Teaching Historiographical Debate in the World History Classroom
Rodney Kimbel McCaslin, Centennial High School
Clif Stratton, Washington State University at Pullman
Eva Swidler, Curtis Institute of Music and Goddard College
The study of global history raises complex questions that lead to intense historiographical debate. It is in many ways these controversial questions, such as the debates over the “rise of the West” and the impact of European colonialism, which make global history so compelling for many of us. Bringing these complex questions into the survey-level classroom, however, is especially challenging. How do we introduce these debates to students that enter our classrooms with very little knowledge of chronology, geography, or historical events? Should historiographical debate be saved for upper division and graduate courses? This roundtable argues that historiographical debates do belong in survey-level world history courses, because they guide students towards testing to their own assumptions and biases. Raising these questions also helps students realize that history is a dynamic process and not the static listing of facts.
This roundtable discussion will bring together teachers of AP and university-level world history and western civilization courses. Panel members will share their experiences of successes and failures, and we will include the audience in discussion of classroom strategies. Presentations will be short, leaving significant time for discussion with the audience. We all hope to learn new ideas for our classrooms from each other.
Cliff Stratton of Washington State University, Pullman, will discuss how he has introduced historiograhical debates into WSU’s Roots of Contemporary Issues program. Phylis Conn of St. John’s University will discuss how she has for the past few years structured her world history survey courses around the “rise of the West” debate, using it as a way of teaching global themes like imperialism, industrialization, and decolonization. Eva Swidler of Goddard College and the Curtis Institute of Music will discuss her approach to world history and western civilization surveys, developed over eight years of teaching these surveys. She argues that pushing students to recognize their own paradigms and pre-conceived notions of history is essential in guiding them to understand that history consists of explanation, interpretation, and debate. Finally, Rodney McCaslin, teacher of AP World History at Centennial High School and PhD Candidate in Policy History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will discuss the way that historiographical schools of thought can be introduced in an AP course, and how students can use this knowledge in analyzing secondary sources.
Lauren Janes, who will chair the panel, is an adjunct lecturer at Franklin College and Indiana University, Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). She had some success guiding students to write book reviews of works addressing the “rise of the West” in her The World to 1750 course. This experience led her to seek out advice and new ideas for better integrating historiographical debate into her world history courses, which led to the creation of this panel.