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Book Review


Schlesinger, Roger, et al. Global Passages, Sources in World History Volume I: To 1500 and Volume II: Since 1500 (Houghton Mifflin 2004). 389 and 449 pp, respectively, $49.56.

"This distinctive primary source reader, designed to supplement world history survey texts, has a conceptual framework that emphasizes comparative analysis by presenting foreigners' accounts of a given society alongside accounts from citizens of the same society. These descriptions shed light on the values and beliefs of both the society being described, and those of the writer." ( 1
     So advertises Houghton Mifflin on their homepage, which markets the above two- volume set in primary source readings. Priced at a reasonable $49.56 per book, these unique volumes would be a useful addition to a school or classroom library. The translated content of the original sources is relatively digestible, making it accessible for intermediate to advanced readers from about grade eleven and above. With teacher supervision, the texts could even be used at the grade nine level. The questions that follow each reading are good for knowledge and comprehension but fall far short on higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis or evaluation. One further word of caution; using these readers as the sole reference for primary material would be disastrous.: such world notables as Marx or Mandela are not included. Yet herein lies the strength and uniqueness of these texts. They make available the voice of the "outsider," of the relatively unknown. Viking storytellers, Japanese poets, or American wives visiting foreign lands and reacting to the uniqueness of the "other" are all here; and each explores the "other" while simultaneously reflecting on the self. Here is the stuff that adds flesh and bone to the regular diet of wars, big ideas, and monumental events in world history. In the era of the inflated adjective and big budget pulp history, these books collect the reflections of people still permitted the innocent pleasure of awe in the presence of the common place. 2
      In their introduction the four editors—Roger Schlesinger, Fritz Blackwell, Kathryn Meyer and Mary Watrous-Schlesinger, all of Washington State University—state: "Foreigners or travelers are more likely to take careful notice of customs, manners, and rituals than native inhabitants, who often tend to take them for grante." Accordingly, presented here are the life cycles of the day: funeral customs, table manners, or village life: simple and mundane customs rendered insightful and interesting. While the collection offers fare by noteworthy travelers such as Mark Twain and Ibn Battua, such sources are presented alongside lesser-known figures like Ibn Fadal All'H Al-'Umari's account of Mansa Musa's travels in Mali and Egypt, The Kano Chronicle of Sub-Sahara Africa, and the engaging account by Thomas Gage of his life among escaped slaves in the Caribbean circa 1648. Both volumes offer a concise doorway for the generalist into previously closed realms. 

     Both volumes are divided into three parts. The first Part of both volumes offers a general framework of thought and life-style whilst Part Two and Three offer a region by region breakdown of well established life practices within that region and changes that take place over time. Within each volume Part Two and Three directly lend themselves to teaching, via primary sources, the Change Over Time and Compare and Contrast essay format of the AP exam. 4
    Using photographs, the editors also attempt to retrieve information from those who left no records by examining artifacts of such civilizations as the Chavin of the Andes or the Olmec of present day Mexico. Unfortunately, the pictures are all in black and white and offer only one view of the object. At times, shadow or the glare of lights leave parts of the object unclear (see p. 150 Volume I). Perhaps a diagram of the object clearly outlining the finer points, and color photos highlighting the unique qualities of these artifacts would have made these attempts at hearing the unwritten voices much more audible. Regrettably in Volume II, covering from 1500 to present, there are no pictures; the illiterate masses of pre-industrial societies are all but non-existent. This is a very great weakness in the second volume.  5
    In outlining their selection rational, the editors note: "most of the selections in this reader serve a second function: they describe some facet of a society and illuminate and exemplify the values and beliefs of the observer." (p.viii Volume I) Instructors can use the given selections as a succinct example of the power of "Point of View" The editors themselves appear to have fallen into these traps especially in the second volume where the majority of "foreign" observers, particularly in the last Part, tend to be Americans. Could this be a simple oversight or a truth given a rise in wealth, power, and mobility of Americans in the last fifty years?   
    I presented these texts to my classes, the majority of which are composed of Asian students. In general they enjoyed the selections and found them very interesting but argued that Asia was dealt with poorly. The major criticism of Volume I was that East/Southeast Asia really meant China and Japan for there was little, if any, mention of the Silla Kingdom on the Korean peninsula to name but one of many areas shortchanged by the selections. By and large however, students argued that Volume II was much weaker and unconsciously cast East Asia in a "Hollywood movie." The selection of Thai prostitutes (p. 317) and Japanese Geisha (p.309) were particularly singled out for criticism. While many students liked the inclusion of the article on the role of honour and family loyalty in the Thai article, they felt that there were other issues that were more important if one wished to explore modern Thailand, such as the struggle for survival of many native Thai groups or the attempts of many Thai women to enhance the status of women within Thailand. "Why" my students asked, "did Thai women only get mentioned in their role as prostitutes?" Similar sentiments were voiced about the Geisha selection. Geisha, my Japanese students noted, were only upper class phenomena that were becoming extinct by the Showa period outside of a few enclaves. "Why were there no records of the GI's who first landed in Okinawa or the foreigners who helped in Hiroshima or Nagasaki?" Despite these shortcomings, at $49.56 these volumes are a bargain. In the hands of an expert teacher they will provide insight, humour and access to the "other."   
James M. Hatch, Social Studies Teacher
Fukuoka International School
Fukuoka, Japan

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