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Book Review

 

Mitchell, Joseph R. and Helen Buss Mitchell, editors. Taking Sides, Clashing Views in World History, Volume 2, second edition (Dubuque: McGraw-Hill, 2006). 400 pp, $28.44.
 
   

     There are several ways to facilitate student learning in the field of world history. The "old school" ways—i.e. lecturing and worksheets—don't work. What does work is having students "doing" history, immersing themselves in the stories of what happened and why. In other words, digging really deep into the issues and unearthing the bigger reasons why events unfolded the way they did. It is important to find ways to stimulate student interest in events, but even more important to help them see different points of view and frames of reference. The second edition of Taking Sides, Clashing Views in World History, Volume 2 is a great way for students to see different sides of the same coin and can be used to show POV (Point of View) and frame of reference to students. Each topic is presented in Yes/No fashion, with supporting evidence and attention paid to other points of view within the essays. This also illustrates strong essay writing skills for students.

     Beginning the volume is an introductory discussion titled, "What is History?" which includes short discussions of traditionalism, revisionism and presentism as ways to look at history. Within each of these sub-headings, there are helpful references to the actual documents (by document number). The next section in the introduction deals with historiography—especially race, gender, class—and how these frame interpretations of events. There are sections on periodization, continuity and discontinuity, ideas, timeliness of historical issues, all culminating in "Why Study World History?" (as opposed to Western Civilization). This serves to provide the student with the ways historians view history and how history viewed through different lenses can color the way history is reported.

     The volume itself is divided into three sections: "The Modern World", "The Early Twentieth Century" and "The Contemporary World". Each section begins with a list of internet sites for additional information on the essay topics. Each set of Yes/No essays is followed by a "Postscript" and updated information, as well as further readings on the subject. Some of the "No" essays are direct rebuttals of the "Yes" essay that preceded it. This book is best suited for college students and Honors/Advanced/IB/AP high school students, mainly because of the complexity of the readings and vocabulary. Many of the essays are written by non-Americans and can be perceived as being unsupportive of American policy. Given the sensitive nature of some of the material, the audience needs to be mature and capable of complex thought.

     "The Modern World' includes diverse titles such as "Did the Industrial Revolution Lead to a Sexual Revolution?" and "Did the Meiji Restoration Constitute a Revolution in Nineteenth Century Japan?". The essays on sexual revolution in the Industrial Age serve as a strong introduction to the set. The topic can be perceived as sensitive—especially for high school students—but it gives great insight into the mores of the time and the gender/class attitudes toward work, family life and sex.

     Following "The Modern World" is "The Early Twentieth Century," focusing on the World Wars, the Holocaust, and the responsibility of Hirohito for WWII and Stalin for the Cold War. Most interesting in this section is "Did the Bolshevik Revolution Improve the Lives of Soviet Women?" This is an excellent example of point of view from what appears at first glance to be gender, but upon further examination is actually class.

     The volume culminates with "The Contemporary World" with topics ranging from Chinese Confucianism and Capitalism, to Rwanda, Islamic Revivalism, the demise of Yugoslavia, and the Roots of Modern Terrorism to Afghan Women's Liberation. One thing to keep in mind is that even though most of these essays were written in the past few years, by the time they went to print they were outdated. Or rather, new information and different circumstances, such as the war in Iraq, had occurred. However, each essay is well written and the evidence supports the thesis. Using the essays on the "Roots of Terrorism" provides and excellent introduction to the subject.

     There are several ways to incorporate this set of essays into the classroom, especially because there are additional volumes and a companion resource providing strategies for using the book. The series allows the user to not only compare and contrast arguments, but to look for relationships across time between events, groups, and countries. What it accomplishes best, however, is showing the student the ways in which essays are organized and how evidence is used effectively. Because essay writing, and writing in general, can be a challenge, examples of good writing are important. The essays use historical evidence to support the thesis and (in some essays) to rebut the essay which preceded it. These are excellent examples for students to use when constructing their own essays, especially those for the AP Exams.

     With web support, ancillary material and the diversity of essays, this volume (and the rest of the set) is a valuable tool for teachers of advanced high school students and college students.

 

Adele Dalesandro-Haug
Oswego East High School

 

 
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