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Book Review


Valerie Hansen and Kenneth R. Curtis, Voyages in World History: Brief Edition. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012, Pp. v + 747. $ 160 (paper).


     In an effort to change how textbook material is delivered to students, Wadsworth Cengage has become quite imaginative. This creativity is not limited to linkages between text and electronic materials, although that is certainly true, but extends to the format of the material presented. For Voyages in World History the traveler theme suggested in the title is carried throughout as an integral part of Valerie Hansen's and Kenneth Curtis's chronologically and regionally organized work. Voyages begins with prehistory and works through to the present. Each chapter, thirty-two in all, incorporates the life of a "traveler," a sort of narrator for the forthcoming chapter, which coincides with the given chapter's thematic examination of the era. The world history textbook is intended for freshman survey courses or advanced high school classes. Each traveler represents someone from the era and region covered, and reflects a life affected by the chapter's themes. After an introductory passage, offering a glimpse into the traveler's life, that personage's life is woven into the remaining chapter's text. The chapters chronology overlap, for example, chapter two traces the creation of complex societies from 4000 to 550 B.C.E. and chapter three examines the rise of Indian civilization and Buddhism between 2600 B.C.E. to 100 C.E. While this may at first be disconcerting to students, such overlap helps to explore the complexity of historical change as well as basic assumptions about periodization.

     Travelers in Voyages in World History include cameos by historical persons familiar and not. Some unnamed travelers, like a Buddhist monk and an Abbasid singing girl, offer the opportunity to speculate on the lives of common people who rarely left behind detailed accounts of their lives. Conversely, Kennewick Man, Ashoka and his wife, and Nelson Mandala, are likely to be more familiar to students and thus more comforting. In fact, Kennewick Man is an interesting example of how the traveler is interwoven into the narrative. The passage is not from Kennewick Man's perspective, but rather from the perspective of James C. Chatters, the forensic anthropologist who first examined the remains of Kennewick Man in 1996. In "The Peopling of the World, to 4000 B.C.E.," the first chapter, this particular vantage point sets the stage for the rest of the text. Kennewick Man is not without controversy, particularly, as Chatters' notes, because it called into question all the racial assumptions anthropologists had about Paleo-Indians. Chatters observed that the skeleton's features suggest closer links to Polynesian ancestry than to extant native populations in North America. Kennewick Man's ancestry was disputed in the U.S. courts for nearly a decade as scientists, governmental officials, and tribal groups vied to claim the remains. Because of the completeness and age of the skeleton (ca. 7300 B.C.E.) it has become a focal point of much discussion about how exactly humans came to North America, throwing into question previous assumptions about crossing the northern land bridge. As a way of problematizing history, then, Hansen and Curtis offer the travelers as windows for understanding their own localities, their own timeframes, and the broader world historical context.

     On first glance Hansen's and Curtis's work appears to have similar faults as other world history texts, focusing too much on the western narrative, but on closer inspection this assumption falls flat. While Herodotus does rank among the travelers, at least nine women do as well, and a large number of the travelers come from outside the traditional "western civilization" narrative. What is more, while the western narrative does make a distinct show in the text, so does North America. In general, world historical narratives are often faulted for excluding North American history. Yet Hansen and Curtis' treatment of Pauline John-Tekahionwake is a testament to their inclusivity and care in selecting travelers for their text. Here they weave together the global narratives within the voice of a late nineteenth century Canadian woman of mixed English and Mowhawk heritage, and also a poet and performer who used her skill to celebrate First Nations heritage as well as the rights of all peoples, including women. Tekahionwake's storyline appears in "State Building and Social Change in the Americas, 1830-1895," alongside U.S. sectionalism, Jackson's Indian removal policies, and Mexican independence.

     Voyages in World History does not offer anything terribly new in terms of its use of color, maps and pictures, chapter questions, or key terms, but it does offer a novel way of personalizing the enormous task of personalizing the task of teaching world history. Instead of presenting a purely omniscient narrative at the macro-level, Hansen and Curtis navigate various scales of historical inquiry, from the personal, to the local, to the regional, and finally to the global, in an effective manner suitable for the undergraduate and high school classroom alike. This strength of Voyages in World History, particularly the integrative quality of the text, is also ideal for addressing the thematic approach the AP World History curriculum works toward.

Maryanne Rhett, Assistant Professor of World and Middle Eastern History at Monmouth University, is currently preparing her manuscript for publication (the world history of the Balfour Declaration) and continues to work on the intersection of sequential art (comic books/graphic novels) and world history. You may contact her at


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