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Guest Editorial: Teaching World History: Introductory Remarks1

Eckhardt Fuchs, University of Mannheim
Karen Oslund, German Historical Institute

    Why are we teaching world history and what is the value that we see in it? And what makes it new and different from more traditional approaches such as Western Civilization surveys, for example? Are there differences in world history teaching between the United States and other parts of the world? And how do teaching and research world history contribute to each other? This issue of World History Connected attempts to address some of these questions from both a North American and a German angle.
    Such a comparative approach is worthwhile for two reasons: first, world history has to date been pursued most actively in the United States. Yet looking beyond the borders of the United States, a turn towards global history can be observed in several countries including Australia, China, Japan, Great Britain, and Germany. These approaches to global history certainly borrow from U.S. world history, but at the same time they are developing their own teaching and academic discourses. Because these discourses are locally confined due to different historiographical traditions and school/university structures, they have given rise to new approaches in teaching and writing world history.2 In turn, such new approaches might offer fresh concepts to world history in the United States, such as transnational or "entangled" history in the field of research or the idea of a globally-defined consciousness in the field of teaching.3 Second, in Germany the rise of world history in North American secondary and higher education is still interpreted as a simple success story, without taking into consideration that this phenomenon can only be understood in terms of the development of the high school and university history curriculum and the political and academic struggles over its reform throughout the twentieth century.4 In this introduction we will provide a short overview of the current state of world history in both countries before raising a few points that will be addressed by the contributors of this special issue.
     Although this is not the place to elaborate extensively on the history of writing and teaching world history at American schools and universities, a few brief remarks may be useful. The birth of world history teaching in the United States can be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century, although the first course on World History at an American high school was taught at Boston English High School in 1821.5 For most of the twentieth century not without some justification the introductory history course "Western Civ" has been called "one of the great success stories in the history of the historical profession in America."6 As a "war baby," this course was first implemented as an undergraduate requirement at Columbia in 1919 and soon spread all over the country.7 It reflected, shaped, and legitimized the world view and the political consciousness of a superpower that saw itself as the culmination of human civilization. Western Civ nevertheless came under heavy critique in the 1960s, and it was William H. McNeill's Rise of the West in 1963 that not only challenged this course in the curriculum but also marked the beginning of the "new" world history by opening the path of world history to professional historians.8
   What is widely ignored in the European view of the rise of world history is the close link between teaching and research, and between professional history and curriculum policy. World history in the United States first emerged as a teaching agenda, before a research program had been established. The 1970s and 1980s were characterized by debates between two camps: the proponents of the Western Civ curriculum and those who favored a global perspective, arguing that the Eurocentric emphasis on Western civilization no longer met the needs of a new generation of students. This debate on the teaching "canon" and the "core" of historical study was conducted in numerous curriculum committees and academic conferences, as well as on the political stage of states and even of the nation, as Peter Stearns outlines in his essay in this issue. The result of these debates was two-fold: on the one hand, World History became an acknowledged introductory survey course; on the other, Western Civ survived in a reformed shape. This was by no means only the result of conservative educational politics, since academic historians also insisted on keeping the Western Civ courses, as the title of an 1989 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated: "It is Time to Stop Apologizing for Western Civilization and to Start Analyzing Why it Defines World Culture."9 Whereas "advocates of world history found a cold climate in America," as an observer stated, "within the history profession, as always, they faced a virtual nuclear winter."10 4
   Even if the "nuclear winter" is over today, the summer has not yet arrived, as recent numbers about the latest developments in world history teaching in the U.S. indicate. For undergraduate history programs one can observe a slight rise in the number of World History courses. In 2000-2001, 59% of the programs offered World History courses (out of 314 courses), compared to 100% in U.S. History, 91% in European History, 78% in Asian History, and 73% in Latin American History. Only 46% of these programs offered Western Civ. In the following year 2001-2002, the percentage for World History courses rose 6 points to 65% (out of 343 courses), which was still higher than that for Western Civ, which rose 4 points to 50%.11 Thus, there are only slight differences between Western Civ and World History with regard to the number of students and courses. This means that a paradigmatic shift in teaching from Western Civ to World History has not yet occurred. Debates such as the one between Michael F. Doyle on the one hand and Edmund Burke III and Ross E. Dunn on the other, which were carried out in the AHA Perspectives in 1998, indicate that Western Civ has undergone curriculum adjustments, and therefore retained its traditional appeal to history departments.12 5
    Whereas the number of Ph.D.programs and advertised teaching positions in recent years indicate a growing interest in World History,13 world historians have failed so far to create their own research and teaching institutions within the universities. The World History Center at Northeastern University, which had a Ph.D. program in World History established by Patrick Manning in 1994, had to close ten years later. Although the Center still exists as an independent institution, its fate symbolizes the unstable institutional situation of world history and reflects the devastating effects: Out of 17 Ph.Ds in world history between 1994 and 2004, 12 were completed at this university which is anyway a very small number compared to the 8000 or so completed Ph.Ds in history in that decade.14 Other programs, such as those in Wisconsin, Chicago, and Johns Hopkins, declined after a prosperous phase as well. Altogether, the formal training of world historians has grown only little and with no expansion of research facilities. Indeed, as Patrick Manning has argued, "if no major departments in the decade to come create positions specializing in world history, in one way or another, we will have confirmed the failure of world history to become a research field."15
    In Germany, the situation is completely different, as Susanne Popp and Eckhardt Fuchs explain in their essays in the issue. There, world history does not face the possibility of "failure" because it hardly exists. This is somewhat surprising considering the long tradition of universal history and world history in Germany. However, historicism, which became the dominant paradigm of academic history in the nineteenth century, considered the normative universal history of the Enlightenment and the philosophical world history in the Hegelian tradition as unprofessional and not reconcilable with the historicist positivistic approach. In addition, German historiography has been heavily embedded in a nationalism that left little space for alternative conceptions, as the Lamprecht controversy around 1900 indicated.16 Only very recently a new discussion mostly among the younger generation of historians has started, which nevertheless distinguishes itself from the American discourse. In contrast to the U.S., world history at the university level is simply not taught in Germany, except for a few exceptions such as the founding of the Institute for Universal and Cultural History and the European Network of Universal History (both located in Leipzig), and the implementation of Global Studies into the university (such as in Leipzig and, at the Ph.D. level, in Mannheim). Since there are no introductory courses at German universities, the general world history course from prehistory to the present is taught in secondary schools.
    Another difference concerns textbooks. Whereas American world historians, from William McNeill to Jerry Bentley and Peter Stearns, are authors of textbooks, textbook writing in Germany is not the domain of professional historians. The alienation between academic history and history instruction in schools leads to the result that paradigmatic changes within the profession only reach the school curriculum after much delay and by non-academics. In addition, world history research in Germany is purely a university endeavour. Of course, the debates affect academic politics with regard to open positions within the historical departments and the establishment of programs within various disciplines. However, these debates have not yet reached a wide public audience; nor have they stirred any political controversies.
    It seems, however, that there is at least one commonality between the two countries: the belief, as Gilbert Allardyce has stated in his short history of Western Civ, "in the ideal of the civilizing mission of colleges to educate citizens for community life."17 In his essay, Anthony Steinhoff uses this ideal as his point of departure to explore the relationship between world history and general education in American colleges and universities. Yet this civilizing or educating mission carries with it the danger of using world history for ideological or political goals that actually were intended to be overcome by the replacement of Western Civ. Recently, American historians have attempted to avoid this trap: Jerry Bentley in a recent essay pleads for the replacement of an ideologically biased world history approach by an "ecumenical World History" based on "large-scale empirical narratives" and focusing on "rising human population, expanding technological capacity, and increasing prominence of cross-cultural interaction through time."18 Arif Dirlik argues for a reconceptualizing of modern conceptions of space, calling it the "world-history-as-totality" mode. This mode takes the globe as an ultimate frame-of-reference for historical studies, and aims at historicizing nations and civilizations as spaces produced by historians and at replacing them by alternative spacialities and temporalities, such as social spaces.19 What is clear from these debates and pleas is that if world history is to achieve any educational goals and pedagogical functions, it depends to a large degree on the way in which it is composed. And the very recent debate on H-World on "big history," outlined in David Christian's book Maps of Time, makes evident that issues raised here, such as evolution, have major effects on general education.20
    World history in the U.S. is now established as a new teaching area at many schools and universities. It has challenged and changed traditional forms of history curricula. But it still nevertheless lacks professional respect among fellow historians and is not yet fully recognized as a subdiscipline and teaching subject. This is even more the case in Germany, where neither a world history curriculum at secondary schools nor a world history program at universities exist. Besides the institutional infrastructure, which is necessary for implementing world history courses, teaching such courses presents many new challenges. Some of these challenges are addressed in the essays in this special issue, and include the following:
    First, some of these challenges are similar to those for teaching history in general of history being part of the much debated concept of liberal education, of developing analytical abilities of students, of coming to terms with the globalization process. The implication for world history, however, is that its necessarily explicit comparative approach can offer greater possibilities to students than these other types of history. This is the underlying assumption of Anthony Steinhoff's essay.
    Second, there is also the long-held assumption that studying history is central to identity, and that, since the modern person no longer finds his or her identity in the nation state, world history can best meet this need. The problem of how history and historical consciousness serves the development of adolescent identity is the main topic of the presentations by the two German contributors. Confronted with the fact that German secondary schools do not offer world history courses, Susanne Popp suggests possibilities for integrating world and global history perspectives into the existing history curriculum. For her, such an integration contributes to the development of a globally conceptualized historical consciousness that enables students to explore local events in a global setting and to analyze global issues by considering local examples. In Eckhardt Fuchs' essay, the author draws attention to the assumption that world history in school is legitimized by the idea that the existing curriculum no longer meets the students' needs for historical orientation. He demonstrates that the newly introduced history curriculum in the state Baden-Wuerttemberg tries to take up some of the international developments such as standards, output orientation, and a European perspective but that it fails to incorporate a true world history approach.
   Third, at first glance it seems that the U.S. curriculum is much more advanced compared to the German curriculum. World history programs and courses are implemented parallel to courses on national history in American secondary schools. However, Peter Stearns outlines the ongoing cultural wars over world history in the U.S in his essay. He argues that the cultural resistance by the national conservative establishment was the main force against the new world history teaching program since it was seen as a threat to American values and the Western political heritage. The insistence on a national framework of history curricula at high schools corresponded to the resistance at the college level to replacing the traditional Western civilization survey with world history courses. 13
   Fourth, in addition to public debates various other issues, such as the quality of teaching, the uneven distribution of courses, teacher training, and competing views of the contents of world history remain significant. As Robert Bain and Tamara Shreiner demonstrate in their essay, the different structures, contents, and approaches to world history make it very difficult to find out what actually is being taught rather than what ought to be taught. In analyzing the growth and state of world history education at the high school level based on the first Advancement Placement World history exams, state standards, curricular guides, and teaching material, Bain and Shreiner found four patterns of world history curriculum. Challenged by this diversity, they ask educators and professional historians to join forces to take up the challenge of assessing world history for the sake of securing the long-term existence and high quality of world history education.  
   Fifth, the question of how well the current teaching of world history in the United States meets its goals, and whether these are the "right" goals, are not yet answered. And there is also the problem of how world history relates to the general concept of liberal education. Anthony Steinhoff takes up this issue, arguing that world history surveys at American colleges have become "mega western civilizations." He suggests a link between the goals of the traditional liberal arts, such as the training and stimulation of the independent intellect, and world history teaching, and encourages like Susanne Popp a thematic approach that links local and national history to world history.  
   Sixth and finally, world history teachers often take students' use of digital media in their courses for granted. However, the question of the concerns and problems surrounding new media, such as PowerPoint presentations in the classroom and student research on the Internet, remains still to be investigated. T. Mills Kelly discusses how world history teachers could make use of media inside and outside of the classroom to enhance world history teaching. He states that students need assistance for learning outside the classroom, such as directions for finding historically accurate websites for research and for evaluating the content of the websites they find.  
   Exactly because so many people have opinions not only about how well world history is accomplishing its goals, but what its goals are and whether they goals are worth accomplishing at all, it seems important that we broaden our debate to include an international perspective. Indeed, we must ask not only how to teach world history, but also why we teach world history. Even if we do not need to be convinced that world history is worth teaching and researching, many others do. As world history teachers and researchers, we must remain aware of this reality. This very basic and simple fact is one that we kept as our major aim for putting together this special issue of World History Connected.  

1 The essays in this special issue originated from the conference "Teaching World History" held at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, in March 2005. This conference was the third in a sequence of meetings about World History that have been organized by the German Historical Institutes in London and Washington in 1997 and 2000. These meetings brought together distinguished scholars who discussed issues of writing and teaching world history. The results of the first two meetings have been published as Eckhardt Fuchs and Benedikt Stuchtey (eds.), Cross Cultural Borders: Historiography in a Global Perspective (Lanham, 2002); Benedikt Stuchtey and Eckhardt Fuchs (eds.), Writing World History 1800 2000 (Oxford, 2003). On the report of the 2005 conference see Eckhardt Fuchs and Karen Oslund, "Teaching World History," Bulletin of the German Historical Institute Washington D.C., 37(Fall 2005): 87-94. A number of papers also given at this conference and dealing with world history teaching at universities are published in Comparativ 16:1 (2006, forthcoming).

2 See Dominic Sachsenmaier, "Global History, Global Debates," geschichte.transnational (http://geschichte-transnational.clio‑ This debate on transnationalism has recently been taken up by American scholars. See the debate on H-World

3 See the newly established forum at

4 See Eckhardt Fuchs, "Curriculum Matters: Teaching World History in the U.S. in the Twentieth Century," in Q. Edward Wang and Franz L. Fillafer (eds.), History of Historiography Reconsidered. Essays in Honor of Georg G. Iggers (Buffalo 2007, forthcoming).

5 John E. Stout, The Development of High School Curricula in the North Central States form 1860 to 1918 (Chicago, 1921).

6 Gilbert Allardyce, "The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization Course," American Historical Review 87 (1982), 695-725, here: 695. See also Roxann Prazniak, "Is World History Possible? An Inquiry," in Arif Dirlik (ed.), History After the Three Worlds: Post-Eurocentric Historiographies (Lanham 2002), 221-238, here: 222f.; Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge, 1988), 312.

7 Allardyce, Rise, 703ff. On the Columbia course see Harry J. Carman, "The Columbia Course in Contemporary Civilization," Columbia Alumni News 17 (1925), 143-144, reprinted in Ross E. Dunn (ed.), The New World History: A Teacher's Companion (Bedford 2000), 25-28.

8 William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of Human Community (Chicago 1963). See also McNeill's own account, "The Rise of the West after Twenty-Five Years," Journal of World History 1 (1990), 1-21.

9 Jacob Neusner, "It is Time to Stop Apologizing for Western Civilization and to Start Analyzing Why it Defines World Culture," Chronicle of Higher Education 15 February 1989, B1-B2, reprinted in Dunn, New World History, 104-106.

10 Gilbert Allardyce, "Toward World History: American History and the Coming of the World History Course," in Journal of World History 1 (1990), 23-76, here: 64f.

11 See Robert B. Townsend, "History Majors and Enrollments Rose Sharply between 1998 and 2001," Perspectives (February 2003), online version (2 February 2005), Figure 3; idem., "Latest Figures Show Sizable Increases in History Majors and Bachelor's Degrees," Perspectives (April 2004), online version (2 February 2005), Figure 4. Data on world history courses at high school can be found in the essay by Bain/Shreiner in this issue.

12 Michael F. Doyle, "'Hisperanto': Western Civilization in the Global Curriculum," Perspectives (May 1998) (online version; Edmund Burke III and Ross E. Dunn, "Western Civ in the Global Curriculum: A Response," Perspectives (October 1998) (online version

13 Robert B. Townsend, "Job Market Report 2004," Perspectives (January 2005) (online version, Table 1. See also Patrick Manning, Navigating World History. Historians Create a Global Past (New York, 2003).

14 Patrick Manning, "Concepts and Institutions for World History: The Next Ten Years," in World History Connected (, 02 February 2005), 14. Manning indicates that the numbers might not be correct since other universities are reluctant to identify world history as the major field.

15 Manning, "Concepts," 16.

16 On the tradition of world history within German historiography see Eckhardt Fuchs, "Reshaping the World: Historiography from a Universal Perspective," in Larry E. Jones (ed.), Crossing Boundaries. The Exclusion and inclusion of Minorities in Germany and America (New York and Oxford, 2001), 243-263.

17 Allardyce, Rise, 696.

18 Jerry Bentley, "Myths, Wagers, and some Moral Implications of World History," Journal of World History 16:1 (2005) , 51-82. See also Jerry H. Bentley, "World History and Grand Narrative," in: Stuchtey and Fuchs, Writing World History, 47-65.

19 Arif Dirlik, "Performing the World: Reality and Representation in the Making of World Histor(ies)," Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 37 (Fall 2005): 9-26.

20 See for the controversial reviews on this book H-World


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