Writing a comprehensive global history of the post-1945 world is a daunting task. Unit 5 “Toward a Global Civilization” of Jackson Spielvogel’s textbook World History: Modern Times grapples with this difficult assignment through five chapters, yet without much success.
One of the main problems with Spielvogel’s World History: Modern Times is a lack of balance. Unit four of the textbook focuses on the 31-year period from 1914-1945. Within this densely-packed unit, three of the four chapters focus primarily on Europe. The rest of the world, including the United States (surprisingly) is discussed briefly, if at all.
Education is political. Most educators stray away from that idea, but it is. In the curriculum and in the choices we make about what to teach and how to teach it, education is political. And, for the most part, our country’s curriculum is white.
The American Vision falls short of many important historiographical trends. Political history, or more accurately Presidential history, is important for students to learn—our democratic government operates (or is at least supposed to) on a legalistic basis. But history is a discipline that at its best seeks to understand the human experience. It studies human beings doing things. A more comprehensive textbook would necessitate more space be given to history “from the bottom up.”
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.