Stories of the Century: World History from 1900 to 2000 – GARDNER et al (CSS)

GARDNER, Robert; PARSONS, Jim; ZWICKY, Lynn. Stories of the Century: World History from 1900 to 2000. Edmonton AB: Duval House Publishing, 2003. 256p. Resenha de: HORTON, Todd. Canadian Social Studies, v.41, n.1, p., 2008.

According to the Duval House website, this textbook was written as a comprehensive history to fit the Alberta Social Studies 33 Global Interaction: The 20th Century and Today curriculum. Stories of the Century: World History from 1900 to 2000 does indeed cover the customary highlights expected of most 20th century social studies and history courses taught in Canadian schools, but it is not as comprehensive as it could be.

Authors Gardner, Parsons and Zwicky chose an interesting array of photographs to include on the cover of the book. A few are of people who have had an extraordinary impact on the 20th century N elson Mandela, Lester B. Pearson at the United Nations, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and Mahatma Ghandi in India. However most of the photographs are of ordinary people facing the challenges of their lives a group of aboriginal children playing orchestral instruments, soldiers in a World War I trench, a Vietnamese mother carrying a child on her back against the backdrop of a military tank, a crowd marching in support of Vicente Fox in Mexico and a weary Chilean woman with the picture of her missing son hanging from her neck. The juxtaposition of ordinary and extraordinary people illustrates how macro and micro events intertwine, each impacting the other. This is most clearly evident in the large cover photograph of a young man, probably from the former Soviet Union, holding a placard of Vladimir Lenin with an X through the image while a massive billboard of Lenin stands behind him. Lenins rise to prominence was one of the macro events that transpired during the early 20th century but this mans protest of his legacy is occurring on the street, at the micro event level, perhaps helping to precipitate the fall of the Soviet Union in the waning years of the century. Students historical understanding would benefit greatly from an examination of this combination of photographs.

Early in the textbook the authors attempt to establish the perspectives from which they have written this history. The first perspective is chronological. Though historians may quibble about when the century actually began and ended (see the discussion of Lukacks, Hobsbawms and Fukuyamas views on page 3), it is difficult to imagine a history textbook written for the school system completely ignoring chronology. The western understanding of linear time is simply too powerful in reader and publisher expectation.

The book is chaptered as follows: 1) 1900 to 1914 The World at the Turn of the Century, 2) 1914 to 1918 World War I, 3) 1919 to1929 Modern Attitudes, 4) 1929 to 1939 The Great Depression and the Road to War, 5) 1939 to1945 World War II, 6)1945 to 1950 The Postwar Agreements and the Beginning of the Cold War, 7) 1950 to 1960 The Cold War Heats Up, 8) 1960 to 1975 To the Brink of Nuclear War and Back, 9) 1975 to 1985 The New Arms Race, 10) 1985 to 1991 The End of the Cold War and the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 11) 1991 to 2000 After the Cold War, 12) After 2000 Old Stories and New Stories in the 21st Century.

There is nothing wrong with a chronological format to a textbook, and some educators might argue that it is imperative for students growing understanding of history. However, a textbook needs to be more that a march through time. Piling names and dates one on top of the other does not, in and of itself, help students develop complex historical understanding, or engage students in a way that captures their imagination. Thankfully, the authors have included other angles to assist and interest students.

The other angles are evident in the second and third perspectives used in writing the textbook. The second perspective noted is a focus on the interaction among the powerful nations of the world (4) because this interaction provides the main themes that shaped the lives of people all over the world. This is a clear articulation of the fact that this textbook will not be comprehensive to the extent that all histories will be included. It limits what will be addressed, a necessary aspect of any written product, while highlighting a concept of enormous complexity, importance and interest power. I was prepared to accept this limited focus at face value and settle in for an exploration of the military battles, social movements and ideological standoffs suggested in the chapter titles. However, the authors seemed to want to have it all ways by introducing a third and final perspective.

The third perspective includes stories from other regions of the world which may or may not have been profoundly impacted by the interactions of the powerful nations, but because were a nation of people from other regions a multicultural country that needs a multihistorical understanding of the past (4) this was deemed prudent. There is nothing inherently wrong with writing a textbook from this perspective but it does set the authors up for criticism when a regional history deemed to be significant by a particular segment of the Canadian population is overlooked. As well, including stories from other regions of the world should go beyond their service to our cultural diversity or understanding of the present. Sometimes teachers simply want to illustrate a variety of ways of being in the world, different approaches to understanding family, school, work, leisure, friendship, conflict, and even power. In this sense, including a story of Australian aborigines or Tibetan monks may be for no other reason but to expose students to the multiplicity of possibilities that are part of our global experience. Still, the authors must be commended for attempting to explain their perspectives and establishing foci that are both interesting and important for students.

Gardner, Parsons and Zwicky wisely included a page outlining How to Use This Book (IV). It explains that each chapter is divided into two sections: a main section and a newspaper section. The main sections incorporate: a) focus questions at the beginning of each chapter, b) a chronological presentation of key events, c) terms in bold that appear in the glossary, d) feature columns that expand on important ideas, e) timelines and charts that summarize key information, f) photographs, cartoons, diagrams, and maps, g) notes about culture, science and technology, h) review questions at the end of each chapter, and i) a glossary at the back of the book to define key terms.

I had no difficulty with any parts of the main sections as they were well formatted, thoughtfully integrated into the chapter and no one part was over or under used. Indeed, I was particularly impressed with the review questions at the end of each chapter. While some questions such as what event triggered World War I, and where did it occur? (34), are of the knowledge variety, many ushered students into the upper levels of Blooms Taxonomy, encouraging application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. An example of this is the following question: Imagine that everyone in the world had enough food and money, no matter who they were and what they did. Would this be a good thing? Jot down a list of problems this would solve and a list of problems this would create. In one or two sentences, state your opinion at the bottom of your lists. Compare your opinion with the opinions of your classmates. Talk about why you agree or disagree. How does where you start from shape your opinion about this? (237).

This is a question expecting a level of thought too often absent from school textbooks. My main area of difficulty was related to the second or newspaper section. Here, headline stories from around the world, region by region (IV) are presented in newspaper format. At first glance this appears to be an interesting way to summarize information for students while introducing them to stories outside the focus of the main section. However, as is the criticism that the authors opened themselves up to, there are several glaring omissions. After a thorough examination of each chapters newspaper section, there is no mention whatsoever of Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific region. If the index is any indication, this part of the world did not rate inclusion in the textbook at all save for a few maps! Australia and New Zealands contributions to the war effort of both World Wars, their challenges with aboriginal peoples and their influence in the southern hemisphere relative to Indonesia, Vietnam and East Timor might have warranted space, if only for appearances of being comprehensive.

I was also struck by the lack of any mention of Idi Amin, the brutal leader of Uganda during the 1970s; Muammar al-Qaddafi and the U.S. attack on Libya in 1986 and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism; and the establishment of an Islamic state in Sudan in the late 1990s. These entries would not only expand the segments on Africa, an often neglected part of the globe, but they fit with the conceptual focus of power that the textbook is using as well.

These criticisms aside, the textbook is a worthwhile contribution to social studies education and the authors should be commended for prominently noting the assistance of Jane Samson, as an advisor on historical accuracy, and Murray Hoke, as bias reviewer.

Todd Horton – Nipissing University. North Bay, Ontario.

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