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Book Review


Ross E. Dunn and Laura J. Mitchell, Panorama: A World History. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015. 944 pages, illustrations, maps, index and bibliography. $154.56 (hardcover, complete).


     It has been very difficult to achieve balance in world history surveys, and though there are now many textbooks for undergraduate and AP world history, produced over the past twenty years by prominent world historians, each has its particular attractions and strengths. One of the first authors to attempt writing a world history textbook employing the new world history paradigm was Ross E. Dunn, in the late 1980s. Since then, he has championed many projects to bring a global view of the world over time to survey students. Panorama: A World History, by Ross Dunn and Laura Mitchell strikes a balance characteristic of these efforts, between views of history and geography at 30,000 feet and detailed views from ground level, between the grand global view and the kind of detail that makes history interesting and meaningful on a personal level.

     Teaching students to move among the different scales at which world history is studied is among the biggest challenges, and Panorama is like a storyteller that moves skillfully among them. The narrative flows seamlessly from big-picture views of migration and other movements across land and water, comparison of common phenomena, and details from well-chosen objects, individuals, documents, and art. The most important benefit of a global/chronological view of history is the opportunity to study interactions among societies over time, and Panorama takes full advantage of this strength. Instead of using a regional or civilizational frame and splicing in coverage of interactions, Panorama's narrative integrates it throughout. Similarly, the choices of regional and close-up topics skillfully move across the world, revealing significant evidence of human activity at each given period of history. The book as a whole achieves remarkable coverage without succumbing to tokenism. Important demographic and statistical information in simple graphic presentations illustrates major trends in human development that complements the text and illustrative material. From the beginning of the book to the end, the primary source material gives students a view of history from multiple perspectives, notably including the voices of colonized and colonizer in the modern period,

     The images are compelling and beautiful, and a particular strength of the writing is the thorough and well thought-out captioning of images, which explain and suggest significance while raising interesting questions for thought and discussion. While the book, at over 800 pages, must be selectively used to accompany courses of varying length, a skillful teacher can use it with the help of electronic support materials provided by the publisher to shape a course that will leave students of any background well informed about the world and likely to want to come back for more.

Susan Douglass is K-14 Education Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of numerous curriculum units and projects, most recently coordinating the project Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean at at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University.


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