The Scholarship of
World History for Us All has a double research base: the
most recent scholarship in world history and the cognitive
issues of how children learn history. This essay reviews
briefly the scholarly field of world history and its application
to teaching. A bibliography for further reading is also included.
Approaches to the Past
In the past century and a half, historians have adopted exacting
standards of research and inquiry. The laying down of professional
rules for gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence
has benefited world history as a modern field of scholarship.
This commitment to rules of evidence separates the “new
world history” from the older tradition of “universal
history” associated, for example, with Arnold Toynbee.
Universal history closely joined the study of the human past
to religion and philosophy, specifically the search for general
historical laws or patterns that might reveal the total meaning
and direction of the human venture, past and future. Heavily
burdened with what we now see as questionable theories of
knowledge, universal history no longer has many advocates.
William H. McNeill made a key contribution in 1963, when
he published The Rise of the West: A History of the Human
Community. McNeill was influenced by Toynbee, but his sweeping
narrative rested on solid professional methods.
The scope of historical research has expanded over the past
century from political, diplomatic, intellectual, and institutional
history to embrace many new approaches. These include social,
cultural, gender, and environmental history. This broadening
of the historical discipline is a reflection of the entry
of many more women, minorities, and people of working-class
background into the academic professions. It also reflects
new trends in society, notably the increasing immigration
into the United States of people from Latin America, Asia,
and Africa. These trends have reshaped the ways in which
we see and understand the past. They have led the historical
profession to accept the idea that the whole world and all
its peoples, not just Europeans, Americans, and male governing
groups, should be open to historical inquiry.
Sweeping changes in the discipline of history have also
included an expansion of the range of appropriate scales
of research—scales of both time and space. Until quite
recently, nations have been the primary frame in which most
histories were written. But the end of colonialism and awareness
of the growing economic and cultural interconnectedness of
peoples have set off a kind of intellectual Copernican revolution
in the way we think about the world. That is, historians
have begun to imagine geographical frames beyond the nation-state
and the civilization. Specifically, they have been exploring
the modern and pre-modern histories of Africa, Asia, Native
America, and Oceania, which were previously neglected. Efforts
to “re-vision” the world as a space in which
humans interact and intercommunicate have led us toward the
necessity of devising larger geographical frames—what
we call in the History, Geography, and Time section of this curriculum “Big
Geography.” This is the idea that the world as a spherical
whole, and not just particular land masses or regions, has
a geographical personality with which students should be
familiar. The setting of world history is ultimately the
earth and not just parts of it viewed one after another.
The dismantling in the 1960s and 1970s of the European,
American, and Japanese colonial empires, together with the
inescapable fact of globalization, have led to an expansion
in the temporal scale in which history is written. In place
of older historical narratives that placed Europe at the
center, and viewed it as the motor of world history, scholars
have begun to rethink Europe’s “moment” of
political dominance. A world historical perspective can enrich
our understanding of how we humans have been mixed up in
one another’s lives for a very long time, and it points
to the fundamental unity of humankind.
More generally, trends in the natural sciences have dramatically
reinforced the expansion of time scales. As cosmology, geology,
evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and genetics
have concerned themselves more and more with explaining past
developments, it has become possible to link human history
to the history of the universe as a whole. This perspective
is embedded in David Christian’s book, Maps of Time:
An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2004). Christian calls this perspective “Big
History.” He argues that only the history of the universe
can provide the appropriate frame within which to understand
the human past.
A Big History perspective can help us to think outside of
the usual chronological box in which humankind’s story
has been told. For example, it prompts a reevaluation of
the paleolithic period (what used to be called the “stone
age”). From a Big History perspective the fact that
95 per cent of human history occurred prior to the rise of
civilization prompts the questions: why did humans start
to plant crops, domesticate animals, and build cities when
they got along fine without these things for hundreds of
thousands of years? Why did an industrial revolution occur
less than 300 years ago? Why did world population start to
rocket upward at about the same time?
The New World History
World History for Us All draws upon research in comparative,
cross-cultural, and world-scale history since the 1960s.
World historians have had an important role in encouraging
teachers and students to examine important topics from a
wider angle. The study of trade in the pre-1500 world, for
example, has opened a window into the ways in which the societies
of Afroeurasia were linked together via the silk road, the
spice trade of the Indian Ocean, and the trans-Saharan gold
routes. Many books have been written in recent decades to
provide teachers and students with ways of tracing the links
between cultures and civilizations across Eurasia. These
include Jerry Bentley’s Old World Encounters; Philip
D. Curtin’s, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History;
and Ross E. Dunn’s The Adventures of Ibn Battuta. For
the trans-Saharan trade, Ralph A. Austen’s, Trans-Saharan Africa in World History, .
Further Reading about the New World History
Abu-Lughod, Janet. Before European Hegemony: The World System
A. D. 1250-1350. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.
Bayly, C. A. The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.
Bentley, Jerry. Old World Encounters: Cross-cultural Contacts
and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.
Bentley, Jerry H., ed. The Oxford Handbook of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Burbank, Jane, and Frederick Cooper. Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Burke, Edmund, and Kenneth Pomeranz, eds. The Environment and
World History, 1750-2000. Berkeley: University of California
Christian, David. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
---. Origin Story: A Big History of Everything.
New York: Little Brown, 2018.
---. This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing, 2018.
Conrad, Sebastian. What Is Global History?
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
Crosby, Alfred W. The Colombian Exchange: Biological and
Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport: Praeger, 2003.
---. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of
Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.
Curtin, Philip D. Cross-Cultural Trade in World History.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton,
Dunn, Ross E. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
Dunn, Ross E., Laura J. Mitchell, and Kerry Ward. The New World History: A Teacher’s Companion.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.
Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. New York: Harper, 2015.
Hodgson, Marshall G. S. Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History. Edited, with an Introduction and Conclusion by Edmund Burke, III. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Hughes-Warrington, Marnie, ed. Palgrave Advances in World Histories. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Lewis, Martin W. and Kären E. Wigen. The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Manning, Patrick ed. Global Practice in Word History: Advances Worldwide. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2008.
Manning, Patrick. Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global
Past. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Marks, Robert B. The Origins of the Modern World Economy. 4th ed. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2019.
McNeill, J. R. Something New under the Sun: An Environmental
History of the Twentieth-Century World. New York: Norton,
McNeill, J. R. and William H. McNeill. The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.
Northrop, Douglas, ed. A Companion to World History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Pomeranz, Kenneth. The Great Divergence: China, Europe and
the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton: Princeton
Richards, John F. The Unending Frontier: An Environmental
History of the Early Modern World. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2003.
Sachsenmaier, Dominic. Global Perspectives on Global History: Theories and Approaches in a Connected World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Spier, Fred. Big History and the Future of Humanity. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. A Concise History of the World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
---. Gender in History: Global Perspectives. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Further Reading about Teaching World History
Bain, Robert B. "Challenges of Teaching and Learning World History." A Companion to World History. Edited by Northrop, Douglas, 111-127. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Burke, Edmund III, David Christian, and Ross E. Dunn. World History: The Big Eras: A Compact History of Humankind for Teachers and Students. Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los Angeles, 2012.
Burton, Antoinette. A Primer for Teaching World History. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2011.
Cajani, Luigi, Simone Lässig, and Maria Repoussi, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Conflict and History Education in the Post-Cold War Era. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.
Dunn, Ross E. "The Two World Histories." Social Education 72 (Sept. 2008): 257-263.
Dunn, Ross E. and David Vigilante, eds. Bring History Alive: A Sourcebook for Teaching World History. Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los Angeles, 1996.
Getz, Trevor. "Teaching World History at the College Level." A Companion to World History. Edited by Northrop, Douglas, 128-139. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Nash, Gary B., Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn. History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.
"The New World History: How Can We Bring Our Students’ World into the Classroom?" Social Studies Review 49, 1 (Spring/Summer 2010).
Roupp, Heidi, ed. Teaching World History in the Twenty-first Century: A Resource Book. New York: Routledge, 2010.
"Teaching World History." The Source: A Quarterly Publication of The California History-Social Science Project (Fall 2014).
Stearns, Peter. World History: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Stearns, Peter N., Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg, eds. Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History: National and International Perspectives. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
World History for Us All, National Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los Angeles, https://whfua.history.ucla.edu.