Textbook Transformation: Ninth Graders Address Bias in World History

Blog authored by Emily Jones

Ninth graders in Emily Jones’ World History Class get practice at utilizing a critical lens to illuminate what does and doesn’t get included in their textbook. They then take action by authoring and designing textbook-style pages about a recently discovered ancient civilization located in modern-day Peru: Norte Chico.

Even though I teach world history, my course, like many other “world history” classes, still favors Western history more heavily than any other area. I would blame that on my backgrounds in both Classics and medieval European history (it is true that I can provide a depth of knowledge in those units that I can’t in others…). But the reality is that we are all products of and have inherited an educational system which not only prioritizes Western history but whose essential structure has been shaped and dominated by the West. Adjusting for these biases has been a personal and professional goal for a few years. Chipping away at my European content, adding non-European units or enriching those that already exist in my curriculum. I have tried to include my students in this process: reading an article about how and why the word “civilization” is applied to some societies and not others, noticing what museums house which artifacts and why… 

Last semester, we also evaluated the biases presented in our textbook by filling in a major gap that exists in the book’s content – the Americas pre-500 CE. Students researched Norte Chico, a relatively recently discovered ancient civilization located in modern-day Peru, and made a textbook entry modeled exactly after their own book. (I can’t take full credit for the idea behind this project. A fellow teacher of 9th grade WHI, who was also taking a Global Online Academy course this summer, shared that his students rewrite the table of contents for their textbook with a similar purpose in mind.)  Below is an example of one of the final products. The 2-page entry required students to write a “focus question,” a brief summary, and additional sub-sections that focused on three specific aspects of Norte Chico society of their choosing. Finally, students had to incorporate a map and two other relevant images. This student chose pictures that showed the ruins of Norte Chico, others chose pictures the few artifacts that have been discovered. Since there is so little information available on this civilization, I provided the resources, and the project was more a lesson in synthesizing and paraphrasing the information they read. They used Lucidpress to design. Resources included articles from Khan Academy, BBC, and NPR, and a podcast. 

I might revisit the project this semester. There are countless civilizations absent from history curricula.  My hope is that this project serves multiple purposes: learning about an understudied society, making students aware of Western biases in world history, and maybe generating some excitement about the active nature of archaeology and history. 

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