World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format  Article citation        

A Conversation with Merry Wiesner-Hanks

Tom Laichas


Figure 1


Merry Wiesner-Hanks is well known to those who teach world history. A professor at the University of Wisconsin since 1985, she is the author of Working Women in Renaissance Germany (Rutgers, 1986), Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World (Routledge, 2000), Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (Cambridge, 2006) and Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, now in its third edition (Cambridge, 2008).

Notable among her works for college and advanced high school students are Discovering the Western Past, Discovering the Global Past and Discovering the Twentieth-Century World. Published by Houghton-Mifflin, these thematic documentary source readers incorporate visual as well as written evidence. For Oxford University Press's middle school-level world history series, she has also written An Age of Voyages, 1350-1600 (2005). Professor Wiesner-Hanks also serves as Chief Reader of the Advanced Placement World History, playing a major role in AP World History course revision and test design.

In this conversation, recorded March 19, Merry spoke with WHC's Tom Laichas about her scholarship and her college teaching, the challenges facing world history education, and the work she's done for Middle School and AP level students.

Tom Laichas: When did you first get interested in history?

Merry Wiesner-Hanks: I waited until college. I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I went to Grinnell College thinking I was either going to be a journalist or go to law school. At Grinnell, I met Phil Kintner, an early modern historian who became my advisor and got me interested in history.

But I was still not exactly sure what I was going to do, so I also got secondary social studies certification at Grinnell.

Laichas: Did you do any teaching?

Wiesner-Hanks: No. [After student teaching], I knew that teaching the Civil War to eighth graders was not for me.

But I knew that history was for me. The early Seventies . . . was not a good time to go to grad school, because of job prospects. I thought maybe I should go back to law school, so I applied to law schools as well as to grad schools. But then I got a scholarship from [University of Wisconsin] Madison. To go to school without paying any money seemed like a good idea to me – I came from a family that didn't have any.

I was also really lucky: as I graduated from Grinnell, I got a Fulbright, and that took me to Germany, which cemented where I'd do my first round of research. So I spent a year in Wüerzberg right after I got my BA, having ridiculously little German before that. I ended up in the Goethe-Institut for language training; by the end of the year, my German was okay.

Laichas: And then....

Wiesner-Hanks: I went to graduate school at UW Madison, where I was a student of Robert Kingdon, who was a Reformation historian.

A nice thing about doing pre-modern history, at least if you're a Europeanist, is that you're not necessarily identified with history of one country. Most modern European historians … pretty much get pegged as Italian historians, English historians, French historians, like that.

It's amusing to me now, reading world history theory and all this transnational stuff. Those of us who've worked in the 16th century have been transnational all our careers–there weren't any "nations" then! I think that doing comparative approaches might be easier for pre-modern people than for modern historians. That might be a long-time reason for my interest in comparative history, if not world history.

Laichas: How did you get into women's history?

Wiesner-Hanks: I did that while I was in Madison. I started Madison as a graduate student in '74, in the thick of the women's movement. My political commitment to the women's movement morphed into an intellectual interest, as was true of many people at that time. People would say that women didn't do anything historically. That first generation of women historians had to say that women had a history. That now seems to my younger students very old-fashioned, but in 1974, it was a new thing to say.

Robert Kingdon] knew absolutely nothing about women's history at all – he studied Calvinism in Geneva and France. But, as long as it was early modern, he let his students do whatever they wanted. So he had people working in Italy and France, and on Poland and on Catholics and on Protestants and on printers and on poor relief – on all kinds of stuff. We didn't have to all work on Calvin, we didn't have to all work on French sources, and we didn't necessarily have to work on theological topics.

So I got interested, broadly, in women's situations in the 16th and 17th centuries, and did a masters thesis on anything I could find while sitting in Madison about women in Nuremberg. I picked Nuremberg because it had gone Protestant and seemed like it would be an interesting place.

I decided I'd do my doctoral dissertation on women in Nuremberg, though I went there not knowing what I'd find. And, as often happens when people get into archives, and there was huge amount of stuff. So I narrowed my topic to Nuremberg's working women from the beginning of the city's records, about 1350, to around 1550. That was the first way that I was approached women's history, through an economic perspective on their lives.

Laichas: Dissertation done, you…?

Wiesner-Hanks: I went off and taught at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where I was a quarter of the History Department! So I taught all of Western Civ, beginning to end, as well as women's history, US women's history, and quite a few specialized courses on the Tudor-Stuart period, the Reformation and women's history as well.

I was there for six years and then decided that I really didn't want to turn my dissertation into a book just about Nuremberg. I thought it would be interesting to see if what I'd found in Nuremberg was unusual, whether it was shaped by being a Protestant city as well as a big city with lots of commerce and international connections. So I went back to the archives over the years I was at Augustana – I had opportunities to go back for short periods of time – and I looked at women's situations in different German cities – cities that were Catholic, that were small, that were agricultural, that were regional capitols – to see if what I'd found was typical. I ended up writing my first book on women in six south German cities (Working Women in Renaissance Germany. Rutgers University Press, 1986)

That was about the time, 1985, that I left Augustana and came to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee – where I became one out of twenty-five people in the department rather than one out of four. So I didn't have to teach quite as much. But one of my original teaching assignments here was a two-semester History of Christianity course. I really didn't have a huge background to do it, but I said, sure, I can do that.

Laichas: And you've stuck with that class.

Wiesner-Hanks: It's been a very interesting course over the years. It's rare that one teaches a course students come to with really strong commitments. I mean, nobody really much cares about the Renaissance – nobody's going to lay down and die for Dante. But people do have strong commitments in terms of religion. So that's the neat thing.

But what that means in terms of teaching that course is that there are some people who have memorized the basic text and there are other people who know absolutely nothing. It's like no other kind of teaching.

Laichas: Is that the genesis of your Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World?

Wiesner-Hanks: Yeah. I came to Milwaukee, where I had to teach more about religion, so I had to learn more about it. But the other thing that happened, sort of accidentally, was the 500th anniversary of Luther's birth [in 1983]. People kept asking me to say something about Luther and women. And I didn't know anything. I kept telling them that I don't do that, I'm an economic historian. I can tell you about chi squares and I can do regression analysis but not theology, even though I work in the 16th century. But they kept saying, "well, you know, if you don't do it, there's nobody who will say anything. We'll have all these big conferences on Luther and there won't be anything on women." So I ended up writing articles about Luther and religion and women and the Reformation.

Then it also turned out that as I was teaching this History of Christianity course and writing more stuff about the period, I got connected with a woman named Jean Woy, who's now retired but then was an up-and-coming editor at Houghton-Mifflin. She came to me and said, "we've got this idea for a reader." Now, I wanted a reader in Christianity, but she said, "well, we don't think the market's big enough." So she laid out for me the idea for Discovering the Western Past. This was [based on] an idea of Bruce Wheeler at Tennessee. He was teaching US history, and he realized that his students couldn't read sources unless they had some kind of context. So he developed this way of framing sources, providing a lot of historiography and with a few good questions. Houghton-Mifflin had already published Discovering the American Past.

It seemed a really interesting way of presenting material, and Jean wondered if I'd be interested in working on a Western Civ version. It happened that this was a time when I knew that I was not going to get back into archives – things in the family were changing. So I thought, well, this might be a good project because I can do it from home. I discovered that I really liked to [write for college readers].

Later, Cambridge University Press asked me if I'd be interested in a book for this new series about European history, designed for upper level undergraduate classrooms. So I got a commission to write what became Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe.

Laichas: There's another book you've written with a similar title: Early Modern Europe book, the survey text from Cambridge University Press. It's in, what, that third edition?

Wiesner-Hanks: Yeah, the third is about to come out.

Laichas: I noticed that Early Modern Europe really does integrate material on women and gender with the rest of the narrative. I found no sidebars or subheadings roping women's history from, say, social, political or religious history.

Wiesner-Hanks: It's not a surprise you picked up on that, because it's very intentional. I really wanted to integrate women and gender into the general story. So there's no "woman in a box."

I think I could do that because I was writing the book from the beginning. A lot of people – and I've done this too – have tried to go back and inject this new stuff into already-existing courses, lectures, syllabi, and so on. That's much more difficult than to start de novo where women and men both are actors.

I'm more satisfied with the way I do that in my book than I am with the way I do it in my general teaching.

Laichas: When you started teaching, did you start with the idea that there were too many "women in boxes", or is that something you came to gradually?

Wiesner-Hanks: I'd say I came to it gradually. At first [in the 1970s and 1980s], there was this "add women and stir" model. Now that's seen as very old-fashioned. But at the time, the idea was that if you talk about any woman except Pocohontas, you'd have to leave something else out: there are only so many pages in the book, so many days in the semester. So what are we going to leave out? I mean, it's hard to re-do everything. So I think that that was where it had to start.

Then people began to think about, you know, that women aren't the only people with a gender. How did men's experiences as men shape their lives? I think that that insight made things a little bit easier. Studies of masculinity are very popular right now – I mean, there's tons of it flowing out of the presses. So things are changing.

Laichas: There have been has been some suggestion over the last few years that we've seen a transition from women's history to a history of gender – and that this is not always a good thing. Do the two differ all that much? Do you see any conflict between them?

Wiesner-Hanks: People over the years have asked me the same kind of question about the history of the family. I say that women and family history are not the same. Women are in families, but they have lives outside families. I think the same thing applies to women's history and gender history.

Gender history hit about the same time as other approaches – particularly postmodernism and discourse analysis. Suddenly, all anyone was talking about was "representation" and "construction". And if you're talking about the representation of women or construction of gender, you're talking about men's ideas about women. In some ways, this idea – gender discourse analysis – was really new. But it also took us back to a really old model in women's history: studying men's ideas about women, and dressing that up in new postmodern garb.

I think that that was a kind of loss. Gerda Lerner, I think, had an article a couple of years ago in the Journal of Women's History.1 She did this analysis of the "linguistic turn" in history. She did it by counting dissertations, articles and so on. She found, not surprisingly, that a lot of this, really, is about representations of women and ideas about women. What gets lost are women's real actions.

I would argue that what gets lost in this "feminist discourse" was interest in what people actually do. It's okay to be interested in how people make meaning out of their lives. That is something people do – but it's not everything.

There's been a turning away, from old-school economic and social history to cultural analysis. For instance, labor history is very out of fashion. Instead there's a kind of postcolonial analysis of "hybridity" and "the other". You've kind of lost analysis of what working women are doing – whether they're forming communities or organizations. A lot that got left out. But I think that's changing.

Laichas: I don't think I saw the word "transgressive" until maybe ten or fifteen years ago. Now it's everywhere. Some of the women you're looking at seem transgressive – witches and widows, maybe – but a lot of them, married women and nuns – are not.

Wiesner-Hanks: I think that the idea that nuns are within a system and are not transgressive isn't right. They're pushing every single border and boundary that affects them. Ulrike Strasser has this wonderful book about nuns in 16th and 17th century Munich.2

They're not simply being enclosed, and they're not simply being affected by church and state policy. They're acting in interesting ways and in important ways. So I think that it's important to look at people who transgress, though they seem to not.

And widows… one reason we talk about them is that we can find them. We're prisoners of our sources, and widows show up in the sources doing things on their own. We can trace them and watch them do various things in the sources. Married women just don't show up that way. And in Early Modern Europe and in Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe I tried to both talk about the few people who are anomalous in one way or another – women involved in same-sex relationships, cross-dressers, witches and suchlike.

But [the book] is really designed to capture all women's lives. To have a history that only focuses on "witches and bitches" doesn't provide students with a good sense of what life was like for most people. I feel I need to capture that experience. Students say they want to spend more time on witches, and less on this tedious stuff about marriage. Well, sorry: frankly, most women are married with children.

Laichas: You emphasize in much of your work that regulation of women's lives generally and women's sexuality particularly is centered on the status of children. Can you elaborate?

Wiesner-Hanks: This will make me sound like some kind of biological determinist, but the fact that women have children is at the core of many more things than we often think. I mean, it seems like such a dumb thing to say. But it strikes me that the story of history has not been adequately grounded in that fact.

From the very earliest written records, those records deal with the fact that women have children. And you can't tell, all of the time who fathered those children. There was a real worry that elite women would be having children who are not those of their husbands.

What comes out of writing Christianity and Sexuality is recognizing that again and again and again, in every culture, it's the lives of elite women which are the most restricted. The reason is a need to affirm that the children that they bear are legitimately fathered. Because those children will inherit land, they'll inherit positions, and so on.

Also, as I was reading all these rules about marriage in many parts of the world is the idea that cultures regulate marriage between people in order to perpetuate social distinction. I think that's something that gets forgotten. This is the insight of people who've pulled together ideas about race, class and gender: race and class have to be gendered; if they're not gendered, they don't exist or they disappear.

Laichas: Did your work on the lives of Christian women outside Europe spark in world history, or did your interest grow from some other source?

Wiesner-Hanks: It was exactly that book. It was all due to Barbara Andaya, a Southeast Asia historian at the University of Hawaii. Barbara had invited me to come out to Hawaii because they were having a conference about gender in early modern Southeast Asia. I told her that I didn't know anything about Southeast Asia. And she said, no one knows anything about gender in early modern Southeast Asia. Not one thing! What they wanted was somebody in an early modern field where there was a bit of gender done, to be [at the conference] as a comparativist. So I said, Great! Want to bring me to Hawaii? Wonderful!

I was then starting to work on the Christianity and Sexuality book, and Barbara asked, "How are you defining the parameters?" So I told her what I was planning on doing. Well she said, "why are you just doing Europe?" I thought, well, I'm sticking to what I know. But I really had no good answer to that question. Really, these issues were global in nature. Christianity was expanding throughout the world: you have the formation of colonies, you have Jesuits everywhere, and so on. So I decided I decided that I'd find out what I could about those issues everywhere in the world. It was so fascinating.

Because my research was going in a global direction, [my Western Civ courses] became less interesting for me. And I was having grave intellectual doubts about the Western Civilization model.

Laichas: What prompted those doubts?

Wiesner-Hanks: The increasingly global nature of the students in my classroom. Increasingly I couldn't teach Western Civ as "our heritage" because it wasn't.

It wasn't just that. It seemed to me to be a limited view, teaching only a partial story. In the same way that traditional history left women out, traditional history left other perspectives out.

Laichas: Yet weaving all these histories together hasn't been easy. In an article in the Journal of World History, you wrote "if cultural studies can't provide a unified field theory, and most world history does not involve gender, and most women's history and gender history focuses on the United States, is there much promise of interchange?"3

Wiesner-Hanks: World historians were doing one thing and women's historians were doing another thing but, ultimately, I think that their missions were, to some degree, parallel.

Laichas: In the years since you wrote this article, is there much promise of interchange?

Wiesner-Hanks: Yes – and it's not just promise anymore. For example, the special issue of World History Connected, which Linda and I edited, every single one of those papers was given at the World History Association conference. We took them all, in fact, along with a couple more. We wanted to show people the range of things that are being presented now at WHA that have to do with women. I think those articles really show everything from traditional history to gender analysis of El Niño to labor history to representations of women in novels. So think it nicely captured the range of work.

At the [January 2008] AHA conference, there was a double session on masculinity and world history. The fact that you could have a double session, with twelve people saying something about masculinity and world history is something that you certainly couldn't have done five years ago, unless it would have all been about England. So I think that the interchanges are now increasingly evident.

It's showing up in textbooks. It's showing up in Candice Goucher's book In the Balance, which was just reissued.4 There's Jane Slaughter's reader, Sharing the World Stage, which has documents from both men and women involved in similar particular events.5 The web site that George Mason ( has a huge amount of material – wonderful stuff! Five or ten years ago, people might have said that there's just no material [integrating gender and world histories]. Well, that's not true anymore.

Laichas: You're still involved in European history.

Wiesner-Hanks: My professional association is the Sixteenth Century Studies Association and I edit the Sixteenth Century Journal. The journal, and the conference, are increasingly global. For the very first time, we've got to deal with a Korean typefont – someone was writing about the sixteenth century in Korea. In the same way that U.S. historians are adding the global story, that's also happening with the Sixteenth Century Studies Association.

Laichas: Are Europeanists buying into the world history paradigm?

Wiesner-Hanks: Some do, some don't. Increasing numbers of people have to teach it, whether they want to or not. I decided around 2000 that I just couldn't stand to teach Western Civ anymore, that I'm just not gonna. So [the History Department at UW Milwaukee] created our World History survey. But there are people who are not interested, and who will never be interested. They're not all old, unfortunately. I think that Western Civilization will be a long, long time dying.

Laichas: When you teach the World History course and write texts with global themes, do you have any regrets that you have to cut back on some of the European story you're so familiar with?

Wiesner-Hanks: No. What I've found in switching from teaching Western Civ and doing World History is that because it's absolutely impossible to cover everything, I feel no guilt about leaving things out. I teach what I think my students need and I teach what I like. And if I don't say more than two words about the Roman Empire, something I don't particularly like, so what? Whereas if I teach Western Civ, to leave the entire Roman Empire out leaves a really large hole.

There's a clearer sense of the canon in Western Civ than there is in World History. I've actually found that leaving the canon behind is freeing.

Laichas: Do you find that you change your course a lot more than you used to, now that you're teaching World?

Wiesner-Hanks: Yes. But I only teach the first half. I actually don't teach my specialty, because we end in the 16th century. I think that, more than with Western Civ, I adjust both content and pedagogy. I think more explicitly about pedagogy when teaching World History.

Partly that's a result of not teaching the course until I'd been teaching for such a long time. When I was starting out, I was just thinking, "how do I get this info into their heads?" I think a lot more about pedagogy now.

Laichas: How is the world history paradigm changing college-level teaching?

Wiesner-Hanks: Like many other people integrating world history into our programs [at the college level], we have the hardest time thinking about upper level undergraduate courses. Most of our upper division classes are national – courses on French history, Chinese history and such. If we're going to get away from national courses and move to world history, what should we do? By "we" I mean everyone who teaches world history on the college level. It's a discussion we have online and among college faculty at the AP World History reading.

When I teach honors courses or courses for seniors [majoring in history] and graduate students, the courses are global and topically arranged. So I do a course on gender and colonialism. I do a course on religion. I do a course women and religion. I do a course on religion and colonialism. But I haven't confronted what I would do with an upper division course.

Actually, I've now had two years since I taught the big intro world course. In the Fall, I'll teach it again. What I know will be different is that there will be online instruction integrated into it to some degree.

Laichas: How are you planning on teaching that class?

Wiesner-Hanks: The way that I teach – and this won't change – is that the basic focus will be on Discovering the Global Past. I'll use the textbook as a supplement, to expand what I do in lectures, and what students do in the Global Past.

Laichas: Your favorite textbook?

Wiesner-Hanks: I've been using Bulliet's The Earth and its People.6 But I switch textbooks all the time. I'm going to use Craig Lockard's book Global History.7 I like his approach a lot. I like the way he's organized the chapters, it's attractive, it's the right reading level for my students. And hey – Craig's in the [Wisconsin] system, at Madison. Keeps it in the family.

Laichas: And the course…

Wiesner-Hanks: Each week we do a chapter in Discovering the Global Past, which means we move around the issues in that book: intellectual history, economic history and so on. It gets the students embedded right away in historical sources, which is really important. I'll also link to material on the George Mason site. There will be a couple of online assignments. I get to work with TAs, so the TAs and I will be working on integrating some online work into their discussion sections.

There are certain things I can't do. These are large classes. I can have an occasional online [discussion] session, but I pretty much have to meet with my students in a classroom twice a week for fifty minutes a class. They have to all be able to see what I'm putting up on the screen. So, like everybody else, I've switched from writing things on a white board to using overheads and PowerPoint. It's not a really good place to experiment with pedagogy. When you're talking to that many people, it's a show, a performance.

But what I really want to do, more than anything else, is get them to read original sources. I also use Global Past for the writing assignments.

Laichas: So it sounds like you're not as concerned about chronological narrative as you are about thematic comparisons.

Wiesner-Hanks: That's right.

Laichas: And why is that?

Wiesner-Hanks: Maybe because I teach the first half [of World History]. When you teach the first half, the story is unconnected to chronological narrative.

We can talk all we want about increasing connections, though we can talk about traveling monks, though we can talk all we want about Indian Ocean trade. That's kind of the standard [world history] narrative: increasing connectedness.

But if you only tell the story of increasing connectedness, there's not a whole lot. No matter how you approach it, [the world before 1500] is disconnected. I don't try to force a chronology.

The second half [of world history] is a really different enterprise. I don't have to worry about the "rise of the west" because [before 1500] it ain't.

Laichas: One of your latest books isn't intended for college students at all. It's Age of Exploration, which you wrote as part of a terrific series from Oxford for Middle School students. It reads like the world history version of Joy Hakim's History of US. Writing that must have been a completely different experience from your previous work.

Wiesner-Hanks: Oh, it was great – it was totally great.

Laichas: How did you switch gears to write for that audience?

Wiesner-Hanks: Well, the sentences are shorter! Written for seventh graders, it had to be more story-driven, not analytical. But it's not that much different from writing for college freshmen. Of course you have to work with people who are picture editors, in terms of the production side of things you get a really different kind of process.

Laichas: I take it the editors were a lot more heavily involved.

Wiesner-Hanks: Yes – it's a different way of presenting the material. But there still needs to be a narrative, and it still needs to be interesting. And Nancy Toff is a wonderful editor.

Laichas: Going back to Discovering the Global Past. For someone unfamiliar with the book, can you recommend one set of documents – one chapter – that would really give that teacher a sense of the book?

Wiesner-Hanks: Well, one of my faves is the first one, the one on water. It started in Discovering the Western Past and has moved into Global Past. It's gotten better and better. In one chapter, it's got so many visual sources. That's one of the things that makes the book different from so many other readers: there are so many visual sources. The water chapter has drawings, actual objects, aerial photographs, all kinds of other stuff. It really shows students how one uses a range of evidence to address questions about the past.

I also like the chapter "Representing the Human Form", though I know it's really difficult for some teachers to teach it. It goes from ancient Egypt to West Africa around 1500. All of these cultures have represented the human form. How did they do it? How did their values and culture come through when they depicted the human form? All the evidence is visual, and it's a really radically comparative chapter. I like that one a lot.

Laichas: When you're thinking about a new edition, how do you decide what kinds of chapters to add or drop?

Wiesner-Hanks: We try to represent every single kind of history you could possibly imagine, so if we take out a political chapter, then a political chapter has to go back in.

[We want documents from several perspectives]. In Discovering Western Civilization, we had a chapter called "Invading Barbarians." It looks at the stereotype of invading barbarians, both from the perspective of Europeans – Roman authors and Christian authors. But it also includes documents from Muslim traders [writing] about the Vikings. There's also a Jewish author who travels from Spain to Poland and is writing about Poles.

Laichas: To prep for this interview, I wanted to know what you're working on now, so I went to your web page. And there I saw the cover for a new book: The Marvelous Hairy Girl.8

Wiesner-Hanks: (Laughing) Which I'm in the middle of right now. I was looking for something else, but I got fascinated when I saw the picture you saw on the web site. I decided to write a book about her. It morphed into a book about her and her two sisters.

Laichas: So: who was the Marvelous Hairy Girl? And why are you writing about her?

Wiesner-Hanks: Her name was Antonietta Gonsalus. She and her sisters and her brothers and father all suffered from what's called hypertrichosis universalis. It's a condition where they're unusually hairy.

Her father was born in the Canary Islands and was brought to the French Court during the French wars of religion. He married a normal – not hairy – woman. They had children. They were owned by different people at different times. They went to the court of the Duke of Parma and were then sort of traded around as oddities, but also as courtiers. They got looked at by writers and doctors and artists.

It's a book for general readers, not specialists.

Laichas: It sounds like it would make a great supplementary text.

Wiesner-Hanks: It's a good example of how you tell a story about people who left no record of themselves. I've been doing that all my life for women, who are usually voiceless.

But many people talked about [the Gonsalus family]. And they were in places where things were really happening: world exploration and religious wars and all kinds of art and science.

Laichas: Meanwhile, you're deeply involved in the AP program.

Wiesner-Hanks: Oh yeah!

Laichas: In fact, you're ramping up for the 2008 reading.

Wiesner-Hanks: I just went to Princeton last weekend as a matter of fact.

Laichas: How did you get involved – and why did you get involved?

Wiesner-Hanks: You know, I got involved because I know Ken Curtis. A colleague got him involved [as a co-author] in Discovering the Global Past, and then Ken brought into the test development committee.

But I've worked with high school teachers all along. Ten years or so ago, I did a project with high school teachers through a program funded by the American Council of Learned Societies. where I was convener of a workshop where teachers got a whole year off from regular teaching to come back to school, refresh themselves with the humanities and work with scholars. Jean Fleet [teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools] wrote that proposal. She and I have known each other since I first moved to Milwaukee. There was a History Teachers' Alliance then – I gave a talk there, and that's where I met Jean. She was involved in AP World History and with the World History Standards, which I learned about through her.

I got on the test development committee first, and then got more and more involved.

Laichas: Are you happy with the way the test works? Not just as a test, but as a curriculum?

Wiesner-Hanks: Well, I'd better be, 'cause I'm writing it!

Laichas: Are you making any changes?

Wiesner-Hanks: Some. But it's not going to change that much. The [AP world history course outline] is much more advanced than many college-level world history courses. The best thing the College Board could do is to send the Acorn Book – the course summary – to every single world history teacher at the college level.

Laichas: How many students took the test last year?

Wiesner-Hanks: 105,000. And this year we're looking at 130,000 probably.

Laichas: That's what, nearly 40,000 essays to read. You'll be needing a heck of a lot of readers!

Wiesner-Hanks: 735, give or take a dozen or so.

Laichas: Best wishes for the reading.

Wiesner-Hanks: Thanks!



1 Gerda Lerner, "U.S. Women's History: Past, Present, and Future," Journal of Women's History 16:4 (2004), 10-27.

2 Ulrike Strasser, State of Virginity: Gender, Religion, and Politics in an Early Modern Catholic State (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

3 Merry Wiesner-Hanks, "World History and the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality," Journal of World History 18:1 (March 2007), online at the History Cooperative, January 1, 2008.

4 Candice Goucher, Charles A. Le Guin and Linda A. Walton, In the Balance: Themes Global History, 2 vols. (McGraw-Hill Humanities, 1998).

5 Jane Slaughter and Melissa K. Bokovoy, Sharing the World Stage: Biography and Gender in World History, 2 vols. (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

6 Richard Bulliet et al., The Earth and its Peoples, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).

7 Craig Lockard, Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

8 Merry Wiesner-Hanks, The Marvelous Hairy Girl (Yale: forthcoming). For a painting of Antoinetta Gonsalus, see the forthcoming publications page of Merry Wiesner-Hanks' website at



Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2008 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use