Social Education 58(3), 1994, pp. 142-144
National Council for the Social Studies
Globalization of United States History: Six Strategies
I believe that the teaching of United States history in the United States is too often characterized by a narrow focus on national events and leaders as seen through a monocultural, Northwestern European lens. At the same time, historical trivia is often placed above causal explanations and alternative perspectives on major historical events. For example, one text uses up space explaining why John Paul Jones said, "Don't shoot 'til you see the whites of their eyes" (Conlin 1987). In my opinion, history would be better served by using this space to explain events from the point of view of a woman or a person of color or by placing events like the American Revolution on a broader intellectual plane. Teachers could ask, for example, why did the American Revolution occur when and where it did? What unique social and economic blend has fostered the politics of democracy? Has the United States always lived up to its democratic ideals? What was the role of women and minorities in the Revolution and in other aspects of the nation's history?
Presenting history as an amalgamation of seemingly unrelated facts and &Mac222;gures that recognizes the contributions and viewpoints of only one social group leaves our students unprepared to take on their roles as local, national, and world citizens. This narrow view of the past needs to be replaced by one that recognizes the American condition as the result of both internal struggle and global interaction.
This article will address these issues by offering several strategies for integrating a global perspective into the United States history curriculum. By a global perspective, I mean an approach that integrates social, economic, and political cause and effect firmly ensconced in a recognition of the impact of the United States' actions on the international sphere and vice versa. Social cause and effect should include the contributions of all social groups, including women and minorities.
The examples of strategies given below are suggestions for adding a global dimension to U.S. history classes. I present them to encourage other teachers to expand their knowledge of history and combine it with the strategies presented in order to globalize the United States history curriculum. I hope that by integrating these strategies into their existing curricula, teachers will share with their students a more realistic and compelling view of our country and the world, thus enhancing student involvement and, consequently, learning.
In this strategy, teachers explain the connection between events in the United States and in the international arena. By viewing the United States and the rest of the world as part of one international "system," the teacher discusses the influence of world events on the development of the United States and vice versa. Possibilities include:
These examples emphasize the influence world events have had on U.S. history and can have on the future. The following examples stress the influence that the United States has had on the international realm.
- Pre-colonial history. Explain the salience of the formation of nation-states, mercantilism, and the desire to expand trade to increase national wealth as the primary impulses propelling the search for a westward route to the Indies and subsequent colonization. This should include a discussion of the development of global trade in necessities that drew all social classes into one capitalist world economy. Students should be helped to understand that the United States was able to avoid the plight of other colonies because of its resources and autonomous forms of government.
- Nineteenth century immigration. Explain the reasons for emigration from the homeland. Consider, for example, the impetus provided by the impoverishment of the Southern and Eastern European, as well as the Chinese peasant in the mid-1800s. This example could also be contrasted with white settlers' discriminatory treatment of the Chinese as opposed to other immigrants, despite their common plight. The teacher can discuss the anti-Chinese movement, which was led by Dennis Kearney and the California Workingmen's Party and quickly spread to Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming. The teacher can explain that racist newspaper articles and physical attacks against men, women, and children were common, as were highly discriminatory laws, including the Queues Ordinance, the Laundry Ordinance, the 1876 Cubic Air Law, the Foreign Minors Tax passed by the California legislature in 1850, which placed an undue tax burden on the Chinese of California, and the Immigration Act of 1882, which halted Chinese immigration for a period of ten years.
- Twentieth century. Discuss the effects of U.S. government subsidization of its wheat crops and the use of food aid on crop development in Africa south of the Sahara. Explain how although such aid at times provides much needed emergency food, aid given in non-emergency situations can also discourage local crop production.
- Great Depression. Indicate how the Great Depression in the United States actually served to foment economic development in Latin America. The United States was no longer able to export because of falling production. Latin American countries therefore needed to manufacture many of the items they had previously imported. Domestic production there rose to meet these needs.
- World War II. Discuss the ramifications of the development and use of nuclear weapons to end the war in Japan. Have students project the likelihood of their use in the future.
To improve understanding of the history of our country compared to other regions, the teacher can use two strategies. First, the time-line strategy compares different social, economic, or political components of the United States and other countries at a certain point in time. For example:
Second, the development strategy compares different social, economic, or political components of the United States with that of other countries at different points in time but at the same milestones. For example:
- The American Revolution. The teacher could point out that although colonized centuries before the United States, Mexico would remain under Spanish rule until well into the nineteenth century. Even when revolution came, it was a conservative as opposed to a republican revolution. The class could then discuss the historical implications of these differences.
Alternative Perspectives Approach
- The colonial period. Compare British colonial rule in the United States to Spanish colonial rule in Latin America and the Caribbean by answering the following questions: How did rule by company and crown, combined with substantial local autonomy by the colonists as symbolized by the House of Burgesses and the town meeting, differ from rule by the Spanish viceroy? How did persistent mercantilism in Spanish America and colonists' non-compliance with England's mercantilist policies in North America create economic differences between British and Spanish America? Determine the influences of these differences on the future development of social, economic, and political institutions. The teacher could also use this strategy to compare British colonial rule in North America with colonialism in non-western countries such as Japan's control of Korea, Taiwan, and parts of China.
- Nineteenth century. Compare the process of nation-building in the newly independent United States with that of Zaire or another African country in the twentieth century. Discuss how each country sought to establish a central government and gain international acceptance, and what internal social, economic, and political resources each was able to draw upon.
With this approach, the teacher presents historical events from alternative, i.e., non-male, non-Judeo-Christian, or non-Northwestern European, perspectives. This strategy should allow students to see the validity of alternative perspectives and experiences as well as the contributions of minority groups. In order for students to see that all of their contributions are important, they need to see that history is not a list of accomplishments of a dominant culture but a social history of struggle, sacri&Mac222;ce, and achievements of men and women from different cultures.
Students also need to understand how other countries view the United States's problems and actions in order for them to be able to participate in an increasingly interdependent world. Finally, and to this same end, students need some understanding of the needs and problems of other countries.
The following are examples using this approach:
Parallels Between Present and Past
- Pre-colonial. Discuss the concept of discovery with the students. Point out that Asians immigrated via Alaska and that more than 500 native American cultures thrived before the Europeans landed in North America.
- Colonial. Point out that the Spanish colonized more than one-third of the present United States, including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and that some Spanish settlements preceded British settlements by almost a century.
- Eighteenth century. Explain that while women and children were later displaced by men in American factories, women and children were the principal workers in the New England textile mills which began the Industrial Revolution. In fact, in Massachusetts, the Lowell System was based on the premise that young unwed women of farm families would work temporarily before marriage to supplement their families' income. Hence, the labor of women in the factories, like the labor of African slaves in the &Mac222;eld, helped this country achieve economic stability.
- Seventeenth century through today. Review the history of European settlement in North America from the perspective of the mainland American Indian. Ask students to write about or discuss how they would feel as an American Indian at several different historical junctures and vis-à-vis different groups of Europeans, taking into account the changing perceptions American Indians had of the white newcomers. Then ask students to write an essay entitled "The Invasion from the East" from the perspective of an American Indian.
- Twentieth century. Have students investigate the reasons for communist revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and Nicaragua. Ask them to concentrate on the living conditions of ordinary people and how these may have contributed to the revolutions. Then talk about the United States' role in these conflicts. Ask students to discuss or write about U.S. responses to communism in these countries, and whether they believe these responses were justi&Mac222;ed.
- World War II. In addition to focusing on the reasons for the war in Europe and the rise of National Socialism in Germany, discuss the reasons for the rise of the war party in Japan. Include the following elements: Japan is a resource- and land-poor country; Europeans, who for centuries had been attempting to gain trade advantages in Southeast Asia and particularly China, were now involved in their own war; and Japan was staging its industrial revolution. Have students discuss the implications of these facts as they relate to Japan's war effort and the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition, ask students whether or not Japan could become a world superpower in the present era, in light of its lack of resources and land and post-World War II demilitarization.
Students often complain that history lacks relevance to their lives. This strategy may help them to see that history has relevance in the lessons it holds for decision-making and problem-solving in the present and the future. Historical phenomena such as war are not isolated incidents but follow certain patterns; students should understand that the misapplication of history's lessons can have disastrous results.
The following are possible exercises using this strategy:
Ordinary Person Approach
- The Depression era. Have students compare the causes and effects of the Great Depression with those of the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ask them to focus on the social effects of the Depression. Then, ask them to research and tell about a personal experience of someone who was affected by the latest recession. Explain that other economic downturns occurred in 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893, and that the United States economy runs in cycles that include both up- and downturns.
- The Vietnam War. Point out that the domino theory, which laid the basis for U.S. involvement in Vietnam and other communist-threatened areas, was based on the experience with Hitler and the European powers' attempt to appease him before the onset of World War II. Have the students discuss whether Vietnam was a case of a history lesson misapplied.
Students need to understand that history is not made up solely of the actions of the important people, but that it is a social history as well. This leads to an appreciation of how the global social, economic, and political order affects and is affected by the ordinary person (including the student). Teachers can achieve this objective by asking students to write or act on an issue from the perspective of the ordinary person. Here is one example:
The Importance of Multidimensional History
- The Civil War. Students could choose to play the role of a plantation owner, slave, northern abolitionist, African-American soldier, nurse, Southern unionist, deserter, or business leader. Ask each student to explain why his or her side was &Mac222;ghting and how he or she was personally affected by events.
The strategies discussed in this article are designed to help educators in their quest to infuse global education into United States history. The story of our country is not one-dimensional. Educators need to emphasize the relationship between world political, economic, and social phenomena in order to prepare young people to be responsible, international citizens. This means providing them with a balanced understanding of the past that will enable them to construct solutions to future problems.
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Helena Benitez teaches in the social studies department of MASTAcademy senior high school in Key Biscayne, Florida. She is ABD for her Ph.D. in Political Science at Georgetown University and is working on a Master's Degree in Social Science Education at Florida International University.