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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.  

Robert Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World from the Mongol Empire to the Present (Norton, 2002).
    In their introduction, the seven scholars, most at Princeton University, recall their disappointment with existing world history textbooks:

Nearly fifteen years ago, the Princeton University history department established its first course in world history . . . Unfortunately the textbooks available at that time did not work. Some were by a single author and tended to suffer . . . from the limitations that a single individual, no matter how well read, confronted when dealing with the immensity of world history. Others, written by a team of regional experts . . . lacked integration and balance. (xxv)

    And so Worlds Together, Worlds Apart was born. The seven (Robert Tignor, Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Aron, Stephen Kotkin, Suzanne Marchand, Gyan Prakash, and Michael Tsin) pledged that their text would "offer clear themes and interpretations of the vast body of data that often overwhelms histories of the modern world." That's not all. Worlds Together would "integrate all the regions of the world into thematically unified chapters. It would decenter Europe. It would also be brief, thus allowing instructors to assign other readings and develop other points of view." Finally, it would not be "a book of record" but would "omit many specifics, no matter how colorful or interesting, so that the details [would] not submerge the general pattern." (xxv-xxvi) 2
    Worlds Together fulfills all these commitments. This success makes the book exactly right for some classrooms — and exactly wrong for others. For my own purposes, the book works well, and I have used it successfully in my AP World History course at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California as well as in a post-1500 world history survey at California State University, Long Beach.
    Worlds Together is, as advertised, relatively brief. Weighing in at just over 460 pages, the smaller size does indeed leave more room than most texts for supplementary readings. 4
    As well, Worlds Together clearly articulates a few well-chosen themes. As the title suggests, the most important of these is the tension between accelerating global integration and its discontents. This storyline gets top billing right at the start. Chapter 1, "The Worlds of 1300," surveys Africa, the Americas, Eurasia and the "Chinese borderlands" (that is, Japan and Southeast Asia) before recounting the impact of Mongol conquest and empire on Afro-Eurasia. Chapter 2, "Crises and Recovery in Eurasia, 1300s-1500s," argues that the Mongol collapse and the Black Death prepared the ground for the emergence of the modern world. Here, then, is the pattern established throughout the work: disparate societies (worlds apart) interacting during the Mongol era (worlds together), then fragmenting (worlds apart) and again consolidating (worlds together) in its aftermath. Each subsequent chapter focuses on the tension between global change (for instance, the 17th c. Atlantic World, 19th c. imperialism, and the late 20th c. "three world order) and local identities. 5
    In illustrating these themes, Worlds Together is indeed very selective. Chapter 7, "Alternative Visions of the Nineteenth Century" focuses on exactly seven reactions to the 19th century political and economic order: Wahhabism (Arabia); Uthman Dan Fodio's jihadist state (Sahelian Africa); Shaka's consolidation of Zulu power (Southern Africa); the Taiping Rebellion (China); European ideologies (nationalism and various Socialisms); the Shawnee prophet Tenskatawa (North America); the Caste War (Mexico); and the Sepoy Rebellion (India). 6
    Robert Tignor and his colleagues pledge to "decenter Europe," and here again they succeed. Even while acknowledging European power in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Worlds Together treats the rest of the world on its own terms. Asian, Latin American, and African peoples do not merely react to European power, but pursue agendas of their own. Divisions among late Qing elites and within Indian nationalist organizations suggest a political complexity textbooks have sometimes ignored. 7
And yet, thanks to Europeanists Stephen Kotkin and Suzanne Marchand, assessments of European history make exceptionally good use of limited space. The pattern of inclusion and excision will be familiar to anyone who has glanced at the Advanced Placement World History guidelines. The text does a fine job with the French Revolution and Industrialization, for instance, using these episodes to discuss political and economic change throughout both Europe and the globe. However, anyone hoping that the text will delve into the Revolutions of 1830 or describe the Bessemer process will be very disappointed. 8

    There is another strength worth noting: the excellent materials accompanying the text. Maps are graphically stunning, and captions direct student attention to the most salient geographic issues. The same can be said for the other graphics. Each illustrates a concept explicitly discussed in the accompanying text. Captions are surprisingly informative:

Title Page of the Encyclopedia. Originally published in 1751, the Encyclopedia was the most comprehensive work of learning in the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment. The title page features an image of light and reason being dispersed throughout the land. The title itself identifies the work as a dictionary, based on reason, that deals not just with the sciences but also with the arts and occupations. It identifies two of the leading men of letters (gens de letters) Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, as the primary authors of the work. (185)

    Worlds Together relies as well on a generous integration of primary sources. The choices are very clever. Rather than providing a pastiche of materials for chapter 1, Tignor and his associates devote all their sidebars to Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo, deepening the chapter's thoughtful survey of 14th century Afro-Eurasian peoples. 10
    Each chapter begins with just four to six reading questions. My students have found the questions particularly useful in guiding their reading. While the ancillaries are less extensive than those available for other textbook programs, they are well conceived and well written. Among them are a study guide written by Brigham Young University's Michael Murdock, and a useful online resource tutorial prepared by Jonathan Lee of San Antonio College. 11
    Despite its strengths, however, Worlds Together will not meet every classroom's needs. 12
    One problem is the book's chronological framework. In adopting the 13th century as their central historical hinge, the authors pointedly reject the more conventional early 16th c. divide. Those who teach the first half of a standard world history sequence will not be able to use this book. AP World History teachers, who must devote a quarter or more of their courses to events before 1200, will need a supplementary text. Norton promises a two-volume edition for the 2007-2008 school year, covering all of human history. We look forward to its release. 13
    Some instructors will be unhappy with text's brevity. Before using Worlds Together, I used Richard Bulliet et al., The Earth and its Peoples and Peter Stearns et al., World Civilizations. Apart from their other strengths, these two texts reassured students by virtue of their sheer and comprehensive bulk. Then new to world history, I was relieved to find in both books discussion of subjects beyond my limited expertise. Anyone who wants a textbook to do duty as a reference work ought to look elsewhere. 14
    One notable deficit, at least in my classroom, is Worlds Together's silence on scholarly debate. Few textbooks do any justice to the historiographic debates which lurk beneath their judgments (Howard Spodek's The World's History is a notable exception). Exactly because Worlds Together bucks conventional textbook chronology and analysis, its authors owe students a full explanation of their decisions. 15
    That said, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart is unlike any other text on the market. While not for everyone, it will serve many classrooms superbly. 16

Tom Laichas
Crossroads School


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