Editors' note: This feature is meant to provide practical, although not
unbiased, reviews of textbooks based on experience in the classroom. Readers
will note that the teachers who wrote these reviews differ widely in terms
of what they seek in a textbook. Moreover, these reviews are not meant to
advocate or discourage the adoption of any one text. Rather, they seek to
begin a dialogue about textbook use that we hope will continue long past
the posting of this issue. Indeed, we would like to encourage other teachers—both
at the secondary and at the university-level—to send us comparable
reviews of texts for inclusion in later issues of World History Connected.
Robert Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the
Modern World from the Mongol Empire to the Present (Norton, 2002).
In their introduction, the seven scholars, most
at Princeton University, recall their disappointment with existing world
years ago, the Princeton University history department established its
first course in world history . . . Unfortunately the
textbooks available at that time did not work. Some were by a single
author and tended to suffer . . . from the limitations
that a single individual, no matter how well read, confronted when dealing
with the immensity of world history. Others, written by a team of regional
experts . . . lacked integration and balance. (xxv)
And so Worlds Together, Worlds Apart was
born. The seven (Robert Tignor, Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Aron, Stephen Kotkin,
Suzanne Marchand, Gyan Prakash, and Michael Tsin) pledged that their text
would "offer clear themes and interpretations of the vast body of data that
often overwhelms histories of the modern world." That's not all. Worlds
Together would "integrate all the regions of the world into thematically
unified chapters. It would decenter Europe. It would also be brief, thus
allowing instructors to assign other readings and develop other points of
view." Finally, it would not be "a book of record" but would "omit many
specifics, no matter how colorful or interesting, so that the details [would]
not submerge the general pattern." (xxv-xxvi)
Worlds Together fulfills all these commitments.
This success makes the book exactly right for some classrooms — and
exactly wrong for others. For my own purposes, the book works well, and
I have used it successfully in my AP World History course at Crossroads
School in Santa Monica, California as well as in a post-1500 world history
survey at California State University, Long Beach.
Worlds Together is, as advertised, relatively
brief. Weighing in at just over 460 pages, the smaller size does indeed
leave more room than most texts for supplementary readings.
As well, Worlds Together clearly articulates
a few well-chosen themes. As the title suggests, the most important of these
is the tension between accelerating global integration and its discontents.
This storyline gets top billing right at the start. Chapter 1, "The Worlds
of 1300," surveys Africa, the Americas, Eurasia and the "Chinese borderlands"
(that is, Japan and Southeast Asia) before recounting the impact of Mongol
conquest and empire on Afro-Eurasia. Chapter 2, "Crises and Recovery in
Eurasia, 1300s-1500s," argues that the Mongol collapse and the Black Death
prepared the ground for the emergence of the modern world. Here, then, is
the pattern established throughout the work: disparate societies (worlds
apart) interacting during the Mongol era (worlds together), then fragmenting
(worlds apart) and again consolidating (worlds together) in its aftermath.
Each subsequent chapter focuses on the tension between global change (for
instance, the 17th c. Atlantic World, 19th c. imperialism,
and the late 20th c. "three world order) and local identities.
In illustrating these themes, Worlds Together
is indeed very selective. Chapter 7, "Alternative Visions of the Nineteenth
Century" focuses on exactly seven reactions to the 19th century
political and economic order: Wahhabism (Arabia); Uthman Dan Fodio's jihadist
state (Sahelian Africa); Shaka's consolidation of Zulu power (Southern Africa);
the Taiping Rebellion (China); European ideologies (nationalism and various
Socialisms); the Shawnee prophet Tenskatawa (North America); the Caste War
(Mexico); and the Sepoy Rebellion (India).
Robert Tignor and his colleagues pledge to "decenter
Europe," and here again they succeed. Even while acknowledging European
power in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Worlds
Together treats the rest of the world on its own terms. Asian, Latin
American, and African peoples do not merely react to European power, but
pursue agendas of their own. Divisions among late Qing elites and within
Indian nationalist organizations suggest a political complexity textbooks
have sometimes ignored.
yet, thanks to Europeanists Stephen Kotkin and Suzanne Marchand, assessments
of European history make exceptionally good use of limited space. The pattern
of inclusion and excision will be familiar to anyone who has glanced at
the Advanced Placement World History guidelines. The text does a fine job
with the French Revolution and Industrialization, for instance, using these
episodes to discuss political and economic change throughout both Europe
and the globe. However, anyone hoping that the text will delve into the
Revolutions of 1830 or describe the Bessemer process will be very disappointed.
There is another strength worth noting: the excellent
materials accompanying the text. Maps are graphically stunning, and captions
direct student attention to the most salient geographic issues. The same
can be said for the other graphics. Each illustrates a concept explicitly
discussed in the accompanying text. Captions are surprisingly informative:
Title Page of the Encyclopedia.
Originally published in 1751, the Encyclopedia was the most
comprehensive work of learning in the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment.
The title page features an image of light and reason being dispersed
throughout the land. The title itself identifies the work as a dictionary,
based on reason, that deals not just with the sciences but also with
the arts and occupations. It identifies two of the leading men of letters
(gens de letters) Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert,
as the primary authors of the work. (185)
Worlds Together relies as well on a generous
integration of primary sources. The choices are very clever. Rather than
providing a pastiche of materials for chapter 1, Tignor and his associates
devote all their sidebars to Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo, deepening the chapter's
thoughtful survey of 14th century Afro-Eurasian peoples.
Each chapter begins with just four to six reading
questions. My students have found the questions particularly useful in guiding
their reading. While the ancillaries are less extensive than those available
for other textbook programs, they are well conceived and well written. Among
them are a study guide written by Brigham Young University's Michael Murdock,
and a useful online resource tutorial prepared by Jonathan Lee of San Antonio
Despite its strengths, however, Worlds Together
will not meet every classroom's needs.
One problem is the book's chronological framework.
In adopting the 13th century as their central historical hinge,
the authors pointedly reject the more conventional early 16th
c. divide. Those who teach the first half of a standard world history sequence
will not be able to use this book. AP World History teachers, who must devote
a quarter or more of their courses to events before 1200, will need
a supplementary text. Norton promises a two-volume edition for the 2007-2008
school year, covering all of human history. We look forward to its release.
Some instructors will be unhappy with text's brevity.
Before using Worlds Together, I used Richard Bulliet et al., The
Earth and its Peoples and Peter Stearns et al., World Civilizations.
Apart from their other strengths, these two texts reassured students by
virtue of their sheer and comprehensive bulk. Then new to world history,
I was relieved to find in both books discussion of subjects beyond my limited
expertise. Anyone who wants a textbook to do duty as a reference work ought
to look elsewhere.
One notable deficit, at least in my classroom, is
Worlds Together's silence on scholarly debate. Few textbooks do any
justice to the historiographic debates which lurk beneath their judgments
(Howard Spodek's The World's History is a notable exception). Exactly
because Worlds Together bucks conventional textbook chronology and
analysis, its authors owe students a full explanation of their decisions.
That said, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart
is unlike any other text on the market. While not for everyone, it will
serve many classrooms superbly.