From the start, [this unit] evokes a ‘west and the rest’ mentality and approach to world history. It also places significant emphasis on the history of the United States, which although is never truly categorized as an empire, tends to receive more attention in the textbook than other colonized areas.
The period covered by Unit 5 of Joyce Appleby’s The American Vision textbook goes from 1890 to 1920, an era characterized by conflicts large and small, and varying ideas of what it meant to be ‘modern.’ The narratives presented here run very closely to those in a college-level survey, with numerous useful primary sources for students to examine. However, both of the unit’s major themes – imperialism and progressivism – come across as inevitable forces in history.
In a sense, I knew what I was getting into. I entered well-aware of the institutional, systemic norms that have precluded Black women from doing this work and creating knowledge that seeks to disrupt many of the corrupt, perverse, misguided myths about who we are and what we have done. My awareness, though, has not made my short journey less arduous.
In an interpretive sense, the authors maintain an admirable focus on the history of technological innovation and its environmental impact, and include substantive discussions of economic principles and theories; their willingness to discuss the influence of Communism and Socialism on American history is particularly impressive.
Filling four hundred years of East and Southeast Asian history in a 25-page long chapter is like fitting Alice in the rabbit hole. A taste of Asia can be grasped by following Spielvogel’s description of how China’s last two dynasties flourished and languished, how Japan was unified and ruled under a feudal system, what economic changes took place in East and Southeast Asia through encountering Europeans, as well as the most famous artistic and cultural achievements to be enjoyed should the reader live in Ming-Qing China or Tokugawa Japan.
The unit maintains the standard politico-centric narrative traditional to the Civil War era. Published in 2010, this narrative arc ignores or underemphasizes intriguing historiographic contributions exploring such issues as social changes on the home front, the divided nature of Southern society, and the significance of guerrilla warfare, especially along the border between North and South.