from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1998

Reviewing a high-school book in world history

Prentice Hall World History: Connections to Today
1999. 1070 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-13-434326-3.
Prentice Hall, 1 Lake Street, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458.
(Prentice Hall is a part of the entertainment company Viacom Inc.)

Old, Patched-Up Material,
Better Pedagogic Features

James Jankowski

The 1997 version of Prentice Hall World History: Connections to Today was analyzed in two reviews -- one written by Charles Paul, the other by me -- which were published in The Textbook Letter for July-August 1996. The 1999 version, which has just been introduced, is much the same as the 1997 version, with few changes in factual information and no substantive changes in perspective or interpretation. Teachers who would like to read detailed critiques of the historical content of Connections to Today should consult those earlier reviews.

The most important changes seen in the 1999 version pertain to the book's pedagogic features. These have been improved significantly.

Minimal Revisions

In its size, scope and organization, the 1999 version is identical to the 1997. The body of the book still consists of eight units, comprising 37 chapters, that fill 981 pages. There have been no changes in the titles of the chapters or the titles of the major sections within the chapters.

The narrative in the first seven units, dealing with history prior to 1945, shows only minimal revisions. Most of the changes have involved the altering of a few words to rectify factual errors that appeared in the 1997 version. For example, Urdu is now described as "a marriage of Persian, Arabic, and Hindi," rather than as a blending of only Persian and Hindi (page 274). Marco Polo now is credited with two trips to China, rather than one (page 316). The biblical account of creation is correctly described as spanning "six days," not seven (page 571). The 19th-century European characterization of the Ottoman Empire is correctly rendered as "the sick man of Europe," not "the dying man" (page 597). And Liberia has been added to the short list of nations that maintained their independence during the scramble for Africa (page 639).

In Unit 8, "The World Today" -- which deals with the years since 1945 -- the revisions are somewhat more conspicuous, and the writers have mentioned some developments that occurred between late 1995 and mid-1997. Some of the timelines at the beginnings of chapters have been extended; a few population estimates have been adjusted; there are updated statements about political conditions in some countries; and there are new passages about the expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe (page 869), about China's assumption of control over Hong Kong (page 886), about Singapore (pages 887 and 888), and about the revolution in the Congo (page 935). There is no systematic updating of world affairs, however, and the new passages have been forced into the page layouts of the 1997 version. (As an example, the writers have shortened their treatment of Hong Kong to make room for the new material about Singapore.) In various cases, information that could have been updated has been left in place. For instance, the 1999 book fails to tell about the results of the struggle between Russia and Chechnya (page 866), and it retains outdated information about petroleum production (page 908) and the death toll in the Algerian civil war (page 945).

The very last page in the 1999 version is a bizarre add-on titled "Stop the Presses," which lists some arbitrarily chosen, unrelated events that occurred in 1997: the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa (lumped together), the re-election of Jiang Zemin in China, the escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, and the signing of the Oslo treaty that banned land mines. This gimmick cannot be considered a significant addition.

Though the alterations in the narrative text are paltry, there are substantial changes in the book's pedagogic features. Each of the 37 chapters concludes with a two-page study-aid section, now entitled "Chapter Review and Skills for Success," and all these sections have been broadly revised. They now require the student to give more attention to reviewing factual material, interpreting primary sources, and analyzing graphs or charts (including seven charts that are new).

Another pedagogic innovation is the addition of 32 pages of excerpts from primary documents (pages 996 through 1027). The documents range from ancient Egyptian and Sumerian literature to statements made by some of today's human-rights activists, and each excerpt is accompanied by study questions to guide the student's reading and interpretation.

In conclusion: The 1999 version of Connections to Today contains an expanded and significantly improved portfolio of exercises and materials that will help the high-school student to study, but the book's narrative of world history is essentially unchanged. Connections to Today is still limited by its Eurocentric perspective, and it contains many problematic interpretations -- particularly in its treatment of the history of religion and the history of science -- which were noted in our previous reviews.

James Jankowski is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He specializes in the history of the modern Middle East.


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