This website offers a collection of essays, book reviews, sample syllabi, and lesson plans focused on innovative approaches to teaching global history from a variety of perspectives. It is the product of an environmental humanities graduate seminar “What is world history? Space, Nature, and History” taught by Prof. Elizabeth Hennessy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Fall 2015. The seminar focused on two questions:
- Just what is the global scale and what is at stake in the ways we narrate global history?
- How might we best teach global-scale classes–world history, world regional geography, or an introduction to global studies–when our research specialties are often much more specialized?
The seminar approached these questions through the lens of global environmental history, but included students from a variety of fields, including history of science, comparative literature, art history, communication studies, and geography. We read spatial theory as well as grounded histories and ethnographies to examine the processes that connect–and disconnect–people and environments around the world. Rather than assume universality or see the globe as a planetary unit, we understand the global scale to be a contingent, contradictory, and political production shaped by histories of exploration and imperialism, uneven political economic development, scientific inquiry, and environmental change. What we choose to follow as narrative guides through world history — be it commodities, common property, indigenous identities, communication networks, marine environments, or the idea of human rights — thus shapes our perspective on the world and how we understand our place in it. These are just some of the themes students have developed resources for teaching. (For more on our approach, see our syllabus here.) For a longer introduction to the site and our approach to rethinking the “global,” see Elizabeth Hennessy’s essay here.
Integrating pedagogical training with theoretical concerns was a core focus of the seminar. Rather than write term papers, students created the content of this website. Because teaching global-scale classes almost always means teaching outside of your content area, we relied on Therese Huston’s Teaching What You Don’t Know (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009) as a guide. Aimed to help new teachers avoid the anxiety-producing trap of endlessly preparing to teach new material, Huston’s book offers many strategies for managing teaching work loads, including how to design courses around specific learning objectives and activities to engage students in thinking critically in class. We’ve applied many of her ideas in the sample syllabi and lesson plans posted here.
We hope these resources will be useful for other teachers and encourage you to download the materials, tweak them, and let us know how they work for you.