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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.  

 Jerry Bentley and Herb Ziegler, Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 3rd edition, Volumes I and II (McGraw-Hill, 2006).
    I have been a convert to Traditions and Encounters since 2001, when I first decided to use the text in my World Civilizations class at Washington State University. Prior to arriving at WSU in 1998 I had never taught world history, so I had no idea what texts to choose or even how to structure the course. That first year, I used Duiker and Spielvogel's World History1 because that's what the person in the office next door was using. However, I found the text too Eurocentric and too densely written for my students. The next year I tried Lanny Fields' The Global Past,2 which I liked much better for its thematic approach to teaching world history. Nevertheless, I felt the book had serious organizational problems in its later chapters, and decided against using it again. Since then, aside from a one-year flirtation with Tignor's Worlds Together, Worlds Apart3 in 2003, I have used Traditions and Encounters.
    In the interests of full disclosure I should add that I am no longer an uninterested party: over the course of the last year I have collaborated with the authors to produce a brief version of T&E, which will appear later in 2006. However, I wanted to collaborate on this new version of the book for many of the same reasons I use it in my classroom: because I think it presents a balanced, readable, scholarly account of world history from the beginnings of humanity to the present. 2
    I first heard about Traditions and Encounters via word of mouth. Friends and colleagues—both in my department and in other institutions—said they appreciated the inclusiveness of the text, as well as its focus on both the traditions of individual societies as well as their encounters over time. I decided to give it a try.
    Now that I have used the book for several years, I have a good feel for the strengths that work for me in the classroom as well as for how it stacks up against the other texts I have tried. As the authors suggest, drawing attention to the two themes of tradition and encounter works effectively to help students make sense of the complicated events and issues of the world's past. Indeed, honing in on both the distinctive aspects of societies as well as on the ways in which these societies have interacted allows students to create a mental roadmap for navigating vast quantities of information. In addition, the use of seven distinctive eras to divide the global past and, more importantly, an opening essay framing the period's unifying qualities, allows students to break the history of the world into smaller conceptual pieces without losing the whole. 4
    One of the qualities many T&E users note is its truly global approach. The text pays attention to all parts of the world—not just Eurasia, and certainly not just Europe. In my opinion, it is the best text on the market for its coverage of Africa (frequently only discussed in terms of Atlantic slavery and European imperialism). It is also excellent on Oceania, which although a relatively small and isolated region is highly instructive for exploring world history in microcosm: migration, cultural diffusion, the relationship between societies and natural environments, and the (often traumatic) effects of cultural interaction. The text is also inclusive of the Americas prior to European contact, and discusses not only the large empires of Mesoamerica but also the varied societies of North America. 5
    For those who like to teach thematically, like myself, T&E offers a number of chapters that bring the "traditions" of regional areas together with much larger forces: these include discrete chapters on the Silk Roads (chapter 12), cross-cultural interactions (chapter 22), transoceanic encounters (chapter 23), Atlantic revolutions (chapter 29), nationalism (chapter 36), decolonization (chapter 39), and the present day "World Without Borders" (chapter 40). 6
    One of the things I like about T&E is that its narrative is based on the authors' thorough knowledge of world historical research. Although the debates in current historiography are not often covered, presumably for lack of space, those acquainted with the field can clearly see the influence of recent scholarship in the narrative. For example, the "Rise of the West" debate—at the moment one of the most hotly debated issues in the field—features prominently in the authors' account of European industrialization. 7
    What do my students like, especially compared with other texts I've used in the past? For one thing, the narrative in T&E is eminently readable—it is neither too advanced nor too dumbed-down for the college freshmen I teach, and it is (perhaps surprisingly, since it is after all a textbook) written with style. Furthermore, chapter-opening stories about individuals not only helped students remember that world history ultimately affected real people; they also helped make the history in each chapter come alive. This contrasts quite strongly with both the Duiker as well as the Tignor text: my students found Duiker dry and encyclopedic, while they found Tignor long and impenetrable. 8
    My biggest complaint with T&E is that it does not come in a volume that begins before the European voyages in the 15th century. For me, teaching from 1300 helps to de-center Europe from the very beginning of the course, and is the primary reason I tried the Tignor book in 2003 (which begins in 1300). Yet the attractive periodization in Tignor could not outweigh other factors—readability, inclusiveness, attention to a wide variety of regions—that I had grown to like so much in T&E. 9
    Although ancillaries are not a big concern for me (I use many of my own slides, images, and video), the T&E complement seems quite up-to-date. There is web support, overheads, PowerPoint, and a test bank for instructors, whereas students gain access to a truly excellent program called Primary Source Investigator. It is the strength of the text, however, that keeps me coming back to it for the last few years. 10

Heather Streets
Washington State University



1 William Duiker and Jackson Spielvogel, World History (Wadsworth).

2 Lanny B. Fields et al., The Global Past (Bedford).

3 Robert Tignor et al, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World (W.W. Norton).


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