Dear H- World -- I have just finished grading one batch of papers and, before I tackle another batch, I thought I would write a quick note in response to the recent discussion on the Western Civ course or narrative. However, I would like to take this discussion in a new direction.
I have participated in the debate over Western Civ versus World History for many years now. The West Civ course, as we all know, evolved in response to America’s entry into the First World War, the Great War, almost one century ago. German imperialism threatened Western democracy and values as well as the freedom of the seas. The U.S. and the Allied Powers rightly concluded that they could not abide in a world in which the Kaiser called the shots. As a result, the U.S. ended a century of isolationism and became a full-fledged Atlantic power.
With the subsequent events of the Second World War and the Cold War, America’s role as an Atlantic power was dramatically expanded. Indeed, between the signing of the Atlantic Charter in 1941 and NATO in 1949, the very center of Western power shifted across the Atlantic Ocean from London and Paris to New York and Washington, D.C. These developments had to be explained to students and the West Civ course or survey did just that—and did so admirably.
The U.S., of course, remains an Atlantic power and the many complex transatlantic relationships—economic, military, cultural—that exist between North America (the U.S. and Canada) and Europe continue to be central, even vital, to our world today. As such, the West Civ course continues to serve the needs of our students.
But the U.S. is more than an Atlantic power. It is also a Pacific power. The North American continent is Janus-faced. It looks out toward Asia just as it does toward Europe. And just as the rise of Germany a century ago threatened the international order and ultimately involved the U.S. deeply in European affairs, the current rise of China threatens America’s Pacific relationships, which were forged during and after the Second World War.
I think it should go without saying that our students need a course to explain these many challenges, which are likely to shape the twenty-first century. And to my mind, this need is the primary rationale for teaching World History. But World History should not be offered in lieu of Western Civ. Rather it should complement Western Civ. The U.S. is a superpower. It has major interests in Europe and Asia. Our students need more than one course to explain how this country reached this critical point and where we go from here. There is a lot at stake.
Ok. That’s my two cents. Now it is time to get back to grading papers!