Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From the Editor: The World History Encyclopedia

"Overall, this massive undertaking is quite an impressive resource for students of world history. Academic libraries with significant history, anthropology, or archaeology collections would do well to add this to their collection, as would large public libraries." - Booklist. Read the full review here
When we began this project, we aimed at providing the sort of resource we dreamed of when we were struggling to develop our first classes in world history. Teaching world history is definitely daunting to new teachers–some of whom believe that they’re supposed to teach everything that has ever happened everywhere on the globe. Too many people have been tempted to throw up their hands and run away. The reality is that we are working and trading with societies all across the globe, making the study of world history more valuable than ever. Knowledge of world history will help students develop a cultural sensitivity that enables a better understanding of their own society as well as the societies of others. When we study world history, we are in fact developing a solid platform for understanding the wide range of possibilities open to us as individuals participating in our own culture and simultaneously developing our skills for interacting with other cultures.

As experienced teachers know, and the College Board acknowledges, there are beneficial intellectual habits that can be formed best through study and analysis of world history. The College Board has identified five such "habits of mind." They are:
  • Seeing global patterns and processes over time and space while connecting local developments to global ones
  • Comparing within and among societies, including comparing societies' reactions to global processes
  • Considering human commonalities and differences
  • Exploring claims of universal standards in relation to culturally diverse ideas
  • Exploring the persistent relevance of world history to contemporary developments 

Our goal as the editors of this encyclopedia was to develop an exemplary resource for curious and intelligent people–one that would be accessible to laypeople, students, and teachers alike. The academic participants who planned and outlined our project were all experienced teachers; we devised a resource with in-depth introductions and analyses to provide solid ground from which to launch into every aspect of human life that we could imagine. If you’re interested in comparisons across time or geography–for instance, comparing siege warfare in the ancient world with the battle of Stalingrad, or in comparing marriage customs in the Neolithic Age with those in Elizabethan England–we’ve got the resource for you!

We structured the work thematically, knowing that would facilitate comparisons as well as organizing the information into digestible chunks. There were times we almost despaired, but there were always scholars out there who could pull us over, around, under, or through the roadblocks we encountered. We also realized that we could never "finish" this project because the world keeps moving; as the old saying goes, "history, just one dratted thing after another." And, so, we offer the best, most complete examination of world history that a dozen scholars directing some 800 expert contributors could develop, knowing full well that a decade from now, we will be inspired to update it–history just keeps rolling on. 

Having said that, we fell in love with the project we produced. We believe we accomplished our goal of having the most comprehensive overview of human history possible at this date. Most importantly, all of us on the project, as well as the students we “test drove” the project with, experienced that jolt of lightning that happens when we first reach an understanding of an aspect of human experience. We call it "the ah-hah! moment." We trust our readers will find it as exciting as we have.

--Carolyn Neel, Associate General Editor and Volume Editor of World History Encyclopedia

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