
and gender roles.
Indeed, although these latest editions deal with
many gender issues, they all could also improve their approach without much
effort. Currently, the spaces in which most of the texts deal directly with
changes in gender status or gender roles remain limited to special boxes
which are separated from the main text. In addition, most topics devoted
to the topic of gender are, in reality, only about women rather than about
both women and men. If, instead, all of the texts consistently included
a section called "Gender and Society" for each region being discussed„a
section that included ideologies about both men and women„then teachers
and students might more easily, and more naturally, trace gender-related
shifts and changes for every society included in the text. While gender
issues remain segregated to special boxes, it is still possible for some
students to conclude that gender is somehow separate from the 'regular'
history dealt with in the main narrative. Moreover, the unevenness in the
way gender issues are treated in the current texts could lead the unguided
student to conclude that some societies did not have gender distinctions.
For example, the narratives in all of the texts rarely address gender issues
in societies in Africa, the Americas, and Southeast Asia. Thus, world history
teachers using these texts will have to supplement with lectures or additional
readings in order to help students see how gender status and gender roles
developed in these regions.
A more superficial issue, though perhaps not an
unimportant one, is that in the current texts the few primary sources written
by women frequently do not include their names in the table of contents,
or even in the title of the source where they appear. For example, in Spodek
neither Sally Slocum (26), Ban Zhao (216), or Judith Tucker (352) are explicitly
recognized as authors of their own texts, and Gladys Acosta (854) suffers
the same fate in Bulliet.
Thus, even though all of the major AP and university-level
world history texts deal with gender and gender issues, even a small amount
of editorial work would allow students to more easily compare gender systems
in different societies, and to begin to see global patterns in the effects
of belief systems, industrialization, and movements for equal political
rights on both men and women.
Note: Sharon Cohen teaches AP world history at Springbrook High
School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Jerry Bentley and Herb Ziegler, —Traditions and Encounters, A
Global Perspective on the Past, 3rd ed. (Boston: McGrawHill,
2006); Richard Bulliet, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel R. Headrick, Steven
W. Hirsch, Lyman L. Johnson, and David Northrup, The Earth and Its
Peoples, 3rd ed. (New York: Hougton Mifflin Company, 2005);
Howard Spodek, The World's History, 3rd ed. (New York:
Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006); Peter Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz,
and Marc J. Gilbert, World Civilizations, The Global Experience, 5th
ed. (New York: Pearson, Longman, 2005).