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R. Buckminster Fuller's "Great Pirates:" An investigation into Narrative Analysis in World History Courses

Kent den Heyer
Kent State University

    The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the U.S destroyed more than the individual lives and buildings lost that day. Many of the living in North America had an opportunity to use the horrific events that day to rebuild their understandings of the world in all its frustrating complexity. The struggle to put these tragedies into historical perspective, however, immediately faced the jingoistic efforts of corporate media and the Bush administration to reduce the conflict to simple binary categories of "us" versus "them." Once again, U.S political leaders justified (and justify) costly policies with simplified interpretations that cast material disparities and diverse subjectivities into abstract categories of "American," or "Muslim," and thus elide more complex actualities. In such a context, it is necessary to ask to what degree world history instruction has made such efforts easier.
    This article raises two main concerns with historical instruction. The first concerns the personification by teachers and students of nation-states and their use of possessive pronouns such as "ours" and "theirs" to describe nations, institutions, and national events.1 Such simplifications not only exclude past and present struggles over national life. They also provide those who employ binary logic with an easy market. The other, related, concern is for a more conscious use of narrative by teachers and students in world history classrooms. Let me first begin with the issue of historical narrative.
    The function of narrative in both history scholarship and instruction has taken a deserved beating from postmodern and postcolonial scholars over the last several decades. These scholars have criticized the historical narrative as simplistic, as justifications for a triumphant liberal modernity, or as a conceit by historians to give meaning and direction to a complex past.2 3
    So too have history educators over the last several decades shied away from narrative. Scholars of historical understanding and education in Canada, Britain, and in the United States have argued that teachers should work mainly with students on the historians' craft or method.3 Against the ubiquity of narratives in movies, textbooks, and advertisements that glorify the origins and growth of nation-states led by great leaders, they argue that students should be taught to weigh evidence and consider alternative explanations for particular events. 4
    Shemilt, writing from a British perspective, takes a slightly different view.4 Shemilt's research suggests that teaching the methods of history does indeed improve students' appreciation for the role of evidence in interpreting particular events. Less improved, however, are students' abilities to understand how larger swaths of historical time and space fit together:

What has not been attempted in Britain is to teach pupils how to handle the past as a whole. In consequence, few fifteen-year-olds are able to map the past; even fewer can offer a coherent narrative; and virtually none can conceive of anything more subtle than a single "best" narrative.5

    Where then is this "best" but unexamined narrative to be found? I will return to this question in a moment. First, it is necessary to note that those who have rightly highlighted the dangers of historical narrative predominantly cite one in particular: the racist Euro-American story of the "Age of European exploration," which argues that European technological supremacy led to the inevitable, positive progression of planetary western supremacy. My point here is not to call for a return to such narratives. Instead, I am calling for a more conscious use of narrative; one that allows students to see how events and processes fit together over time and space, but that at the same time allows narrative frameworks themselves to become objects of analysis. Let me briefly suggest the way that students' study of multiple narratives might enhance their historical understanding.
    Shemilt argues that a "polythetic narrative framework" is a sophisticated stage of historical understanding. In this framework, students engage a set of narratives so as to recognize that narratives are "interpretations whose epistemological status differs from the facts incorporated into them."6 In other words, facts (i.e., dates and events) and knowledge of geography are one level of historical knowledge, while the narratives that link or "emplot" these data, through stories, into significant wholes are another.7 Students learn facts and geography but do so as they consider multiple narratives that connect past and present. Students' studies of these "emplotments" work against a tendency to settle for a "single best narrative" in the interest of simplicity or test taking. In addition, and just as vital, students also study change in historical scholarship itself by asking what makes one or another narrative prominent at different times. Doing so aids what the German historiographer Joren Rüsen calls "narrative competence."
    Rüsen argues that historical narratives give direction to temporality and that they help us render moral decisions in the present. These narratives, he argues, give us historical consciousness. He defines historical consciousness as "an operation of human intellection rendering present actuality intelligible while fashioning its future perspective."8 According to Rüsen, historical consciousness gives human subjectivity the form of historical identity and orientates moral agency. And, Rüsen argues that the central competence required for critical historical consciousness is "narrative competence"—the capacity of students to derive moral obligations in the present from historical narratives.9 He offers a typology of narrative competence ranging from the simple acceptance of the narrative ("traditional") to the historicizing of narratives themselves ("critical"). This "critical" analysis consists of simultaneously historicizing historical narratives while attempting to derive particular lessons from these social stories. I argue, however, that it is less important for historians to "emplot" the past through narrative than it is for teachers to help students historicize predominant emplotments such as the "rise of the West" narrative. Hence, let me return to the question of where the legacy of a "single best narrative" might still be found.

Building Blocks
    The legacy of the "rise of the West" as the single "best" historical narrative remains in the very "colligatory generalizations" that organize textbook chapters and divide up the past and its people.10 "Colligatory generalizations" refers to a conceptualization of disparate historical occurrences into a single whole. Examples of colligatory generalizations include "The Renaissance," "The Industrial Revolution," "civilization," "the settling of the West," and "The British Empire." Such an innocuous name, for example, as the "Age of Exploration" ought to immediately raise historical suspicions. Indeed, the term is a legacy from the past that remains today about the past; a generalization that emerged from the historical project of promoting nationalism. That the former term dominates the table of contents of North American textbooks, despite several decades of innovative scholarship from world historians, indicates how the colonial past remains today in the very generalizations used to divide history into blocks of time and space.
    Of course, any instance of interpretation reduces complexity for cognitive purposes. There is, however, much that students could learn about historical interpretation by questioning how the "Age of Exploration" for one textbook and narrative might be just as accurately entitled the "Age of Conquest and Theft" by another. Further, complexity is unnecessarily lost when the actions of private trading companies during the "Age of Exploration" are cast as actions performed by "the British Empire" or "German expansion in Africa"—as if they were the personifications of some mystical Hegelian national consensus rather than those of a small, if powerful, constituency dominating a contested political field.
    This lack of subtlety is widespread. North American newspapers, movies, and television reports consistently reduce hugely divided constituencies to "The American War in Iraq" or "Canada supports Third World debt reduction." In addition to textbooks, other cultural texts such as movies often reduce into a cat and mouse motif the struggles of millions.1 Unfortunately, in addition to the table of contents in textbooks and newspaper by-lines this cat and mouse motif is popular in historical instruction as well.

"Us" and "Them"
    Levstik's research suggests that some teachers (at least in the US) personify large-scale institutions, often speaking of constitutions and developments such as civil rights movements in the plural, such as "our," "we," "them," or, in reference to other countries, "the Soviet Union wants…" Her research also shows that teachers avoid the study of conflict within historical communities, falling silent "at exactly the points where students expressed confusion about and interest in the past."11 As she notes, "[a] national story of progressive emancipation without attention to the coercive elements of nation building, however, fails to provide teachers or students with a framework for making sense out of much of history and leaves them vulnerable to myth and manipulation."12 This way of speaking is not limited to teachers. Indeed, historians often reduce historical agents to mouthpieces or unwitting enactors of various structural conditions or forces, themselves often personified with historians' use of the possessive pronoun "our."13 Not surprisingly then, given media, textbook, teacher, and historical scholarship, recent research into students' historical reasoning suggests that they too reduce the complexities and heterogeneities in historical communities.
    Let me briefly share this research, lest the reader think I am fighting old battles against outdated Whiggish narratives no longer in operation. My recent review of research into historical understanding inquired into the ways students interpreted human influence on changed social relations (e.g., in questions related to racial or gender equality of opportunity) and whom they cited as historical agents.14 To answer this question, I examined studies utilizing methodologies from both cognitive psychology and socio-cultural perspectives.15 While several findings are of interest, two in particular relate to my concerns here. My review suggests that students' citizenship knowledge consists almost exclusively of formal political structures and actions. Absent were students offering insights into the other domains of civic engagement (i.e., social movements) contributing to social life. Resonating with the research of Levstik and others, students also personalized political structures as the extension of powerful individuals' desires and goals and personified countries and the acts of governments.16 Despite multiple perspectives available to read the past, students seem to reason about changes in social life as their counterparts might have at the turn of the 19th and 20th century: "Our" nation-states and their political structures are personified by the great men of political life while change and progression are explained by the transformative acts of these men.17
    To address concerns about the personification of national communities, the avoidance of a critical stance towards their formation, and for a more reflective use of narrative in historical instruction, I offer the historically comprehensive thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), an internationally renowned inventor and scholar and author of the Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.18 I use Fuller's narrative here as an example of the work I believe must be done in scholarship if world history is to impact classroom practices.
    Specifically, Fuller's work challenges foggy adjectives such as "British" or "American" to connote empire, colonialism, and imperialism. He makes a powerful case for adding the descriptors "Great Pirates" between, say, "British" and "Empire:" For unless one believes colonization and imperialism result from some mystical unity of a country's will, the addition of Great Pirates to the nationalities of the colonizers helps to remind both speaker and listener of more complex realities. I do not mean to suggest that using Fuller's narrative of the "Age of Exploration" and the development of nation-states will solve the challenges mentioned above. However, I hope it might promote greater reflection about the use of "our" or "The [insert country] Empire" that obscures more complex historical, and by extension, present-day realities. One present day reality is schools. Fuller's narrative offers one (and one that is no doubt partial and limited) interpretation for the origins of modern schools that contextualizes for students the history they learn therein. 17

The Great Pirates
    In chapters two and three of his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Fuller outlined the formation of contemporary educational, political and economic systems as the product of the energies of Europe's sea trading interests, the men Fuller referred to as the "Great Pirates." Fuller's concern was to trace the shared origins of the specialist education he felt contemporary schools promoted and the origins of the mortgage and debt-based economy now institutionalized through, amongst others, the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. He argued throughout his influential career that both a specialist training and debt-based economy worked together to limit people's capacities to think comprehensively about opportunities and challenges facing global human and environmental communities. Rather than specialize in a particular historical time or place, Fuller sought patterns in the international development of interpenetrated technological, military, economic, political, and educational systems.
    I use these chapters to provide a story framework for a world history class that helps organize study from the Viking invasions of Europe, the rise of Feudalism, the reintroduction of trade in the Medieval Ages the Crusades, the age of sea exploration, colonialism, and imperialism, to World War I and the Great Depression. In providing a succinct and coherent perspective on what is typically and vaguely referred to as European exploration, Fuller's thoughts provide greater time to focus on something other than these limited examples of human experience. By clearly identifying the narrative employed, criticisms of its shortcomings may then proceed. The reader will note several endnotes that briefly offer some teaching "moves" in this regard in reference to a popular high school world history textbook. 20

Outline of Fuller's Great Pirate Explanation and its Topical Connections
Men of the Sword (Muslim and Viking invasions of Europe, Charlemagne, Feudalism)----> Seafarers (Hanseatic league Crusades, Italian dominance in the Mediterranean and their economic circuit-of-wealth) ----- >"Great Pirates" (Medici, Fuggar, the rise of the kingdom state) ---- > "Great Pirate" competition (age of sea exploration, plantation system, colonies)--> The modem nation-state ---- > Empires --- >World War I 22
    Fuller begins his story in early feudal times when "men of the sword" dominated the political, social, and economic life of western Europe. These men of the sword were the warriors ennobled with land for service to their sovereign. In the emerging feudal system, power was based on land. In the absence of a monetary system, land provided food for survival and guaranteed the loyalty of fighting men. Beginning around 800, the Viking invasions reinforced the feudal system as they left in their wake the drudgery of random violence all too familiar to people living in an age characterized by roving bands of armed and hungry men. Some Vikings settled to enjoy their feudal titles awarded by princes throughout northern Europe in return for their cessation of marauding. As feudal lords and landholders, some Vikings, now overlords of their subservient farmers, passed on to their descendants their superior knowledge and technology of the sea. In Normandy, for example, while the Vikings became feudal lords through skillful swordplay, they maintained their sea abilities as indicated by their yet-to-be-repeated successful invasion of Anglo-Saxon England led by William the Conqueror. 23
    Those in possession of Viking sea knowledge traveled between the two shores of the Channel. In their ocean travels, these people-of-the-sea in each feudal realm began to recognize the diversity of lands, people, and products connected by the ocean. This recognition gave them an unprecedented economic and political advantage over the kilometer-wide life of their fellow citizens, who remained ignorant of the larger picture these seamen possessed:

The sea masters soon found that people in each of the different places visited knew nothing of people in other places ... [and] that by bringing together various resources occurring remotely from one another one complemented the other in producing tools, services, and consumables of high advantage and value. Thus, resources in one place which previously had seemed to be absolutely worthless suddenly became highly valued. Enormous wealth was generated by what the sea venturers could do in the way of integrating resources and distributing the products to the, everywhere around the world, amazed and eager customers. 19

    The Hanseatic League, formed by over 80 Baltic Sea cities in the late 1200's, exemplified the power over their fellow citizens that their greater knowledge of the world provided. This league of sea-based commercial interests "coined their own money, negotiated treaties, and maintained their own armies and warships. They were even strong enough to wage war on rulers who threatened their interests."20 These northern European Hanseatic seafarers helped to consolidate the use of coined money in Northern Europe that would eventually change the economic basis of political power in Europe from the land to the sea. As it turned out, however, three more centuries passed before these Anglo, Nordic, and Saxon captains would become masters of the sea and organize by cannon the world's modern economic, technological, and educational life. 25
    According to Fuller, the Great Pirates first emerged in the Italian city-states. Here, local seafarers mastered the former Muslim Mediterranean trade routes in time to transport the Crusaders to the Holy Land. The numerous crusades stimulated for the Italian city-state seafarers a circuit of such wealth that these sea captains were to finance the technological and cultural supremacy of their respective city states for almost 200 years, making kings out of paupers and countries out of feudal principalities.21 26

    Fuller names these sea captains who acquired unprecedented wealth the "Great Pirates":

[T]he arbitrary laws enacted or edicted by men on the land could not be extended effectively to control humans beyond their shores and put upon the seas. So the worldy men who lived on the seas were inherently outlaws, and the only laws that could and did rule them were the natural laws- the physical laws of universe which when tempestuous were often cruelly devastating.22

    The King and people in each "land realm" came to depend on the success of their Great Pirates for the economic stimulation their cargoes brought. Kings, princes, and pretenders also needed their up-to-date weapon and travel technology for the land-grabbing these men of the sword thought gave them power. In this way, power thereby shifted from the land to the sea.23 28
    To successfully compete in the "Age of Exploration" sea competition, later joined by Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, and English Great Pirates, it was necessary to encourage and stimulate the war-fed growth of small kingdoms into vast resource controlling states:

The great sea venturers had to be able to command all the people in their dry land realm in order to commandeer the adequate metalworking, woodworking, weaving, and other skills necessary to produce their large, complex ships. They had to establish and maintain their authority in order that they themselves and the craftsmen preoccupied in producing the ship be adequately fed by the food producing hunters and farmers of their realm... if his "ship came in"- that is, returned safely from its years' long venturing, all the people in his realm prospered and their leader's power was vastly amplified.24

    Despite the calls from the Medici Pope Leo X for another crusade to win back the Holy Land (and in the process stimulate trade, increase numbers of potential city trade monopolies, and cripple competing commercial interests such as was achieved by the sacking of Christian Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade), the land resources needed to support the sea dominance of the Italian city states eventually was insufficient to compete with the larger kingdoms being consolidated on the Atlantic. Having greater land resources for ship production and support, the Portuguese and Spanish commercial interests adapted sea technology from their Muslim contacts. They further secured advantage by hiring sea captains from across Europe to explore what would soon become the larger Atlantic circuit-of-wealth (Africa, America, Europe) eventually dominated by Dutch, French, and English Great Pirates. 30
    The early start gained by the Mediterranean Great Pirates, however, gave them great monetary advantage. The money-lending Medici and Fuggars for example, with wealth originally created from sea trade and increased through banking innovations, lent, and thereby allowed (or did not allow) Popes and Princes to buy the technologically advanced weaponry and trained men needed to acquire and consolidate resource and manpower peripheries to serve the needs of their tool producing city-cores.25 The increasing costs of war gave the Great Pirates the power to decide which Prince or King would have the monetary resources to compete in the ancient feuds and land grabbing that was nation building. This process applied throughout the lands whose resources found value aboard the Great Pirate ships, and is what historians refer to the age of empire-building and colonialism:
The Pirate's picked man became the Pirate's general manager of the local realm. If the Great Pirate's local strong man in a given land had not already done so, the Great Pirate told him to proclaim himself King. Despite the local head man's secret subservience to him, the Great Pirate allowed and counted upon his king-stooge to convince his countrymen that he, the local king, was indeed the head man of all men- the god-ordained ruler. To guarantee that sovereign claim the Pirates gave their stooge-kings secret lines of supplies which provided everything required to enforce the sovereign claim. The more massively bejewelled the king's gold crown, and the more visible his court and castle, the less visible was his pirate master.26
    The advantage of controlling the technological and resource supply lines to each local King and market greatly benefited the Great Pirates. But such benefit depended on secrecy as to where and how they moved the goods. So successful was this secrecy that even today many refer to the people and lands controlled by the Great Pirates as the "British" or the "French" empire:
You may say, "Aren't you talking about the British Empire?" I answer, No! The so-called British Empire was a manifest of the world-around misconception of who ran things and a disclosure of the popular ignorance of the Great Pirates' absolute world-controlling through their local-stooge sovereigns and their prime ministers, as only innocuously and locally modified here and there by the separate sovereignties' internal democratic processes.... Since the [British] Great Pirates were building, maintaining, and supplying their ships on those [British] islands, they also logically made up their crews out of the native islanders who were simply seized or commanded aboard by imperial edict. Seeing these British Islanders aboard the top pirate ships the people around the world mistakenly assumed that the world conquest by the Great Pirates was a conquest by the will, ambition, and organization of the British people. Thus, was the Great Pirates' grand deception victorious.27
    Local land rulers in the Americas, Africa, India, and Asia each in turn came to depend, as did their European counterparts, on Great Pirate resource, technological, and monetary support. In this way the Great Pirates organized industrial capacities:
´the network of world-around voyaging and of the ships for each task but also the designing of the industrial establishments and world-around mining operations and naval base-buildings for production and maintenance of the ships ... inaugurat[ing] today's large-scale, world-around industrialization's vast scale of thinking.28
    The brain-power required by these world-operating enterprises was immense. The expensive facilities to produce the scientists, mathematicians, architects, accountants, and managers that would advantage their Great Pirate sponsors was a requirement of successful participation in their increasing technological competition. The disciplines practiced by astronomers, map makers, philosophers, and metalworkers advanced through contact with their Muslim counterparts. Education became the imparting of a specialist point of view. Here, it is possible to trace Western education's preoccupation with producing specialists who are exceptional in the particular but have little inclination to think comprehensively. This was required by the Great Pirates both for competitive purposes and also to limit the perspectives of the dangerously bright people whose comprehensive proclivities potentially threaten a status quo:29
The Great Pirate would say to the king, "all right, you summon [young bright men] and deal with them as follows: As each young man is brought forward you say to him, 'Young man, you are very bright. I'm going to assign you to a great history tutor and in due course if you study well and learn enough I'm going to make you my Royal Historian, but you've got to pass many examinations by both your teacher and myself. And when the next bright boy was brought before him the king was to say, 'I'm going to make you my Royal Treasurer,' and so forth. Then the Pirate said to the king, "You will finally say to all of them": 'But each of you must mind your own business or off go your heads. I'm the only one who minds everybody's business ... only the king's son received the kingdom-wide scope of training.... And this is the way schools began- as royal tutorial schools. You realize, I hope, that I am not being facetious. That is it.... Society consisted then, as now, almost entirely of specialized slaves in education, management science, office routines, craft, farming, pick-and-shovel labor, and their families.30
    Schools with their medieval curriculum added the technological studies required of the men whose livelihoods were to depend upon graduation on the ship-based success of the local home-port Great Pirate. Thus, middle-class cheerleaders for the trade competition were not as hard to find as were volunteers to man the warships. Added to people's personal identity and group needs, the cheerleading and spectacle of royal colors and pomp made the Great Pirate competition not only a bread and butter issue, but one of national and personal pride. As the resources of the nation-state and the interests of the Great Pirates entwined there was increased public support or acquiescence for the utilization of state resources to protect and expand the international trading interests of the Great Pirates. Those pirates most successful in securing their state's resources were greatly advantaged in their competition.31 35
    According to Fuller, the Great Pirates became extinct at that point in WWI when the comprehensive knowledge of how wealth-creating ideas became fragmented into the esoteric minutiae of advanced chemistry, physics, and biology, accessible only to specialized practitioners:
The pirates until then had ruled the world through their extraordinarily keen senses. They judged things for themselves, and they didn't trust anyone else's eyes .... But the Great Pirates couldn't see what was going on in the vast ranges of the electro-magnetic reality. Technology was going from wire to wireless, from track to trackless, from pipe to pipeless, and from visible to invisible.... The Great Pirates came out of that First World War unable to cope knowledgeably with what was going on in the advanced scientific frontiers of industry.... This forced them to appraise blindly- ergo, only opinionatedly- whether this or that man really knew what he was talking about for the G.P's couldn't judge for themselves. Thus, the Great Pirates were no longer the masters. That was the end...they inadvertently abandoned their own comprehensivity and they, too, became severe specialists as industrial production money makers, and thus they compounded their own acceleration to extinction in the world paralyzing economic crash of 1929.32
    The headlines of modern history have thus been written as a national state-at-war, a global economy of antagonized interests ("us" against "them"). We are, not surprisingly, still that world where robbery became the evolutionary right of the strong-armed and self-righteous.33 If Fuller is right, than rather than Great Pirates, today we have managers and accountants administering their residual legal, technological, economic and education systems, each bearing the traces of their origins in piracy. 37
    I have provided in the previous pages Fuller's historical thoughts on the sources of energy, disposition, and vision that he believed led the European Great Pirates to their conquests and explains their ability to do so. A few of the questions often raised by students in the classroom follow. 38

Why were European Great Pirates able to control African, Muslim, or Chinese lands and not the other way around?
    What made the Great Pirates as powerful as they were was their "unprecedented wealth" and knowledge of other places accumulated relative to their fellow citizens in newly emerging states. The reintroduction of money into Europe in the 1200's resulted from practical needs following the reintroduction of long-range trade at the same time. It was the traders whose access to, and control of, the trade supplies to and from Europe gave them this new monetary wealth which they further increased through their control of monetary credit and interest. The formation of states in Europe at this time was in a relatively undeveloped stage compared to Chinese and Muslim states. As the technological requirements of successful warring in Europe increased, the men-of-the-sea found that their weapon and travel technology, and their monetary resources, gave them great influence over those European Kings killing to consolidate their claims to land. 39
    While traders from Muslim, Chinese, and African empires did engage in long-range and successful sea-based trade, the relative influence both in relation to overall trade within these empires and in relation to economic influence over the political status quo was demonstratively insufficient to direct their governments to the open-for-business-sea-trade-and-invasion policies of the European states. Unlike Europe, where trade and the reintroduction of money corroded and eventually replaced the feudal power structure, the smaller profits of their traders relative to more politically powerful economic interests never successfully threatened the well entrenched status quo of Muslim, Chinese, and African land-based empires. Those economic and political interests remained entrenched until the European Great Pirates themselves arrived. After the Italian city-state seamen eliminated the small Muslim merchant fleet from the Mediterranean and subsequently from the Indian Ocean, there was to be no sea rival equal to even the smallest European navy for the 400 years of Great Pirate dominance in world trade and politics.34 40
    This is not an argument that the European trade interests were superior businessmen or more vigorous in contrast to those elsewhere at the time. It is an argument premised on a greater influence of a certain group to direct state resources and policies at a certain time relative to competing interests. 41

What made the Great Pirates so powerful? What can we learn from them?
    Many economic, political, social, and personal lessons can be explored in a historical examination of the Great Pirates. One is the advantage that comprehensive thinking has over localized thinking. Comprehensive thinking was essential to Great Pirate power. While land-dwellers lived in their localized world, subject to their social group's arbitrary laws, customs, and borders, the Great Pirates had to navigate vast unknown spaces where they encountered many laws, customs, and borders. They witnessed the arbitrariness of what most locals everywhere considered more or less unquestionably "natural" and "sacred." The Great Pirates had to use their intelligence to survive, and thus local prejudices of any kind were simply not affordable. This is observable throughout the so called "Age of Exploration" when the nationality of explorers, sailors, navigators, mathematicians, astronomers, and architects, chemists, and munitions makers often differed from their sponsor's nationality. Furthermore, rather than brute force, which is adequate on land, Great Pirates had to constantly experiment whether their ideas were useful or not in dealing with the tempestuous forces of ocean, wind, and storms. The sense of urgency gained first-hand from an awareness of how tentative survival is led to a practical disposition to get rid of ideas that didn't help the ship get to where it was going faster, and to find those that did. 42
     There is much for students to consider when reminded that the earth itself is a ship traveling through vast unknown spaces and whose survival depends largely on the ability of its crew to think comprehensively and practically in dealing with the issues that threaten its survival. Like multi-national corporations today, the Great Pirates did not think in terms of earth and sea as patches of countries whose man-made borders demanded loyalty or even respect. Their power rested on the fact that so many others did. 43

What do the Great Pirates have to do with world history?
    To maintain the Great Pirate status quo required that any potential threat to the activities of the Great Pirates be anticipated and eliminated. Amongst other threats are the capacities of bright people to draw connections between local and distant realities of trade and power. Thus, local rulers whose military and economic success depended on the Great Pirates' ships, set up schools to focus the creativity of bright people on specialized tasks and to promote pride in one's country and loyalty to local "stooges" as the true leaders. In this way, the roles played in local affairs by the Great Pirates and their ships were hidden behind the business of the day and in nationalistic rituals. This is evident in the history textbooks from many countries. 44
     Textbooks indicate quite clearly that school history served this goal well, focusing almost exclusively on the development of local nation-states, formal political acts by Kings, Queens, Emperors, and other leaders, and promoting the predestined glory the nation and empire. In the European and North American examples, history teachers followed scholars and textbooks and divided past time and space according to colligatory generalizations such as the "British Empire" and the "Age of Exploration," which downplayed the roles of the Great Pirates and their private trading companies in the affairs of nations and empires. Great powers lie in colligatory generalizations learned in schools and through nationalistic rituals. Even the suggestion that European and North American states played a secondary and supportive role to the Great Pirates in the "Age of Conquest and Theft" destabilizes for many of their citizens the way that they have learned to divide the world. 45

Are there Great Pirates today?
     According to Fuller, no. The diversity of communication mediums and sources of knowledge production today do not allow the degree of knowledge control vital to being a "Great Pirate." Nonetheless, arguments seem plausible that the architects and international supporters of "global economy" certainly follow "Great Pirate" principles of divide and conquer. The set-up of such an economy reduces the control people have to enforce labor and environmental standards through their local governments. 46

     I have provided those thoughts from Fuller I found most accessible for high school students. Other readers will find in his work their own insights and connections to world history. The scope of Fuller's Great Pirate explanation in a world history classroom raises many questions that allow for many other perspectives to be connected to his central line of reasoning. It is, after all, the questions teachers pose for students which determine the quality and utility of the answers they find. It is also the explicitness of teachers' narratives that promote students' capacities to question their validity. 47
    I have offered here only one of many ways to offer students an interpretation of larger historical time and events, so let me be clear. My intent is not to promote world history taught from the gun decks or explorations of Europeans. Quite the contrary: rather, my intent is to have students consider in whose interests and name so called "national" aggressors have acted, and to challenge the white-washing of past and present complexities. Fuller's narrative – succinct, bold, ethically concerned, practical, open-ended, and up-front – encapsulates much of what we as history teachers try to provide students when we endeavor to communicate an interpretation of history's scope and depth. As one unit, it covers much, questions more, and provides time to consider other significant histories. 48
    The vitality of Fuller's narrative emerges from the sweep of time considered, the connections made between interlocking systems of social life, and between the past and present. This narrative wears its conceits where students can see them. It is, therefore, available for their critique. In its connection between social control and schools, and between power and the generalizations we use to divide the world, Fuller's narrative also offers one historical interpretation of the content and organization of school history. In the absence of such interpretations, do we not offer students a profoundly ahistorical instruction in history? 49
    The addition of Great Pirates to the narratives teachers tell of European exploration offers a more nuanced account of events that are usually over-generalized. We must recognize, with post-colonial scholars, the tremendous political investment of our colligatory generalizations. Now as much as ever, narratives are needed that both help students to analyze the big picture of the past and to apply different perspectives on present economic, political, and educational practices. These narratives need to point out the divisions in national life that are obscured with an uncritical use of "our" or "we;" pronouns I have argued that should be as much questions of historical study as its starting point. 50
    A justification for historical instruction lies in the claim that through historical study students learn to grapple with big historical and present-day issues. However, teachers cannot help but remain trapped and frustrated in attempts to connect historical study to the present when the conceptual generalizations "we" employ are the very tools that help(ed) justify the antagonisms and mal-distributions of the past. 51


Biographical Note: Kent den Heyer earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies at the University of British Columbia, and is currently on the faculty of the Teaching, Leadership, and Curriculum Studies department at Kent State University in Ohio.


1 L. S. Levstik, "Articulating the silences: teachers' and adolescents' conceptions of historical significance," in P. Stearns, P. Seixas, and S. Wineburg, eds. Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History: National and International Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 284-305.

2 H. White, The content of the form: Narrative discourse and historical representation (Baltimore, MA: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987); H. White, "Historical emplottment and the problem of truth," in K. Jenkins, ed. The postmodern history reader.. (New York: Routledge, 1997), 392-396.

3 For Canada, see P. Seixas, "Student teachers thinking historically," Theory and Research in Social Education 26:3 (1998): 310-341; for Britain, see P. Lee and R. Ashby, "Empathy, perspective taking, and rational understanding," in O.L Davis Jr., E.A Yeager, S. Foster, eds. Historical empathy and perspective taking in the social studies (Lanham, Maryland: Rowan Littlefield, 2001), 21-50; for the U.S., see S. Wineburg, Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).

4 D. Shemilt, "The Caliph's Coin: The currency of narrative frameworks in history teaching," in P. Stearns, P. Seixas, and S. Wineburg, eds. Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History: National and International Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 2000): 83-101.

5 D. Shemilt, "The Caliph's Coin," p. 86.

6 D. Shemilt, "The Caliph's Coin," p. 87.

7 H. White, The content of the form, H. White, "Historical emplottment and the problem of truth."

8 J. Rüsen, "The development of narrative competence in historical learning- and ontogenetic hypothesis concerning moral consciousness," History and Memory: Studies in Representations of the past 1:2 (1989), 39.

9 J. Rüsen, "The development of narrative competence," 41.

10 The term "colligatory generalizations" is from Shemilt, "The Caliph's Coin." See also E. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), and J. Willinsky, Learning to divide the world: Education at empire's end (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).

11 L.S. Levstik, "Articulating the silences: teachers' and adolescents' conceptions of historical significance," 297.

12 L.S. Levstik, "Articulating the silences," 298.

13 This phenomenon could be seen most recently in the big-budget movie about the Battle of Stalingrad in WW II, Enemy at the Gates. This movie reduces that epic battle involving 2 million people to a contest, upon which rested the symbolic meaning of the whole battle, between one Russian and one German sharpshooter.

14 K. den Heyer, "Between every 'now' and 'then': A role for the study of historical agency in history and citizenship education," Theory and Research in Social Education 31:4 (2003), 411-434.

15 J. V. Wertsch, Mind as action (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

16 See K. C. Barton, " 'Bossed around by the queen': Elementary students' understanding of individuals and institutions in history," Journal of Curriculum and Supervision 12:4 (1997), 290-314; K. C. Barton, "A sociocultural perspective on children's understanding of historical change: Comparative findings from Northern Ireland and the United States," American Educational Research Journal 38:4 (2001), 881-914.

17 See J. Willinsky, Learning to divide the world: Education at empire's end (Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 1998).

18 R. B. Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (Carbondale: Southern University

Press, 1969).

19 Fuller, Operating Manual, 17-18. Geography can be tied in here through examination of Earth's wind and water currents which were the challenges facing against European seafarers. That they eventually overcame these natural challenges helps, but does not fully, explain their technological ability to defeat those navies subsequently met in gentler climates. To put it into other terms, this is not an argument that should be construed as supporting a geographical determinism of historical events, any more than a country's possession of oil reserves leads to foreign interference and corrupt local politics.

20 B. Beers, World History: Patterns of Civilization (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993), 182. This description of the Hanseatic league's range of operations would be paraphrased by the British, French, Dutch Portuguese, and Spanish Royal Charters given to the monopoly companies of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

21 I use this notion of the circuit-of-wealth as a basis of exploring economics both in the general and in the particular. Today, we also see in the set-up of the global economy, a decreasing ability of local governments to enact community environmental and work standards due to the multinational circuits-of- wealth of the so-called neo-liberal free-trading international corporations.

22 Fuller, Operating Manual, 21.

23 The power of sea over land has been poignantly illustrated, amongst other examples, by British survival and victory against Napoleon's Continental embargo and again in WWII against Hitler's German controlled Europe, both cases illustrating the unlikelihood of a land or land based power strangling a sea based power.

24 Fuller, Operating Manual, 16.

25 The consolidation process of European, African, and Asian kingdoms can be studied and compared at this point.

26 Fuller, Operating Manual, 26-27. The clearest examples of this process in high school textbooks are found in descriptions of the British government's takeovers in Africa through "indirect rule" and in policing operations for the British East Indian Company in India. Louis XIV used this technique to control his nobility, having them live at great expense at Versailles to perform mundane duties with glamorous titles and ribbons (For further insights into this purpose behind Versailles, see Will & Auriel Durant [1992]). But it was the Great Pirates who most successfully operated with a subtle understanding of power: if you desire to keep power, it is best to appear without it.

27 Fuller, Operating Manual, 25.

28 Fuller, Operating Manual, 24. Unless one is willing to support the opinion that colonization was the result of some unified will of colonizing country (which we do with our language), the addition of Great Pirates to the nationalities of the colonizers helps to remind both speaker and listener of the more complex reality. This is an important point worth repeating and one that can lead to a destabilization of students' beliefs about the very terms teachers and textbooks use. Such destabilization, however, is a vital teaching moment that potentially opens up student interest and inquiry as they wrestle with how to account for the complexity of political and social life elided with generalizations like the "British Empire." I think there are as many ways to direct students at this moment as there are teachers and, therefore, hesitate to offer specific moves in this regard.

29 At this point, an interesting class project can be a historical and present day comparative study of different definitions and requirements of education from around the world. In this culture what does it mean to be educated? What are the different types of formal and non-formal education?

30 Fuller, Operating Manual, 27.

31 As seen in the British government's takeover of policing India from the British East Indian Company. See Beers p. 582.

32 Fuller, Operating Manual, 31




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