Burton, Antoinette. A Primer for Teaching World History: Ten Design Principles. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2012. xiii + 154 pp.
Antoinette Burton's A Primer for Teaching World History: Ten Design Principles is focused on improving the design of world history teaching, specifically the college world history syllabus. What follows will be a positive review, but first the major criticism. For a work focused on strategies to build a better syllabus, it contains no syllabus: "I have fallen short of my entire History 100 syllabus" (119). This should have been a fatal flaw, but the strengths of the work make up for this odd omission. And now the minor criticisms: Burton also does not provide the reader lecture outlines or class outlines although much of the text is centered around discussions of these topics! So what has she given us that makes up for this? A second guide, and first for the college survey, on how-to teach the new world history course.1
The Primer is broken into three sections – Laying Foundations, Devising Strategies, and Teaching Technologies. The second and third sections build on the foundations section. Although one can pick up the book anywhere and dip your toe in by reading a few pages or a chapter, the work does benefit from a start to finish reading with frequent flips forward and back. The book is self-referenced; for example: "(see chapter 7, Empire as a Teaching Tool)." This helps, but not as much as page numbers.
In the first section,
"Laying Foundations," Burton argues that four things should be part of every
survey class. She begins with a recommendation for a thorough discussion of
periodization. This chapter shows how the seminal years of 1492 or 1500
should be expanded beyond a lecture of Columbus and its impact to include
snapshots from around the world, a more global view. Burton also explains
why she starts with 1300 instead of the more conventional 1500.
"Connectivity," the second foundation, shows that there is no center and no
dichotomy of east versus west for most of history, rather there is reciprocity
between the local and the global. In chapter 3, Burton makes a strong
case for including women, gender and sexuality, and one of her specialties
– the use of the body into the survey (Burton was co-editor with Tony
Ballantyne of Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World
History). Burton correctly states that no textbook does enough in
this regard; it is up to the teacher to fill this void. The last
principle for Burton is world history from below. This chapter focuses on
bringing the often vague "bottom" to flesh and blood life through the use of
autobiography such as using Tra Ba Bunh's Red Earth: A Vietnamese Life on a
Colonial Rubber Plantation to show "the ways workers shape the global flow
of goods and the world economic system"(56).
Burton's text, unsurprisingly, will be found most useful by professors in Burton's exact situation—professors in charge of leading large survey classes who can adopt her practices as well as select from a buffet of content. It will also be useful to history departments that teach the second half of the survey. Individuals would benefit, to be sure, from a close reading, but departments even more so, especially if combined with a works such as Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do and Ross Dunn's The New World History: A Teacher's Companion to create a discussion around how their department can "catalyze critical thinking about what kind of world histories we want to think with, learn from, and recreate as we go" (9). High school teachers should not ignore the work either, but will have to do more heavy lifting than college professors to extract appropriate lesson plans. Therefore, it is a work that should be read and discussed by all serious practitioners.
Jeremy Greene teaches freshmen world history and WHAP at Chelmsford High School, Chelmsford, MA, where he is also the International Relations advisor. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 The first guide to my knowledge was created by three members of the Loomis Chafee High School history department. Robert Andrian, Lou Ratte, and Mark Williams, Exploring World History: Ideas for Teachers (Portsmouth, NH: Heineman, 2001).
2 For my own benefit I created an Amazon Listmania for the Primer here: http://www.amazon.com/lm/R3ESF3AHTHX28A/ref=cm_pdp_lm_title_1.
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