“Teaching World History as Family History; China as a Case in Point”
By Emily Bruce, Yueqin Chen, MJ Maynes, Fang Qin, Ann Waltner
One of the challenges of teaching world history is how to connect individual lives with large-scale processes. We confront this challenge head-on in a course we teach entitled “The Family from 10,000 BCE to the Present.” A course centered on the history of the family that begins in the distant past provides students with a new framework within which they can situate themselves and their own history. Temporally deep family history provides methods for linking the very local scale – that of the household – with the global. Investigating the family and the household as sites of human history engages us and our students in a wider conversation about history, and about what it means to be human in the past and present.
We are all faculty, students, and/or former students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, who were involved in the first offering of the course in Fall semester 2009. Ann Waltner and Mary Jo Maynes are the faculty members who teach the course, Fang Qin and Emily Bruce were the graduate student teaching assistants in the Fall of 2009 and Yueqin Chen, from Shanghai, was one of our star undergraduate students. We jointly presented a roundtable at the meeting of the World History Association (WHA) which was held in Beijing July 6-9, 2011, where we discussed the course from our various perspectives; this report is based on our experiences with the course and the roundtable. Because Ann Waltner is a historian of China and MJ Maynes is a historian of Europe, those two parts of the world took on a particular importance in the course design. Comparisons across case studies (often, though not always, comparisons between China and Europe) have long been at the center of our approach to teaching world history. One of the things we were interested in exploring in the WHA roundtable—the general theme of which was “China in World History-World History From the Center and the Periphery”—was the question of what difference it made to our family history course that we paid serious attention to Chinese history as a major case study, especially given the fact that we had Chinese teachers and students in this course, and that it was being taught in a university in the Midwestern United States. In this report, we will first sketch out the themes and pedagogy of the course, and then provide some specific examples of the ways in which we articulated connections between family processes and large-scale processes. We will conclude with some discussion of classroom dynamics, as our classrooms increasingly become sites of global exchange.
(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 7, Fall, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal's not-for-profit educational open-access policy.