A Primer for Teaching World History: Ten Design Principles


A Primer for Teaching World History is a guide for college and high school teachers who are designing an introductory-level world history syllabus for the first time, for those who already teach world history and are seeking new ideas or approaches, and for those who train future teachers to prepare any history course with a global or transnational focus. Drawing on her own classroom practices, as well as her career as a historian, Antoinette Burton offers a set of principles to help instructors think about how ...
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A Primer for Teaching World History is a guide for college and high school teachers who are designing an introductory-level world history syllabus for the first time, for those who already teach world history and are seeking new ideas or approaches, and for those who train future teachers to prepare any history course with a global or transnational focus. Drawing on her own classroom practices, as well as her career as a historian, Antoinette Burton offers a set of principles to help instructors think about how to design their courses with specific goals in mind, whatever those may be. She encourages teachers to envision the world history syllabus as having an architecture: a fundamental, underlying structure or interpretive focus that runs throughout the course, shaping students' experiences, offering pathways in and out of "the global," and reflecting the teacher's convictions about the world and the work of history.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Antoinette Burton has done everyone who teaches world history a great service: she shows how the most significant new work by scholars can be incorporated in ways that make world history more exciting, satisfying, and successful at introducing students to historical thinking and writing. No one who teaches this survey will remain untouched by what she has to say."—Lynn Hunt, Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History, University of California, Los Angeles

"Antoinette Burton's concise but meaty book provides essential advice for the many new and experienced instructors faced with the daunting challenge of teaching world history in what are often ever-larger classes. Its emphasis on creating a course around certain design principles is both welcome and timely, allowing instructors to develop a course that is both meaningful and manageable."—Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

<I>World History Connected</I> - Jeremy Greene

“What emerges from the work is a portrait of a reflective historian. Burton has created her own course, built on her own specialties in the British Empire and the body. She is thus a knowledgeable and opinionated guide…Therefore, it is a work that should be read and discussed by all serious practitioners.”
The History Teacher - Dean T. Ferguson

“Burton offers guidance for both the area specialist hired to teach a class for which they lack specific training, and the secondary teacher, who, even with an assigned textbook, must choose what shape their course will have…. There is plenty here to engage the experienced classroom teacher…. [T]eachers at every level will find most useful Burton’s description of the many strategies and teaching techniques which she has used successfully.”
International Bulletin of Missionary Research - Scott W. Sunquist

“For those writing, teaching, or reading about global Christian history, there is much of value in Burton's volume, and yet it is not just about Christianity. She raises significant issues of meaning, value, and connection…without concluding what must or should be taught. She opens a number of doors for global historical scholarship, but each writer and teacher must decide which ones to enter, and to what purpose.”
European Review of History - Dario Miccoli

“This book is recommended reading for all teachers and PhD students who want to know more about world history and are looking for practical suggestions on how to design and organise their syllabus.”
History: Reviews of New Books - Jonathan E. Robbins

“Burton’s examples of syllabus design and teaching strategies are… imaginative and lively… and they break away from the textbook world history model that often feels like a history of the West and the rest…. Burton’s book will resonate most with those teachers who have learned from experience how much they can—and must—‘dare to omit’ in their pursuit of effective, skills-based teaching.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822351887
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 12/31/2011
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 699,287
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Antoinette Burton is Professor of History and Catherine C. and Bruce A. Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has written and edited many books, including Empire in Question: Reading, Writing, and Teaching British Imperialism; The Postcolonial Careers of Santha Rama Rau; Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History; and After the Imperial Turn: Thinking with and through the Nation, all also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt


Ten Design Principles
By Antoinette Burton


Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5188-7

Chapter One



DECIDING WHICH SLICE or slices of time to cover in a world history course is one of the most daunting hurdles for someone designing an introductory-level syllabus under that rubric. Ideally your syllabus should bracket off a targeted period with specific dates (for example, 1450–1900 or 800–1492), but it can also identify a beginning point, with the promise of ending in the contemporary moment, a moment broadly or narrowly conceived (for example, 1350–present or 1850–2012). Either way, your chronological markers should do more than delimit decades or swaths of time. Nor should they simply sit in the second half of your course title, the results of a quick decision or the products of available textbooks and source readers. They should serve as orientation devices, allowing students to follow a temporal blueprint that you have designed out of a commitment to tracking specific timeframes, whether epic or quotidian. And chronological markers should act as recurrent pedagogical reference points as the course unfolds, drawing students' attention back to the specific moment in time for all events, ideas, movements, politics, economic developments, and encounters you would have students engage. The dates you choose should, in other words, underscore on a regular basis the temporal contingencies of the histories you are generating—contingencies that mark the global past as much as they do any other history. Chronological markers are foundational, in short, to the architecture of your syllabus. As such, they announce the chronological dimensions of your argument about the scope and scale of world history and provide an opening for sharing your choices and your focus with students.

If you are free to choose your start and end dates, making that choice may seem daunting or vexing. But taking the leap and imposing a temporal frame on the global landscapes that your course animates—thinking about beginning and ending dates—actually takes you to the heart of debates about the when, the where, and the how of world history. In curricula taught in the United States, an obvious point of departure might be 1500—in part because this enables teachers to stage "New World" conquest as a monumental event. That break aligns with older models of medieval, early modern, and modern divisions. Such models can be Eurocentric, but they need not be: "c. 1500" can be a useful pivot point for capturing the simultaneity of the Mughals, the late Ming and the Qing, and (more of a stretch) the Tokugawa era, simultaneous with each other and with the so-called age of discovery. If you are set on a civilizational approach, sometime around 1500 might well suit you. This is especially true if you are willing to view the starting date as somewhat flexible. There's no reason, for example, not to call your course World History from 1500 to the Present, but do an opening session or two on why you chose 1500 as your point of departure and what the world looked like at 1500. One tack is to provide students with a short (or long) genealogy of that moment. Such an exercise might involve using Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas (1492) as a critical antecedent. The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) might work just as well; so, for that matter, might a focus on Tenochtitlan in the thirteenth century, two centuries before Cortés. If you want the emphasis on temporality to come full circle, you can talk about how excavations near the city site of Tenochtitlan in the 1970s uncovered the Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun), initially believed to be an Aztec calendar. Discussion of the stone's actual function (as an archive of Aztec cosmology) would return you to the history of time measurement before 1500, beyond the West, at the heart of a sophisticated and powerful civilization. In some classrooms, the Piedra del Sol might be mobilized as evidence of "the time of the Other." In other syllabi, it might spark a conversation about contemporary museum display and the reliance of global tourism on the "ruins" of the past. Or a conversation might begin about the sense of difference between us and them that tourism tends to produce.

Before you put your stake in the ground at any particular place, you might want to consider other possibilities for the parameters of your world history syllabus. Work by scholars like Janet Abu-Lughod and Andre Gunder Frank, for example, suggests that there is good reason to push the start date back a few hundred years before 1500, in order to get outside the New World-Old World dyad and to think about the premodern world as multiaxial—to think about it more precisely as global, rather than as operating from the presumption that the modern and the global are necessarily synonymous or in lockstep. Here the example of Afro-Eurasia—a hyphenated name that scholars like Gunder Frank have suggested captures the intercontinental world of trade and exchange that characterized the fourteenth century and the fifteenth—works well as a spatial device because it dramatizes a very specific moment in "global" time when these regions were interlocked, if not also mutually constitutive. Although this may sound self-evident, students need examples big and small to help them appreciate why such regional formations are contingent on a specific timeframe. Afro-Eurasia is a good example, in part because it was not transhistorical: it animated worldly processes and was animated by them at a specific conjuncture. It models, as well, one form that the global took in world history before modern times. As an example of premodern globality, Afro-Eurasia is priceless because it puts paid to the notion that contemporary manifestations of globalization are new in historical terms. Tuning out the mantra of the newness of globalization is hard enough for scholars of all stripes to do; a world history course that is conscious, even hyperconscious, of the uneven, unpredictable time of global histories has the potential to equip students with evidence that challenges the presumptive equations we often hear in the media and even in other disciplines. What's more, inviting students to see different historical forms of global processes or interactions challenges the assumption that globalization is above or outside history. It can also reveal how, when, and under what conditions the global is fitful or incomplete, which may in turn lead to a more critical appreciation of the inevitability, or not, of today's global systems.

There are several ways to drive home these points about early examples of what might be termed global or globalizing forces, trends, and phenomena. One is to challenge the putative insularity of Europe before Columbus, not simply by rehearsing examples of trade and encounter but by mapping the inflow and outflow of goods and travelers across multiple borders in ways that illuminate what a premodern world system looked like. I like to use the Champagne fairs, which were vibrant, global marketplaces in action, bringing silk from faraway China, leather from neighboring Italy, and a system of credit and debit that linked the emergence of global capitalism to the rhythms of the liturgical calendar. Not only that, the profits from the fairs lined the coffers of all kinds of people, middling to noble. In my course, I linger on the figure of Blanche of Navarre, countess of Champagne, whose fair income went to building almshouses for the poor and to financing the Crusades. If they had a visual image of Christendom, her "locals" may have understood that a place like the Levant was in their spiritual and even commercial orbit. Navarre's patronage of "locals" might have helped to make concrete their sense of themselves as part of complex of systems beyond their immediate ken: they would have had visible proof of the impact of international credit in their midst—and of the link between their market and the defense of Christendom writ large, as well. Such entanglements are evidence of the continual traffic between "East" and "West" and the challenges of holding fast to those geographical distinctions. And as a late medieval phenomenon whose global outcroppings and returns can be seen and felt well beyond their specific or even extended moment in time, the Champagne fairs delimit a very specific circuitry that may be differently global than, say, Walmart, but which nonetheless offers an early model of a global form that students may have imagined originated much closer to their own lifetimes.

Another tack for starting the time of the global before "modernity" is to move beyond the shores of Europe altogether. Here the maritime empire of China is especially powerful, not least because it dramatizes the precariousness of claims about the centrality of Europe to early world systems. Historians have argued that "Asia" was itself a world system—with strong regional economies, extension into Southeast Asia, and links to European empires and the Americas though silver and crops like maize. An effective way of conveying the scope and reach of China in the premodern world economy is via the figure of Zheng He (1371–1435), a navigator of the period who is a common staple of primary-source books because of his many long-distance voyages and their capacity, in turn, to map a web of Sino-centered systems. That he anticipated Columbus and was, broadly speaking, a contemporary of Marco Polo means that Zheng He can function as a pivotal figure in a syllabus that seeks to complicate conventional chronologies—a syllabus that tries to explicate those chronologies through familiar and unfamiliar individuals. If we were to take the arguments about the Sinocentrism of this period seriously, we might shape an entire world history syllabus that put Asia at the center of the course, using either a 1500–present designation or a completely different set of markers that speak more purposefully to that orientation.

Even allowing for the possibility that some readers of this primer may have been trained in East Asian history, it's possible that some, if not many, of you would feel unequipped to conduct a world history course from the vantage point of China; such a maneuver may be beyond your training or otherwise beyond your scope. You might feel more ready to think about making China "central" by following the mobility of Chinese laborers and merchants across world systems: a kind of moving-subject approach that allows you to wend your way across all kinds of temporal and spatial divides and track China's longstanding global impacts in the process. And yet, even if you go with a conventional periodization, making note at the end of a Columbus lecture, for example, that such earlier histories exist, and throw the significance of Columbus's much-heralded discovery into bold relief, this already opens up alternate temporal pathways. Indeed, even as a passing reference, such a remark or set of allusions makes clear the stake in the ground you have made, a stake that forecloses other timeframes and vantage points in the past. For students in the United States especially, this is a way of asking them to account for the timeframes they take for granted, those that never occurred to them, and those around which your account of world history is organized. U.S.–based students can also profitably be encouraged to account for why they take certain timeframes for granted. That "why" includes the limits of your own training and current knowledge, of course. It draws a bright line between "beginnings" and spatial orientation, reminding both you and your students that when you start shapes where you start, and vice versa. And in the best possible world, it acts as a bookmark for you, flagging future reading and the possibility that the next time you do the course you will give more space to what is currently outside your chosen temporal frame or current historiographical knowledge base. For the purposes of thinking Sinocentrism comparatively, one citation might be Suraiya Faroqhi's The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It, which makes the case for the world-system character of the sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century Ottoman worlds.

There are, needless to say, a variety of more dramatic ways to take different temporalities seriously. Working expressly from an economic model, rather than from a political or cultural model, is deracinating in the best sense, because it marks time through commerce and trade, potentially making "weights, measures, value, means of payment and contracts" your units of analysis—and dramatizing how their meanings and functions have fluctuated over time. In keeping with this emphasis on the economic, silver is the best friend a world history teacher can have: China's move from paper and copper currency to silver in the fifteenth century was the fiscal equivalent of the shot heard round the world, drawing multiple polities into a world economy for the next two centuries at least. Beyond silver per se, and as Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik have shown, centering economic histories allows you to foreground market conventions, transportation networks, and the "economics of violence" as genuinely global processes that both mimic conventional chronologies and cut across them. Especially if your focus is "first globalizations," this allows you to explore moments in time when something "other than commodity exchange might, in fact, have comprised (and in the future, might again comprise) 'the normal functioning of the market.'" The view from "economic time" is disorienting and reorienting at once.

Cutting loose from civilizational models and working through units defined by shared belief systems (Christendom), economic processes (the Silk Road), or littorals (like those across the Indian Ocean world) is another way to go. This kind of regional or transregional approach can structure the whole course or can be used at strategic moments to complicate a familiar and fairly linear narrative. I am thinking here of how some scholars have used the framework of the Atlantic world to give new dimensions to the "triangular" slave trade, and vice versa. Centering environmental or climatological histories has the potential for creating whole new chronologies organized around tectonic shifts, zoological transformations, and epidemiological upheavals. The "global intensification of land use" alone could serve as the basis for a sweeping yet grounded global history. Similarly, a world history course that takes oceans and oceanic regions as its basis could capture the global from a whole new set of angles, and might work from the premise that eons of time are the best units of analysis, rather than comparatively shorter intervals—or it could make 1450–1950 look like a short interval, comparatively speaking. Indeed, cutting across big scales of time to see both shared characteristics of polity, economy, and process and to evaluate what a compressed view of time (one century, two) might do to our claims about change or stasis is one way to approach your study of the world. What difference does it make to our understandings of the global to note, for example, that carbon consumption and emission grew exponentially in the comparatively short time span of the industrial revolution and its aftermath? And what difference does it make that such patterns were uneven globally as "the North" and "the West" extracted resources from "the South" and "the East," even as demographics show tremendous migration flows along those same pathways? Slicing the world map with wide swaths of time allows big trends to emerge, offering a planetary view that diminishes human history—by placing it in environmental context—in ways that are worthy of long and compelling discussion.

This is the kind of argument put forward by David Christian in his book Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, in which time is measured in millennia and world zones emerge in the context if epic cycles. There are a number of advantages to this kind of approach. As I have suggested, it has the capacity to center the environment, both terrestrial and celestial, and to contextualize, even provincialize, human history in relationship to it. Such an approach doesn't presuppose civilizations or nation-states or empires as the foundational units of either historical experience or historical analysis; and because it privileges "thinking the world" in the broadest terms possible, it has the capacity to cultivate connections between facts and "broader patterns and generalizations"—skills we all want students to have. So committed are Christian and others to this "big era" method, they have modeled it out as a total curricular project via UCLA's National Center for History in the Schools under the title "A Compact History of Humankind for Teachers and Students."


Excerpted from A PRIMER FOR TEACHING WORLD HISTORY by Antoinette Burton Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

How to Make Use of This Book|xi

Introduction Why Design? Thinking through World History 101 1

Part I Laying Foundations 11

1 Timing: When to Start 13

2 Centering Connectivity 25

3 How to Do More than "Include Women" 37

4 World History from Below 49

Part II Devising Strategies 61

5 The Event as a Teaching Tool 63

6 Genealogy as a Teaching Tool 73

7 Empire as a Teaching Tool 83

Part III Teaching Technologies 93

8 Teaching "Digital Natives" 95

9 Global Archive Stories 107

10 Testing (for) the Global 117

Epilogue Never Done 127

Notes 131

Select Bibliography 141

Index 149

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