Integrating Global Perspectives and World History into Teaching American History Grant Projects

National History Education ClearinghouseThis post is the sixth and final in a series of posts on sessions presented at the 123rd Annual Meeting. See also the introduction to this series, the first post on “Teaching and Learning through a Teaching American History Grant,” the second post on “A Historical Conundrum,” the third post on “Perspectives on Public History,” the fourth post on “Innovations in Collaboration,” and the fifth post on “The History Job Market.”

Similar to the panel on Teaching and Learning through a Teaching American History Grant, this panel explained ways a Teaching American History (TAH) grant could be expanded and applied to global history studies.

Robert Bain and Lauren MacArthur Harris, both from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, began by discussing their paper, “Meeting History Education’s Most Pressing Challenge: Preparing Teachers of World History.” Preparing world history teachers has its fair share of challenges, the reasons of which Bain and Harris narrowed down to three overarching ideas. Firstly, the demand for world history teachers outweighs the supply of them, especially as the discipline and its subsequent popularity continue to grow exponentially. Secondly, Bain and Harris discussed the multi-faceted coherence problem, resulting from a convoluted framework in secondary schools. Between variations in textbooks, school standards, and secondary education’s proclivity to jam more content into world history than other histories, world history teachers lack the framework needed to cover all of the content that makes regional histories fit together. Lastly, world history can be a bit daunting to learn because of its scope, but it’s equally daunting for teachers to make meaning of the discipline, connect all the regional events, and develop historical narratives critical in the history classroom. Many world history teachers have difficulty making the cross-cultural connections imperative in the study of world history.

These difficulties Bain and Harris outlined lead to the bigger issue of quality over quantity of training world history teachers. A TAH grant would bring bold, new ideas to teaching world history, create global and contextual guidelines, and set expectations on what is expected from world history teachers.

Dave Neumann from Long Breach Unified School District discussed “Broadening the Scope and Narrowing the Approach: Reforming Teaching American History Grants to Meet the Needs of K-12 Teachers.” TAH grants call on historians to reflect on their own teaching practices and to be more transparent in their instructional decisions. These grants also call on historians to teach broad ways to conceptualize an era by helping world history teachers frame their questions in the classroom and explore historiographical issues, methods, misconceptions, and abstract ideas within the discipline.

Tom Ewing from Virginia Tech explained reasons why TAH grants need to encompass world history in his paper, “Expansion and Engagement: Creating Places for World Historians in Teaching American History Grants.” He argued for the growing need for world history teachers in American history projects, especially in post-1945 history. Ewing called for collaboration between American historians and global historians because of the discipline overlap. The Enlightenment, for example, affected the American Revolution. With a TAH grant, world history teachers could maybe attend a seminar where a British historian would elaborate on the connection between the two regional histories. The key, Ewing said, is to broaden the engagement amongst historians and integrate global perspectives into teaching. Increasing the number of historians and disciplines covered in TAH projects, the greater the success rate, which ultimately makes K-12 teachers more invested in promoting all forms of history.

Heather Streets from Washington State University concluded the panel in her discussion of “Globalizing American History in the Context of the Teaching American History Grants,” adding to Ewing’s argument that world history has much to offer to TAH grants. Connective questions are critical from any perspective and in any discipline. Because context is everything in world history, Streets suggested offering specific readings for teachers and show their applicability in a required curriculum, particularly in 18th and 19th centuries, which are the focus of most American history classes. It’s important to assimilate what students already know about American history into a global history curriculum, to enhance its contextual significance.

Streets also suggested that world history teachers looking for textbooks to use in the classroom should start with the index rather than chapters because chapters often fail to make cross-references with other chapters and ideas.

In terms of teaching world history, it often helps to start with local history and let the connections grow from there, as was mentioned in the discussion following the panel. The panelists agreed that “teaching habits of mind” is critical in world history, making sure that both students and teachers have the necessary tools to make sense of their learned knowledge. There is an overall lack of general narrative in global history because many teachers lack that “habit of mind.” As mentioned earlier, teaching world history can be daunting, but if teachers remember that a few well-picked themes go further than information overload, they are likely to better reach their students—less is more.

Additional Resources

This session took place Sunday, January 4, 2009, at the AHA’s 123rd Annual Meeting. The AHA Teaching Division and the National History Education Clearinghouse sponsored this session.

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