Modern World History
Dan Allosso, Bemidji State University
Tom Williford, Southwest Minnesota State University
Copyright Year: 2021
Publisher: Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project
Conditions of Use
As a faculty member who has experienced teaching Modern World History in four separate states, I can confidently state that Modern World History easily meets and fits the topical outline or framework required by any topical outline, GT... read more
As a faculty member who has experienced teaching Modern World History in four separate states, I can confidently state that Modern World History easily meets and fits the topical outline or framework required by any topical outline, GT requirement, or state requirement that I’ve come across. Beyond satisfying institutional mandates, this text is also broad in scope, and effectively covers key historical events (Imperialism, WWI, WWII, Cold War) and themes (decolonization, modern crises, neo-liberalism) expected from such a work. In addition, while the text provides helpful appendices there is no index or glossary to be found. Similarly, the table of contents would also benefit by listing sub-sections of the text instead of just the pagination and title of its chapters.
Altogether, the content accuracy of the text is remarkably impressive. OER History textbooks can suffer from what I would call an “off-rack stigma,” where it’s unfairly assumed that the content accuracy or historiographical insights offered in often free to use digital materials are not as competitive with that of a major publisher’s textbook offerings. But Allosso’s and Williford’s content accuracy is spot-on, and more importantly, their presentation of recent historical insights and historiographical debates are spot-on as well. I only have one quibble – which is in its discussion of the “tribute slave” of Malintzin, her relations with Cortes were portrayed in a duality as “willingly or under pressure.” I know common practice (at least in classrooms) is to portray relations between free and enslaved as always forced, due to these relationships stemming from a power imbalance where the enslaved is always under threat of violence and duress.
When assigning this text, an instructor can feel confident that they have assigned a textbook that is reflective of current historiographical insights and approaches and which includes modern historical insights that is at a level commensurate with that of texts offered by major publishers. An easy litmus test for any modern world history text involves analyzing the textbooks exploration of decolonization. And Modern World History adopts a perspective which analyses decolonization largely outside the umbrella of the Cold War (and Cold War policy) and rather emphasizes the background of revolutionary figures, the pernicious and extant impact of colonization during processes of decolonization (for example, by addressing administrative decisions and political boundaries that created conflict in Nigeria), as well as the policies of colonial powers which compounded the ability for peoples to become truly independent in a modern world. Furthermore, Allosso’s and Williford’s brilliant decision to bookend their chapter analysis of de-colonization by immediately addressing neo-liberalism creates a much-needed historical linkage between these two historical developments, as opposed to textbooks which commonly explore these developments in separation.
Modern World History mostly accomplishes the herculean tasks of navigating the complexity of modern global events in an accessible and engaging way. At times, in chapters such as “Modern Crisis,” “Cold War,” and “Neoliberal Globalization” I could see areas where more contextual information is necessary. For example, the textbooks discussion of World War II does adopt a more conventional Western approach which emphasizes the contributions of the US and Western European allies moreso than the Soviet Union. The text’s chapter on the Cold War is impressive in it’s breadth yet may need additional supplementary material for the historian who wishes to emphasizes specific fronts of the Cold War. As a result, I could see areas where the text occasionally speaks over its intended audience, which is less of a problem of the text, and is more reflective of the fact that Modern World History courses are often offered through the 100-300 level and aren’t as reliably offered at the same entry-freshman 100 level as other history surveys. The text helpfully addresses this by including an introduction that provides a foundational exploration of World History to help catch readers up to speed. Although helpful, an instructor seeking to ensure the work’s accessibility may benefit from taking up the author’s suggestion to adapt the text to meet their needs. Indeed, assigning additional primary sources and engaging secondary sources that help flesh out existing material while enlivening classroom discussion should already be a best practice – especially given the diversity of sources, approaches, and perspectives that come with such an important course as Modern World History. Therefore, Allosso’s and Williford’s work provides a much needed addition to Modern World History courses, and the utility of the text is further enhanced by the authors situating their work as ready-made material to be adapted, reused, and built upon.
The text is remarkably consistent in its presentation. Each chapter begins with a summary-driven introduction aided by a key visual that reflects the central themes threading throughout the chapter. Key sections of the work end with discussion questions and all chapters end with helpful excerpts from primary sources. The only critique here is that the text occasionally highlights and emphasizes important text content by enlarging the font – an editorial choice that creates odd formatting while also being textually jarring. In addition, while the text provides helpful appendices there is no index or glossary to be found. Similarly, the table of contents would also benefit by listing sub-sections of the text instead of just the pagination and title of its chapters.
This text manages to accomplish the seemingly impossible by creating accessible, digestible historical chapters that still provide a comprehensive, global, and comparative view of World History. This results in students not only being more likely to read the chapters but also more likely to immerse themselves in these chapters make active comparisons and contrasts between worldwide developments and histories along the way – while also not feeling overwhelming by information that may not be essential in a history survey.
ORGANIZATION/STRUCTURE/FLOW The organization, structure and flow of the text and its writing is remarkably consistent. As previously addressed, chapter structure and format remains largely the same while historical events and concepts are addressed in a manner which either chronologically or conceptually flow and make perfect sense in their structure and organization. Occasionally, at times, there will be comments which address historical fallacies, falsehoods, or distortions. While welcome, these asides are not fully fleshed out and are written with brevity in mind which means these asides (which often require more context in disassembling these falsehoods) conclude almost as soon as they begin. As an example, the textbook addresses the historiography surrounding the use of the atomic bomb in World War II, however, it merely mentions that historians debate this topic while not addressing the prevailing contours of their argument. Similarly, pg. 247 addresses Neo-Confederate falsehoods and the Lost Cause ideology in a much- appreciated historiographical discussion, however, the brief nature of this analysis mitigates its impact, especially given the fact that marshalling more specificity and evidence would more helpfully fend off these pernicious historical claims and myths. Nevertheless, the fact that the text does this is much appreciated. When have you ever heard a textbook state this, “Became some U.S. publishers are interested in selling their textbooks to school boards in former Confederate states, they often soft-pedal the Civil War in a way that creates confusion.”
A key strength of the text is its interface. Key issues with regards to the interface have already been addressed (some minor formatting issues with regards to enlarged text size and image wrapping, and the need for a more robust index/glossary and table of contents) but this textbook nails the most important part of its interface and organization – ensuring that students can easily navigate the text, its images, and its primary sources with relative ease and uniformity throughout each chapter.
Throughout my reading, I found only one grammatical error on pg. 297 of the text “In eastern Africa, disrupted crop cultivate and led to hundreds of thousands of deaths by starvation and disease.” In fact, the relatively error-free nature of the text makes me feel petty for even bringing this up.
Even in 2021, a key emphasis when evaluating any World History text should be in analyzing if the content is addressing “World History” or what is often referred to as the “West and the Rest” approach. It is not uncommon to see elements of Western Civilization history courses recycled for World History. Obviously, this presents issues of cultural relevance as many Western Civ approaches still emanate from the Eurocentric approach of touting the primary and merit of Western Civilization – which means in a World History course, societies and cultures and civilizations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are viewed as “the rest.” Almost as if the authors are aware of this – they begin their text by emphasizing the historical foundation of global events within Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Even in these early chapters the textbook authors go to great lengths to challenge the “Great Men” myth of the conquistadors, an approach which urges students to adopt a far more nuanced and complicated view of Spanish Conquest. Furthermore, whereas Latin America often only appears in 20th Century World History texts during the Cold War, Latin America appears in this text at various and numerous junctures. Similarly, modern imperialism is not only explored in the context of European imperialism of Africa, but rather the text adopts a global approach which truly illustrates the spanning empires and impact of Western colonial empires. A development which enables the text to more forcefully address the globe-spanning impact of decolonization later on.
Review of Modern World History, Dan Allosso and Tom Williford Modern World History courses, or what’s called 20th Century World History at other colleges and universities, are relatively new in terms of instruction and pedagogy. The prevailing historical surveys– World to 1500/1500 to the Present and the US Survey to Reconstruction/Since Reconstruction – predominantly fill up the freshman and sophomore course offerings throughout most of America’s colleges and universities. As such, resources for Modern World History courses are scarce compared to their history survey counterparts: the textbooks offered are few in number (and expensive) and document readers are also not so abundant (and also expensive). As a result, it is not uncommon to see course materials which merely approach Modern World History as a zoomed-in version of a World Since 1500 class – a perspective which does a serious disservice to the purpose of this course and what it can offer. Thankfully, Allosso’s and Williford’s Modern World History text provides a welcome edition to Modern/20th Century World History, both in terms of the historical knowledge and accessibility it provides and in the fact that this OER text can compete at a comparable level with 20th Century History Textbooks offered by textbook publishers, which often cost $125-175 after the requisite book-store markup. I’ve taught 20th Century World History for seven years and have used Stephanie Hallock’s wonderfully accessible The World in the 20th Century: A Thematic Approach. While Hallock’s work obviously benefits from the visual aids and resources from Pearson, Modern World History provides an engaging, compelling, and unique contribution to the world of 20th Century History OER textbooks. While World History texts can be fairly homogeneous in approach and structure, Allosso and Williford are at their strongest in this text when they situate chapters to provide a comparative/transnational examination of prevailing themes in World History. The merit of this approach is displayed front and center in their chapter of Imperialism, which explores the impulses and impact of Western imperialism in terms of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and US expansionism in the American West. Each chapter is filled with visuals and primary sources that aid in conceptualizing key themes and concepts addressed in the text. And the textbook itself provides a comprehensive scope that aligns with the conventional framework and topical outlines of any Modern World History or 20th Century World History course I’ve come across. I could see areas where the text occasionally speaks over its intended audience, which is less of a problem of the text, and is more reflective of the fact that Modern World History courses are often offered through the 100-300 level and aren’t as reliably offered at the same entry-freshman 100 level as other history surveys. The text helpfully addresses this by including an introduction that provides a foundational exploration of World History to help catch readers up to speed. Although helpful, an instructor seeking to ensure the work’s accessibility may benefit from taking up the author’s suggestion to adapt the text to meet their needs. Indeed, assigning additional primary sources and engaging secondary sources that help flesh out existing material while enlivening classroom discussion should already be a best practice – especially given the diversity of sources, approaches, and perspectives that come with such an important course as Modern World History. Therefore, Allosso’s and Williford’s work provides a much needed addition to Modern World History courses, and the utility of the text is further enhanced by the authors situating their work as ready-made material to be adapted, reused, and built upon.
Table of Contents
1. Modern World History Begins in Asia
2. Europe and Africa
3. The Americas and Columbus
4. Early Globalization and Revolutions
5. Troubled Nineteenth Century
7. The Great War
8. Modern Crisis
9. World War II
11. Cold War
12. Neoliberal Globalization
13. Limits to Growth?
14. Appendix A: Choosing a Chief Executive and Voting
15. Appendix B: Finance and Taxes
About the Book
Welcome to Modern World History! This is the textbook for an undergraduate survey course taught at all the universities and most of the colleges in the Minnesota State system. Similar courses are taught at institutions around the United States and the world, so the authors have made the text available as an open educational resource that teachers and learners can read, adapt, and reuse to meet their needs. We’d like to hear from people who have found the text useful, and we’re always open to questions and suggestions.
About the Contributors
Dan Allosso, Bemidji State University
Tom Williford, Southwest Minnesota State University