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Teacher Review

Editors' note: This feature is meant to provide practical, although not unbiased, reviews of textbooks based on experience in the classroom. Readers will note that the teachers who wrote these reviews differ widely in terms of what they seek in a textbook. Moreover, these reviews are not meant to advocate or discourage the adoption of any one text. Rather, they seek to begin a dialogue about textbook use that we hope will continue long past the posting of this issue. Indeed, we would like to encourage other teachers—both at the secondary and at the university-level—to send us comparable reviews of texts for inclusion in later issues of World History Connected.  

Peter Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart Schwartz, Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, 3e, AP edition (New York: Longman, 2000).
    World Civilizations, 3e. AP Edition is an excellent choice for teaching the AP world history course. The book can help facilitate global understandings and connections in the classroom. Of particular note is the emphasis on social history, which allows for greater insight and analysis into an under-represented part of the course. In my AP world history course, I have used World Civilizations, 3e. AP Edition for the past five years. This review will focus on the more recent fourth edition though I actually use the older third edition in my own classroom. Remarkably, our AP World History course has had a 99.9% pass rate over the past three years, and over 50% of our sophomores have received 5's on the AP World History exam. As a result, I am confident that this book, in combination with other materials, can prepare students for the test. I use the textbook in my classroom selectively, rarely assigning a full chapter. (I still long for an overview 200 page textbook instead of the 1000 page standard.) Students also read from four other texts in the course, including the two Worlds of History readers, Experiencing World History, and The World That Trade Created, as well as large supplemental reading packets with current journal articles.1 This means that students read approximately 50-75 pages a week. The text works well enough for me as I feel I can assign pieces of it. Assigning every chapter in a one-year course will reinforce the race through time, mind-numbing approach to history, despite the focus in this text on drawing out the larger connections. I tend to be selective in my use of the text, using parts of chapters, the special features, and the web links. My students utilize the companion web site for the parts they don't read fully. I believe that no matter how good the textbook is, the AP course description rather than the textbook should drive the pace of the course. For most of my Advanced Placement world history students, the reading level is appropriate. I teach in a suburban district where the majority of students go on to four year colleges. They are able to understand the content. Some students find the text dense but most comment that they prefer it to the glossy, insert filled, high school text they use in ninth grade.
    I chose this text initially for several reasons. In my initial preparation for teaching the course, I felt that the language of the course was reflected in the textbook. In addition, my own background in social history is weak and I was looking for a text that could supplement my own weaknesses. Philosophically, however, I do take issue with the authors' idea of civilizations as the organizing construct for the book. Despite the fact that the word is used in a plural sense and the authors argue that civilizations are not necessarily better than other societies, students still get the impression that some societies warrant more attention than others because they have been labeled "civilizations." That said, though, I like the fact that the book is based upon "comparative work and focus on global processes." In fact, I would like to see more material in the preface and throughout the book that defines these global processes, and that shows how students can use these as tools for assessing change and continuity over time and place. I think that further development of this as a thread would permit greater student understanding of change and continuity over time. 2
    I appreciate the book's explicit periodization, which is determined by three specific rationales. This allows students to debate the assumptions and rationales for the given periodization. While I might hope for an alternate framework using labels other than classical and western global hegemony and I would love to see a more explicit rationale for the periodization used within each unit, the issues that can be raised in the classroom provide for good debate. I prefer the Tignor, et al. organization overall since it gets past more traditional periodization and, as a result, students are left with a less Eurocentric ordering of history.2
    I love the Visualizing the Past sections, since they bring out suggestions for analysis of visual images and tend to make connections between chapters and places. One of my favorites is "National Leadership," on page 770. The In-Depth sections, however, are my favorite because they take a topic and stretch it out across time or place without the constraints of the chapter's parameters. Really interesting comparisons, connections, and long term causes and consequences come up within this section on a wide array of topics. Most importantly, it is in these sections that much of the social historical analysis—on topics like civilization, race, population, gender, the rise of the west, nomadic peoples, and slavery —finds its place. Students are often able to make contemporary connections to the writings in this section. A good example of all of this is the In Depth reading entitled "Inequality as the Social Norm." Global Connections are a new feature, which the edition I am currently using does not include. This section allows for a broadening of context that sometimes gets lost in the detail of the chapter. These sections seem most effective when they are specific, mentioning specific movements of people, ideas, or goods between specific places. 4
    The three major strengths of this text include analysis, web access, and the attention to issues of social history including class and social structure. The modeling of historical analysis, especially as provided through In Depth looks and Visualizing sections, is valuable. Students find the web links within the chapters as well as the web site with on-line material useful. Lastly, the conscious attention to a broad spectrum of world history beyond political and military events comes across in this textbook. I think its weaknesses lie in its occasional tendency to resort to European frameworks (i.e. the notion of civilization and its periodization scheme), the sometimes disjointed nature of the text as it alternates between chronological, regional and thematic coverage and, finally, its length. 5

Deborah Smith Johnston
Lexington High School
Lexington, Massachusetts



1 Kevin Reilly, Worlds of History: A Comparative Reader, 2nd edition, Vols. I and II (Bedford St. Martin's, 2003); Erik Langer et al., Experiencing World History (New York University Press, 2000); Kenneth Pomeranz and Stephen Topik, eds. The World that Trade Created: Culture, Society, and the World Economy 1400 to the Present (M.E. Sharpe, 2000).

2 Robert Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World from the Mongol Empire to the Present (Norton, 2002).


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