Burton, Antoinette. A Primer for Teaching World History.

Author:Presbey, Gail M.
Position:Book review
 
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Burton, Antoinette. A Primer for Teaching World History. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

While many historians have claimed to teach World History, often they focused on just parts of the world and just as often their presentation was Eurocentric. The World History movement is more recent, and while many of its seminal texts were written in the 1970s and 1980s, it came into its own as a self-conscious project of teaching history (in a way that is global in scope, but avoiding Eurocentrism) in the 1990s. Still, there is a need for a book that guides teachers in the concept of World History as well as the strategy of how to make a course all-encompassing in a way that is not merely additive, and in a way that will fit in the usual time constraints of a semester. Antoinette Burton's book is particularly helpful to teachers who must design such a course. Her emphasis on choosing a theme that unifies (and narrows) coverage of the world's different regions, while also creating course assignments that develop students' skills, is particularly helpful to teachers at both college and high school levels faced with the otherwise daunting and overwhelming task of fairly and adequately covering the history of the entire world.

As Burton describes how to teach world history she describes the field at the same time. History courses should avoid "the West and the rest" historical surveys (p. 53). The standard comparison of civilizations, however, should not be ruled out entirely, but it should ideally give way to more complex and innovative approaches. Burton suggests that a world history course should begin before 1500 and study the "first globalizations" because the pre-modern world was "multiaxial," and it is important for students to realize that so that they do not think that "globalization" or "connections" between various parts of the world is a recent development (p. 19). Zeng He should be as well-known as Columbus and Marco Polo (p. 17). The Ottoman Empire, the Silk Road, and the various slave trades show regional interaction and interdependence. Burton cautions that one should not always presume that the "local" is rural or somewhere other than the United States, or that it is inevitably going to be superseded by the global (p. 55). Sometimes the "global" is beyond the United States, for example, with international migration such as Hajj travelers (pp. 56-7). Burton even challenges teachers to teach an entire course from the perspective...

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