Textbook writers are prone to present materials, which are contested and still under investigation, as fact, nonetheless. There may be a feeling that students need solid facts to remember and if seeds of doubt are sown, they may question other facts that are handed to them by writers of history books and curriculum committees.
My personal experience, while reading carefully over the Indian sections of this book and finding it full of stereotypes and assumptions, makes me question the veracity of other parts of the book, which I did not study. Since I approach the material on India from a more informed perspective, and though I have my biases and am using a critical methodology to survey the textbook, I can locate subtle negative and dismissive presentations which in turn make me question other details included by the authors as “fact” about cultural areas of which I am less informed. Most American students who read this material have very little knowledge about India or other cultures, therefore misinformation or skewed perspectives are not corrected and, in fact, become facts in their fledging knowledge base.
The first sub-heading of this section, “The Conquering Aryans,” tells the reader,
The nomadic Aryans herded sheep and cows. In fact, their word for ‘war’ meant ‘a desire for more cows.’ Many strong and brave Aryan archers followed the horse-drawn chariots into battle. Skillful fighters, they conquered the Indus Valley and then moved eastward along the Ganges until they controlled the entire northern plain.
This paragraph perpetuates several discarded ideas about the Aryans. Firstly, it indicates that the Aryans “conquered the Indus Valley,” yet there is strong indication from the archeological record that there was no conquest. This is not a newly formulated Hindu nationalist historical perspective, but accepted scholarship. Offering the students alternative perspectives of history and contradictory theories, instead of history-as-fact, stimulates interest and allows them to see the on-going process of piecing together the story of the ancient past by scholars from different nations.
The next misinformation that is stated as fact is the definition for the word “war.” Mazour and Peoples tell us that the Aryans’ “word for ‘war’ meant ‘a desire for more cows.'” In Sanskrit, the word gaveshaNaa, “search for cows,” came to mean research or any intellectual inquiry. Because Indra is considered a war god prayers to him for cows or spiritual powers are often interpreted as symbols for warfare. Many of the facts proclaimed in this book are based on now suspect orientalist constructs of ancient India, Indology’s best and most widely accepted bloopers form the bedrock of the World History narrative.
The next heading, “Aryan Civilization During the Vedic Age,” gives the students bits of information about early Vedic beliefs, but does not share with the reader the importance that the concept of a unitary-ultimate source, or monism, would have on subsequent Vedic and Hindu/Vedantic religious thought.
The earliest gods mentioned in the Vedas include elements of nature, such as storms, water and rain. The Vedas personified these natural objects and forces — that is, they regarded or represented them as people. Thus, the sky became a father, the earth a mother. Although the Vedas mention gods and goddesses, a very important hymn celebrating the creation of the universe suggests a concept of a supreme god, called ‘That One,’ who created universal order out of chaos.
In this analysis, I am quoting liberally from the text, to give an impression of the important omissions which significantly diminish the connections that Aryans had with Indo-Iranians and the impact they had on future Hinduism. For example, the text does not allude the Iranian equivalent to Varuna, or early religious similarities with other religions in Western Asia and pre-Christian Europe. Creating opportunities for students to see civilizational interactions and shared characteristics encourages a more informed perspective of the ancient past and also makes it more interesting, rather than studying cultures in isolation.
In ensuing paragraphs the authors inform us that moral conduct was unimportant to the Aryans, which is easily refuted by the many Sanskrit eulogies to noble and virtuous character. The book explains that rituals consisted of “pouring the juice of the soma plant and liquid butter into the sacred fire.” The significant statement follows: “The important point was to perform the ceremony properly. The good qualities of the person performing it did not matter.” This seems to indicate that Brahmans were not bestowed with adequately “good qualities,” when in fact, according to Vedic tradition, Brahmans were held to a stricter moral code than were other stratas of society. They had to be in a state of ritual purity to perform the ceremonies and that included proper conduct. Statements such as this reinforce the perception that moral conduct, as found in Indian philosophy, is relative and unimportant. Compared to the later Semitic traditions, with their clearly articulated and specific lists of do’s and don’ts, Hinduism can appear to have fluid views of morality when if fact there are detailed codes of behavior–honesty and trustworthiness are highly valued.
In concluding the discussion of the Aryan religion, the authors state,
As time passed, the rituals of sacrifice became more complicated. The spoken language of the Indian people also changed, until it became quite different from the Sanskrit of the first Aryan invaders. Since they emphasized the importance of proper observance, priests who knew the proper forms and could read and write Sanskrit also became more important. These priests, called Brahmans, prepared the proper ceremony for almost every occasion in life and charged heavily for their services.
There are two items of significance here, firstly, the questionable term “invaders’ continues to be used, and secondly, the moral character of the Brahman priests is again brought into question. There are many references from Vedic sources which indicate that many Brahmans were poor and often took only alms for their services. Obviously, many Brahmans became rich and powerful, and many were corrupt, but the fact that the authors state categorically that they “charged heavily for their services” omits the other side of the picture which is essential for a well-rounded understanding of Brahmans in the Vedic period.
From the perspective of Western Civilization, which we regard as liberal and egalitarian rising from the Enlightenment, we condemn hereditary castes and yet, in our own societies we have a very similar history–divine right to rule, inherited aristocracies and class–social divisions that persists, despite the Reformation, Humanism, or Marxism. The Brahman priest is a wonderful scapegoat to salve the Western conscience and assert our moral superiority over this type of religiously sanctioned inherited status, a common theme in history textbooks at the secondary level. Granted, in later Indian literature there are stories of “stupid Brahmans,” but the spiritual power of such figures as Vishwamitra and Valmiki was seen as essential to the survival of the state. As Wolpert writes, on page 40 of his book, A New History of India, Brahmans were “guardians and interpreters of that sacred lore,” and as “officiators of the royal sacrifice, the Brahman priesthood maintained its special privileges and courtly influence.” Though this perspective allows the Brahmans social worth there is even here a tone indicating their ultimate political uselessness and self interest.
In fact, in the eyes of the rulers and other members of the Hindu community, Brahmans were charged with the maintenance of spiritual and religious continuity. Certainly there were power hungry Brahmans and Hindu history has condemned them. However, countless Brahman priests undoubtedly took their duties to the community seriously as well as their own personal sadhana or religious practice. In most texts written in the West Brahmans are uniformly shown as irrelevant hangers-on to the royal court and exploiters of the people. In the post-Enlightenment Occident the importance of politics and government are primary in the historical narrative and the place of religion and its role in the everyday functioning of Vedic society is not adequately addressed. Brahmans are therefore always suspect and unnecessary.
On the same page, a quarter-size photograph titled, “Learning from pictures” shows two carved figures from Gandhara, which is mis-spelled in the book as “Ghandara.” The caption explains that “two young Brahmans raise their hands in a gesture meaning ‘do not fear.'” These are, in fact, Buddhist figures and they do not appear to be wearing the traditional Brahman thread. They may indeed be Brahmans, but since they are from a much later century they are probably not representative of the pre-Buddhist period. Their hand mudras are more accurately interpreted as a sign of blessing.
In most textbooks there is a great emphasis on caste and its presumed impermeability, even though research indicates that there was considerable social movement in the pre-modern period. The book states that “Light-skinned Aryans,” passed laws “prohibiting marriages between Aryans and valley dwellers.” The question must be asked, “Which ‘valley dwellers’?” Secondly, it should be pointed out that this simplistic statement uses the convention of presentism to interpret the past–superimposing modern methodologies and value systems onto historical reconstructions–analyzing the activities of ancient peoples outside of their own context. The authors seem to indicate that the ancient Aryans had a judicial system like the one with which the students are familiar. Obviously, rules are made in response to something in general practice. The merger of Aryan/Vedic and pre-Aryan ideas is not mentioned here and there is no discussion about how this synthesis manifested. The section concludes,
In addition to providing information about Aryan religion, the Vedas provide a great deal of information about family life in the Vedic Age. Marriages took place by kidnapping, by purchase, or by mutual consent. A woman considered it a great compliment to be stolen. To be bought and paid for was more flattering than to be married by consent. Men could marry more than one woman and owned their wives and children.
In this paragraph, before I attempt to point out a couple of glaring inconsistencies, I must state that I am not a Vedic scholar, by any means, and the information that I have concerning the Vedic period, is based on reading the works of others. That being so, I would like to comment on the statement that “women considered it a great compliment to be stolen.” From my understanding, this type of marriage, rakshasa-viveha, was not desired by Aryan women and the favored method of matrimony was svayam-viveha, or the self selection of the groom by the bride.4
Mazour and Peoples end this section with the statement that sons were expected “to perform the correct rituals at their fathers’ funerals.” This would have been an ideal opportunity to show the continuance of Vedic practices in popular Hinduism but the authors make no allusions to this though the continuity-of-culture approach is used several times when discussing other civilizations. In this particular textbook, I have found a consistent effort, intentional or accidental, to disempower Indic Civilization and divorce it from its many roots. Though the authors do credit the Aryans with contributing to Indian Civilization there are numerous missed opportunities to point out those links as they arise. There are also, as examples above have shown, a propensity towards sensationalism and stereotyping.
The final segment on the Aryans under the sub-heading, “The Aryan Economy,” discusses ” farming in the Indo-Gangetic Plain,” and presents a fairly balanced picture of the material sphere,
they raised barley as their principal crop. Rice, the most important food in India today, was apparently unknown in Vedic times. Each village divided its land among its families, but the whole village shared the responsibility for irrigation.
To conclude this section Mazour and Peoples summarize, “The Aryan invaders made significant contributions to the civilization of the Indian subcontinent.” Which include “a new social order of classes, a new language, and new religious interpretations of how the world works.” They then state that over time, “Aryan contributions blended with the previous civilization of Indus Valley people.” It is redundant to point out the repeated inconsistencies in dealing with the relationship between the Aryans and the Indus Valley Civilization. A discerning reader might question the efficacy of “laws passed” by the Aryans against co-mingling with the indigenous peoples when the ultimate outcome was a complete blend. Recent studies by historical linguists of the morphology of topographical names in the subcontinent have questioned whether Sanskrit was indeed imported into India from a far.
The last sentence in this section states, “Religious values changed, and social classes became more rigid and closely identified with ritual purity.” In most popular treatments of India and Hinduism caste is the defining criteria. Here, as in other books which I have examined, caste is stressed above all other elements. It is represented as inherently evil, in complete contrast to the ideals of Western society. By capping the discussion of the Vedic Age with the rigidity-of-caste as the summation the authors have exalted caste over all other contributions.
Caste, used as the defining feature of Indian civilization, is an approach I have seen repeated in World History and World Geography classrooms. As mentioned, there are games that students play, drawing lots to determine into which caste they have, by chance, been born. They must then abide by prescribed hierarchical rules which proscribe certain behaviors and allow privileges to a select group, namely the inherently power-hungry Brahmans.
The youthful trust in equality and fairness which American students have been taught is the substance of our free and democratic society will obviously make most students respond negatively to the privileged Brahman minority. Students playing the role of the Brahmans gleefully lord their status over their classmates, commanding them to do demeaning chores. There is rarely a discussion of the concepts of karma and samsara upon which the caste system is based. If being born into a certain caste is chance, like the drawing of lots, then it is certainly unexplainable, cavalier, and unfair. But, if the caste system is explained in the context of a broader epistemology, including a discussion of dharma and responsibility, it does not seem so inherently evil, but a rational system of social preservation. This is usually not explained to school children who are in fact taught that “Brahmanism” is the opposite of the American Way. I am not offering this as an apologist for the caste system but as an alternative to negatively objectifying caste as the evil other that ultimately becomes the hallmark of Indian civilization.
In the review questions at the end of this section the students are asked to identify the words: “Brahman, rajah, Aryans, Varuna,” and to geographically locate the “Black Sea,” and the “Caspian Sea,” neither of which are even in India! The students are asked to discuss the Vedas and “important beliefs and rituals of the Aryan religion.” Unfortunately, the shallow depth with which the authors have approached these topics offers scant opportunity for the students to elaborate beyond the pouring of “soma” into a sacrificial fire. The last review question asks the students to “Describe how class divisions began,” once again stressing, in finality, that the most important characteristic of Indian society is caste. Were the caste system explained more adequately and not portrayed as the opposite of freedom and justice for all, it would help to eliminate many of the negative stereotypes that persist when American students learn about India.
Section 3 of this chapter is “Buddhism and Hinduism Took Hold in India.” The text mentions that
Brahman priests . . . became increasingly influential in Aryan society. [They] gained even more importance when they composed the Upanishads, complex philosophical explanations of the Vedic religion, [because] ordinary people did not understand the Upanishads any more than they could the Vedas.
This statement actually does not make much sense and does not take into account that in the Upanishads teenagers and women are shown to be disciples. The process through which the Upanishads emerged indicate that philosophy had become more accessible to those who were not priests. The authors seem annoyingly confused.
The textbook goes on to say that ordinary people “could understand simple stories that made these ideas about Vedic religion clearer.” These stories are the Mahabharata and theRamayana, “retold from generation to generation [and] eventually combined into two epics. . . describing heroes and great events.” No mention that elements of both epics reflect a synthesis of Dravidian or pre-Aryan culture with Vedic traditions. The epics are not to be considered a simplification of the Vedas and Upanishads but another, more folk-based expression of culture. That they were “simple stories that made . . . Vedic ideas clearer” is underestimating the content and evolution of these epics.
The textbook gives both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana a paragraph length descriptions which, considering space limitations, is at least adequate. The book explains that in the Bhagavad-Gita “doing one’s moral duty according to one’s responsibilities marks the highest fulfillment in life.” It mentions Rama and Sita who “symbolize the ideals of Indian manhood and womanhood.” The next statement is strange. It claims that from these epics and the
Upanishads and the Vedas themselves, scholars have pieced together the origins of the two most important influences in Indian history–the caste system and Hinduism.
This textbook, published in 1990, can not be expected to be free of Euro-centric jargon, but it should not perpetuate the patronizing perspective that scholars have “pieced together” the essence of India and through their reconstructions have discovered the origins of Hinduism, based primarily on the caste system. Though this may be a subtle complaint, it represents the over-all tone found in this type of presentation of Indian civilization–the burden of preservation by occidental scholars. Though this makes reference to the work of scholars, this phrasing in no way offers insight into the processes of historiography.
The textbook again turns its attention to the caste system, exoticizing it as a “form of social organization unlike any developed elsewhere in the world.” As mentioned before, there are other examples of class systems which are hereditary. Comparisons could make the caste system more understandable, not by justifying it, but by showing that it is simply a more defined version of class or hereditary guilds. The text devotes three additional paragraphs to the caste system stating, “[when] invading Aryans (emphasis mine) laid down rules prohibiting marriages between themselves and peoples they had conquered” they laid the foundation for the caste system. Kshatriyas, Brahmans, Vaisyas, and Sudras, as well as untouchables are discussed. Ultimately, more space is devoted to the caste system than all the other characteristics of Hinduism combined. Few other aspects of Hinduism are considered relevant.
Section three of this chapter on India ends with a half page summary of Hinduism and a photo of a “dancing Shiva” statue. The first paragraph states that Hinduism, “India’s major religion, developed through Brahman priests’ interpretations of the Vedas.” No mention of the synthesis of pre-Aryan and Aryan in is this simplistic summation. The textbook continues,
When Hindus say that Brahma and Atman are one and indivisible, they mean that God and human beings are one. We call this idea monism.
Mazour and Peoples are only partially correct. Hindus think that Brahman, the ultimate, and Atman, the individual soul, are one. Brahma is the name of the “creator god.” These two words are very similar, and Brahman in the Sanskrit nominative case does become Brahma. However, most scholars writing an introductory text about Hinduism, will use Brahmanto mean the universal soul and Brahma to mean the creator god in order to avoid confusion.
The description of Hinduism found in this textbook is woefully inadequate even considering the limited space allowed in a comprehensive text such as this. It is perhaps a blessing that the section devoted to the discussion of Hinduism is less than a page long since stereotypes and misinformation are central to the discourse–there are fewer opportunities to get it wrong. The textbook offers a childish interpretation of “illusion called Maya, which betrays people, giving them sorrow and pain.” To most Indians, Maya is seen not as an outside entity but as a mental condition. The book explains that Hindus believe in “reincarnation–the transmigration or rebirth of the soul.”
According to this belief, the soul does not die with the body but enters the body of another being, either human or animal, and thus lives again and again.
Luckily, the authors mention that “two major elements in the theory of reincarnation are known as dharma and karma” and that “Dharma is the fulfillment of one’s moral duty in this life so that the soul can make progress toward deliverance from punishment in the next life.” Perhaps the concept of “punishment,” however, more closely relates to the Judeo-Christian/Islamic perspective of the afterlife. The book continues,
According to Hinduism, good persons are rewarded and evil ones are punished. Reward means that the soul enters the body of someone of a higher caste. Punishment occurs when the souls of evil people are reborn in the bodies of people of lower castes or of insects.
Numerous times I have seen textbooks explain that if a Hindu is “bad,” he or she will “come back as an insect.” This may get the attention of the young American students in the classroom. It is not, however, something that Hindus would say was very likely. By the time a soul has acquired a human body, the most precious and difficult of all forms to obtain, it is rare that they would backslide far enough back down the ladder of spiritual evolution to be reborn as a bug. The text goes on to explain
Since Hindus believe that all souls make up part of the Universal Soul, or Brahman, Hindus respect the sacredness of life in all forms. Members of the Brahman, or highest caste, have to be particularly careful not to bring injury or violence to any living thing.
By this point, Brahmans have been so maligned that their imperative towards ahimsa is lost in the shuffle. At least the word “Brahman,” to mean the “Universal Soul,” is used correctly in this paragraph, even if it doesn’t match the previous usage.
The next sub-heading, “Hindu religious practices,” consists of four brief paragraphs offering shallow descriptions and interpretations.
Hindus commonly practice yoga, a physical and mental discipline harmonizing body with soul. A Hindu practicing one form of yoga might, for example, sit for many hours in a certain position in order to free the mind of bodily concerns.
This description makes yoga seem almost silly. Students would be better served by telling them that the word yoga is related to the English word, yoke, and that it is the science or system of mental and/or spiritual practices meant to bridge the individual soul, Atman, with the ultimate, Brahman, terms that were defined previously.
The following description is so simplistic that it is, ultimately, erroneous. The textbook describes the characteristics of Brahman, representing the universal soul, indicating that it is made up of “a basic trinity, or three closely related persons or things.” This trinity is not made up of “persons or things,” but of Gods. Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are cited as part of this Hindu trinity, along with “many other gods, represented in the spirits of trees, animals and people.” The more the authors try to explain Hinduism, the more illogical it appears.
I have found fault with most of the narratives on India and Hinduism presented in this textbook. The perspective expressed in the next paragraph could have gone a long way towards correcting some of the earlier sensationalisms. Unfortunately, the tone of the statement, seems to negate its intent,
To Westerners this religion of many gods sounds polytheistic. However, Hindus insist (emphasis mine) that it is monistic–that the basic trinity and all the other gods are merely different representations of the oneness of the universe.
Once again, in concluding, the authors state that,
the caste system and Hinduism ranked as the most important developments of Indian history. These two ideas become interwoven in the fabric of Indian society.
The caste system has received far more space than anything else about ancient India. A total of nine paragraphs have been devoted to the topic of caste, to the exclusion of any mention of the famous poet Kalidasa, or ragas and rasas –systems of aesthetics, or statecraft. This book implies that nothing in India is more important than the caste system.
The next heading, “Buddhism,” begins after the four pages devoted to Hinduism stating that “Buddha did not accept the Hindu gods,” and “Although he did not attack the Hindu caste system openly, he did not accept it.”
“The Spread of Buddhism” is discussed with a half-page map showing the location of populations of Hindus and Buddhists and the journey Buddhism took from India to Southeast Asia to China, from “ca. B.C. 500 – A.D. 600.” The writers can not resist another jab at Brahmans, who “opposed Buddhism,” because it “taught that people, regardless of caste, could reach nirvana without help if only they were good.” Brahmans were afraid that Buddhism might “undermine” their position in the society. The section on Buddhism concludes, “Despite the strong opposition of the Brahmans, Buddhism gained many followers in India over several centuries and then slowly declined.” In the review at the end of this section a question asks, “What were the origin of caste the system?” Other items to identify include monism, dharma, karma, yoga, and nirvana, all of which were ill defined in the book, providing the students scant resources with which to respond. Outside sources of information about Hinduism are often unavailable to them.
This chapter on Indian history includes sub-sections on the Mauryas and Guptas and a two paragraph discussion of Southern India. The book states that Chandragupta “learned the science of government and methods of warfare from the Macedonians who had conquered Persia.” This disguises the fact that the Arthashastra by Kautilya, which detailed the proper behavior of a king, originated during this period and the Greek ambassador Megasthenes described the bureaucracy of the Mauryan kingdom, based on taxation practices of previous dynasties. By no means was the Mauryan “science of government” based on Alexander’s near encounter with India. The section on the Guptas is very scant, and no photos are included of Gupta art.
The last section of this chapter, “Civilization Flourished in Ancient India,” devotes two and a half pages to topics such as “Economy and Social Life,” “Literature,” “Art and Architecture,” “Education,” “Mathematics and Astronomy,” and “Medicine.” In these pages trade with ancient Europe and the Middle East is discussed as is the status of women along with a description of “suttee,”
Another practice that became common during the Gupta period, especially among the upper castes, was suttee. In this practice a widow would commit suicide by throwing herself on top of her husband’s flaming funeral pyre.
Most sources indicate suttee was the exception even among the upper classes in the Gupta period whereas this textbook indicates that it “became common.” Without mentioning Aesop of La Fontaine by name, the literature section states that the Panchatantra is the source for many stories which have been popular in Europe for hundreds of years. “Next to the Bible,” the text states, “the Panchatantra is the most widely translated book in the world today.” The section on “Mathematics and Astronomy” is particularly positive, if short; “Indian Mathematicians learned to deal with abstract numbers.[. . .] Indians actually invented the numeral system we call Arabic–1 through 9 and the zero.” There is a discussion of negative numbers and the Indian mathematician, Aryabhata, who computed the value of pi. On page 65, the sub-heading “Medicine” is a far too short but has an intriguing description of plastic surgery, inoculations, and “the sterilization of wounds, a procedure unknown to the West until modern times.” Luckily, some of these astounding facts are thrown in before the end of the chapter. In the review section, of the three words given, one is polygamy, another suttee, and the last, stupa–two out of the three worth remembering are of questionable or unacceptable practices.
The next chapter, “Ancient Chinese Civilization Developed Lasting Traditions,” devotes 21 pages to China, ending the discussion with the Han Dynasty before the turn of the millennium. At the end of the sections on both India and China are sub-headings on scientific accomplishments. In the photo montage at the beginning of the book some type of scientific image could have been included. The 18 pages devoted to India in the previous chapter span a significantly longer period of time with the treatment of China appearing to be more balanced. Much is made of Chinese governmental and philosophical developments. The tone of this section on China seems to be more in line, attitudinally, with accepted approaches to the discussion of history–less sensational and more balanced. India does not fare well in comparison.
This marks the end of Unit 1 in which there were 92 pages. 20 devoted to India and 24 to China, and 23 to the “Great Civilizations” in ancient Egypt and the Fertile Crescent. 10 pages discussed prehistoric times and most had review exercises. There is perhaps, statistically speaking, adequate space allotted to the study of ancient India and Hinduism. The content of these pages has, however, been called into question.
To invite comments about the treatment of ancient India found in this textbook, I sent excerpts via email to two Indian scholars, seeking their opinions. The responses that I received were simultaneously serious and amusing. One friend, a professor at a university in Louisiana, who was instrumental in developing an excellent teacher resource book on ancient India,5 simply commented, “I agree with your criticisms of Mazour’s work. Very shoddy stuff.”
Another friend from Madras, who received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania, after reading the sections on India which I sent to him, wrote “Objectifying and negatively portraying India will not change unless the publishers consider the issue more seriously.” He suggested, partly in jest and, undoubtedly with great seriousness as well, that American textbook publishers should be approached with a traditional American solution. Indians should “hire a high-powered lawyer and sue textbook publishers for character assassination. How else could you get their attention so they would reconsider their treatment of South Asia except through a method that they all understand. Sue them for libel!” Obviously, this is a bit drastic and sarcastic. Hopefully there will be attention paid to studies illuminating problems in the representation of non-Western cultures, and particularly South Asia, which are found in U.S. World History textbooks.
Unit II, “Civilizations of the Mediterranean World” has 84 pages, which include subheadings such as “Greek Civilization Triumphed During the Golden Age and the Hellenistic Age” and “Rome Rules the Western World for Centuries,” spanning a period of time from the Greek city-states to the acceptance of Christianity by Constantine.
Unit III is “The World in Transition.” The first chapter, “The Byzantine Empire Preserved the Heritage of Rome,” ends with a discussion of the Mongol invasions of Europe. In the next chapter, “Islam Became a Powerful Force from Spain to India,” the first section is “Outward from Arabia,” and the second, “Muslims Created an Advanced Civilization.” Here on page 210, the sub-heading, “Society and Art,” paints a comparatively positive picture of life in a Muslim family. Most of the comments made about Islam in this treatment are very similar to the way that Islam is described by traditional Islamic historians. Many of the dismissive attitudes that were encountered in the treatment of Hinduism are not used here. I quote liberally,
In Islamic families, as in many other cultures and religions, the father was the absolute head of the household. The family provided the individual with both economic security and physical protection. Muslims respected the elderly and showed concern for the needs of all members of the extended family–parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Women had a clearly defined position in Islamic society. The Koran says, ‘Good women are obedient.’ A father or husband accepted responsibility for a woman’s behavior. Parents arranged marriages for their children, and the groom gave his bride a special marriage gift called a sadaq or mahr, meaning dower. This gift did not represent a purchase price, but rather a gesture of love. In the event of a divorce, the bride kept this money.
The Koran extended more rights to women than they had received under traditional Arab law. For example, many Muslim women obtained an education and owned property. The Koran also forbade the killing of unwanted infant girls, a traditional Bedouin custom. And if a man divorced his wife, he had to continue to support her. She also was free to remarry. Although Muslim women later lost many of these rights, they still received the protection of either their husbands or brothers.
Compare this excerpt on the status of women in Islamic society to marriage by kidnap and the emphasis on suttee in discussions of Hindu women. The above description of the rights of women in Islam neglects to mention that though women are extended support after a divorce, it is only required that the husband offer such support for three months, for reasons of paternity. It is also not explained that only men can easily seek divorce by simply repeating the phrase, “I divorce you,” three times. Women, however, must go through a much more arduous process to divorce their husbands and usually lose custody of their children, and as mentioned, usually receive support for only three months. Laws in some modern Muslim countries may make it somewhat more complicated, but divorce is still quite common. I point this out, not to promote a more negative portrayal of Islam, but to encourage a more balanced treatment of Hinduism.
On page 213 the authors state that “Mathematicians of India developed the system of Arabic numerals, but the Arabs transmitted the system to the West. The Arabs also contributed the concept of zero to mathematics.” This implies that zero was an Arab concept, though the authors previously mentioned that the Arabs had transmitted zero from India. Which is it? The text does say that Arab views of a spherical earth with hemispheres is attributed to a Hindu idea.
In the third section of this chapter, “Muslim and Mogul Rulers Brought Important Changes to India,” the authors do not mince words when describing the violent interface between Islam and Hinduism,
At first the Muslims ruthlessly slaughtered Hindus. Later they seemed content to confiscate land, leaving village life to go on as it had in the past. Even so, many Hindus converted to Islam, either to gain favor with the conquerors or to escape from the Hindu caste system.
There is no mention of the influence of wandering sufis who incorporated bhakti into their message, nor of forced conversions, or the economic imperative to escape the discriminatory taxation of non-Muslims.
In the above excerpt a finger should be pointed at the tired image of the toiling Indian/Hindu farmer plowing his plot, following behind his team of oxen century after century while opposing imperial armies, with mounted cavalry and war elephants in full array, battle in the next field. This over used image is often employed to explain how Hindu culture managed to survive centuries of dynastic changes and the onslaught of Islam. Debunking this time-honored construct of an ahistorical, despotic, cyclical “superstructure overlaying a persistently discernible social infrastructure” Nicholas Dirks6 argues that this reified conception of the “organic and integral Indian village community” and “its essentially changeless autonomy” is based on nineteenth century sociological views of India which considered the social structure to be autonomous from the political superstructure. Dirks draws from the segmentary state model of Burton Stein, exploring center-periphery inter-relationships. The myth of eternal Hindu villages, somehow peripheral to the center, masks the traumas incurred when changes in official decrees impacted tax collection policies at harvest time, much less temple centered patron-donor relationships, the status and education of women, and other traditions which were impacted by invaders and power struggles. The World History textbook by Mazour and Peoples serves up a buffet of crusty old discarded Orientalist constructs.
According to this textbook numerous differences caused conflict between Hindus and Muslims such as the worship of many idols, the use of music in religious ceremonies, the caste system, which “contradicted Muslim belief in the equality of all people before Allah,” seclusion of women and dietary concerns. More about these types of comparative lists of religious beliefs will be discussed below.
In the pages devoted to the Mogul Empire, Akbar is praised for making significant contributions to Indian civilization because “He fostered toleration for all religions, one of his greatest contributions to Indian civilization.” The critical reader could point out that the reverse was more obvious, since the tolerance found in Indian civilization was what impacted Akbar’s ideas. Aurangzeb is shown as he is usually depicted by historians, “A fanatical Muslim, [who] began a campaign of persecution against people of other faiths. . . which led to revolts throughout his empire. . .” In these three pages covering Mogul India a large photo of the Taj Mahal is included.
The next three chapters deal with the Medieval period–feudalism, and the Catholic Church, as well as the development of “nationalism in Europe.” Chapter 12, “Civilization of East Asia Reached New Heights,” offers a fairly well-rounded presentation. There are maps, artwork, discussions of literature, government, tax collection, and religion in the Tang and Song dynasties. Three pages are devoted to the Mongols. The third section of this chapter, “Japan Developed its Own Government, Society, and Culture,” covers the early history, feudalism, and Zen. The section concludes with a page describing how “Civilization Developed in Korea.” In many World History textbooks China and Japan are allotted their requisite place, but Korea, Vietnam (except in the context of the Vietnam War), Cambodia, Thailand and other countries of East Asia are neglected. When they are discussed it seems more like a footnote. The last chapter in this unit, “Africa and the Americas Produced Complex Civilizations,” also seems to have been added as a cultural footnote.
The next unit, “The Emergence of Modern Nations” includes chapters on European nationalism, the scientific revolution, monarchies, and ends with “The French Revolution Changed the Course of World History.” In the four chapters on European developments, 127 pages are devoted to the Renaissance, the Reformation, scientific discoveries, English history, and French nationalism. Chapter 18, “The Countries of Asia Experienced a Transition,” begins with China under the Ming and Qing dynasties and continues, citing the Chinese interface with the Portuguese and English. Section 2 discusses Japan under the Tokugawa Shoguns and in six pages covers a period from 1467 through 1868, a comparatively detailed discussion.
The first sentence in section 3 of this chapter, “The Islamic Empires of Asia Declined,” states, “Followers of the Muslim faith spread the word of Allah from the Iberian Peninsula to the East Indies.” In reading this, I noted the tone with which the authors approached Islam in comparison with the way that Hinduism was dealt with in previous chapters. In the above sentence, it is “the word of Allah,” not “the teachings, which according to Muslims, was the word of Allah.” Contrast this to the quote cited above, that even though “Westerners” think that this “religion of many gods sounds polytheistic [. . .] Hindus insist that it is monistic.”
The comparative religion technique used here is similar to narratives found in many textbooks, including the one by Ross E. Dunn and William H. McNeill, Links Across Time and Place-A World History, which under the heading, “Islamic Influence in India,” compares Islam to Hinduism. This text explains that there were “conflicts between Muslims and Hindus,” because
Muslims considered the beliefs of Hindus offensive to God. Muslims worshipped one God, Allah; Hindus honored several gods. Muslims believed all people to be equal in the sight of Allah; Hindus followed the caste system. Muslims rejected the use of statues; Hindus created beautiful statues of the gods they worshipped.
This parallel example from one of the other textbooks examined in my Master’s Thesis uses the standard list approach to compare Islam and Hinduism thereby actually creating a negative image of Hinduism. In this type of comparison, Islam is shown to be founded on the same basic principles of Christianity and since the majority of students who will read this book are undoubtedly Christian, this comparison is heavily weighted in favor of a positive impression of Islam, as Hinduism appears to be a religion of caste-ridden idolaters. It is ironic to note that when the Islamic “God” is referred to in this passage, it is written with a capital letter, twice. “God” is referred to as if the Muslim “God,” was God! However, when the word “gods” is used in the context of Hinduism, it is with a little g. Were this paragraph to be written with another slant, it might read something like this,
Hindus and Muslims considered many of each other’s beliefs to be mutually offensive. Muslims worshipped a monotheistic God whom they called “Allah”; Hindus believed that God has many names and faces and worshipped God in many forms. Muslims believed other Muslims to be equal in the sight of Allah, whereas they considered non-Muslims to be their lessers; Hindus organized their society according to a hierarchy that classifies people by hereditary castes, believing that one’s station in life is the result of past deeds. Muslims rejected the use of statues and other forms of visual and musical arts; Hindus created beautiful statues to symbolize different aspects of God and wrote hymns with elaborate tunes and rhythms.
Even in the best of the four textbooks surveyed in the larger study, World History: Continuity and Change, which had six contributors, as well as a five member Editorial Advisory Board, including Ainslie T. Embree, the well known scholar of South Asian Studies from Columbia University, and other notables such as Bernard Lewis of Princeton, a specialist in the History of the Middle East, offered this same list when comparing Islam and Hinduism. They cite “many gods and goddesses” versus “only Allah,” and the varna system is contrasted with the “Islamic belief that all people were equal before God.” Such comparisons exemplify the black or white, either/or approach to comparative religion.
The discussion in the Mazour-Peoples textbook continues with the Ottomans and Persia and then deals with the “Mogul Empire of India,” displaying a painting of Robert Clive. The narrative describes that by the 1700’s, the “Mogul Empire had become the weakest of the three Muslim empires.” Aurangzeb and his severe policies are not cited here though there is mention of the luxurious, extravagant lifestyles of the Mogul rulers and that after the sacking of Delhi by Nadar Shah, “Marathas, Sikhs from the Punjab, and Afghan Muslim invaders fought for control of the country.” The authors state that “India was torn by dissension,” and therefore, “Europeans could more easily conqueror it.”
The British took advantage of rivalries between Indian states and the “religious hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and the caste system, which prevented Indians from uniting against the foreigners.” This ignores the fact that many Mogul armies were manned by Rajput soldiers. There were certainly deep divisions that maintained a state of suspicion and tension between groups of Muslims and Hindus, but there had also been collaboration and centuries of interaction. Several times the authors stress the contrasts between Hindus and Muslims, there no discussion of any cooperation, except alluded to during Akbar’s reign. The British, in fact, “took advantage of rivalries” which they helped to reify.
The next few pages deal with British mercantilism and warfare and conflicts in India between England and France. Under the sub-heading “The Indian Revolt,” the first sentence reads, “India in the mid-1800’s presented the strange spectacle of a huge land, with millions of people and an ancient civilization, controlled by a foreign commercial corporation.” Once again, according to the textbook, India is somehow out of sync with the rest of the world and a “strange spectacle.” The Mutiny of 1857, or the First War of Independence, as it is called in Indian and Pakistani history textbooks, and which Mazour and Peoples call, “the Indian Revolt or Sepoy Rebellion,” was explained, “According to rumors, the cartridges were greased with the fat of cows and pigs.” The text states, “With the help of the Indian people, the sepoy troops staged a widespread and violent mutiny against their British masters.” In reading through other sections of this book regarding colonized peoples, I found no other instance where the colonizers were referred to as “masters.” This section ends with a brief discussion of the British response–they “executed leading sepoys by shooting them out of cannons.”
In the sections devoted to China and Japan, there is ample discussion of internal power struggles and cultural changes. In the section dedicated to India during the 1700 and 1800’s, the Mogul Empire and the British are discussed and there is no mention of the majority population, the Hindus, except in one sentence which referred to the caste system that helped to keep India disunited. It is noteworthy that after the Guptas, descriptions of India have focused entirely on Islamic adventures and not one word on the Hindu response nor are there any references to Hindu India. These people, the majority of the population, did not disappear for a thousand years.
Unit 5, “The Development of Industrial Society,” considers the Industrial Revolution, labor conditions, and urban living. Marx, Freud, the development of Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology are all mentioned, as are schools of music and art, such as Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism. Chapter 21, “Reforms Swept Through Many Areas of the World in the 1800’s,” spends ten pages discussing liberal theories of social reform in England during the 1800’s. A section on “Changes Within the British Empire,” dealt with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but not India, the crown of the empire.
Chapter 22, “Unifications of New Nations Added to Rising Tensions in Europe,” devotes 24 pages to topics such as Napoleon III, Bismarck, and Russia. The next chapter, “Imperialist Powers Competed in Many Areas of the World,” begins with a discussion of the “White Man’s Burden,” followed by a sub-section called “Imperialism” and another called “Missionary Motives,” in which local opposition to missionary activities was not mentioned. The paragraph ends with the statement that “Knowledge of medicine, hygiene, and sanitation spread with Christianity.”
Chapter 23 discusses European imperialism in Africa, followed by “Europeans Expanded Their Influence in South and East Asia,” which begins with the sub-heading, “British Imperialism in India.” This discussion has a fairly good treatment of the pros and cons of colonialism in the subcontinent. It refers to the building of railroads and bridges so that the British could transport goods, but also to the destruction of the local economy due to cheap imports from England. As well, it describes a
situation in which the peoples of two very different cultures lived side by side with almost no contact. The British had imposed themselves above Indian society as a superior race, a sort of super-caste.
The text continues that the British “formed exclusive social circles,” and signs in railroad stations and on park benches read, “for Europeans only.” The section concludes with the sentence, “For generations all Indians were subjected to contemptuous treatment by the British.” There is no discussion of individuals such as Ram Mohan Roy or other early leaders who interacted with the British as intellectual equals. This narrative, however, does paint the picture of the colonial mentality quite vividly.
Under the next sub-heading, “Rise of Indian Nationalism,” there is mention that British education taught a small percentage of Indians “about nationalism and the ideals of democracy,” and that these “Indian scholars, could, and did, use quotations from British writers to condemn British imperialism.” Two paragraphs are devoted to the birth of the Indian independence movement. The formation of the Indian National Congress is discussed and its policies regarding gradual independence through democratic methods. The next paragraph begins,
Other people wanted to break all ties with Great Britain in an effort to sweep away all Western influence. The Hindus, particularly, wished to revolt not only against Western culture but also against Islam.
These views, the book continues, “alarmed Indian Muslims,” who thought that British rule “protected them from discrimination and violence.” Because Muslims feared for their safety if British rule was removed, they were “much less enthusiastic about driving out the British than were the Hindus.”
In the above statements, the word “Hindu” is used to represent a small radical minority, who wanted to “sweep away all Western influence.” This gives the reader the impression that all Hindus thought like this. Granted, among some groups of Hindus, such as certain elements in Maharastra, Muslims were considered colonialists and lumped together along with the British as an imperial power. But, the blanket statement that “Hindus. . wished to revolt. . . against Western culture” leaves a rather strange image in the minds of the young readers who may visualize primitive Hindus rejecting education, democracy, development, sanitation, and all the wonderful things that the authors have just told us were brought to India by the Christian British.
Unit 6, “World War in the Twentieth Century,” has four chapters that deal with topics such as the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, the beginnings of World War II, and one chapter discussing “New Political Forces” emerging in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The chapters devoted to European wars, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, Stalin, and more, begin on page 638 and end on page 687. It is necessary that these crucial years of Western history be dealt with in detail so students can understand the recent past, a difficult process in only 50 pages. 18 percent of the book, which covers over six thousand years of human developments, is devoted to these 50 years of European and American history. Though the rationale is obvious, understanding the events of these few years and their impact on our world today is essential for informed students,7 it is nonetheless ironic that so many details about non-Western countries are omitted. If the rest of history were covered with as much attention this book would be over six thousand pages long.
Finally, Chapter 26 brings us to the topic, “New Political Forces Emerged in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” The first part of the chapter discusses how the “British Empire Adjusted to the Postwar Era.” The discourse on the “Independence Movements in India,” again focuses on “hostilities present in Indian Society,” and stresses that it was diversity which hampered unity within the independence movement. The book once again brings up tensions “between Hindus and Muslims, and wide gulfs . . . between upper-caste and lover-caste Hindus.” No mention is made of the Hindus and Muslims who worked together towards independence, nor of the changes in the caste system that were gradually occurring due to the efforts of Gandhi and other national leaders. In fact, neither the Indian National Congress nor the Muslim League are named. This treatment of the Indian Independence Movement is dry and uninformative. It is interesting to note that caste is consistently used as the scapegoat of Western historians, which along with Hindu beliefs, are cited as obstacles to “progress” and democracy.
This background information, or lack of it, as well as Gandhi’s theories of nonviolent non-cooperation and his role in the struggle for Indian independence are allotted only one page. There is a photograph captioned, “Mohandas Gandhi with followers.” It is telling that Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, is walking along beside him in this photo, yet she is not identified. This oversight is doubly ironic because the book puts considerable effort into including a sub-heading in most chapters about the condition or role of women in different societies. These sub-headings sometimes seem a bit forced and I personally would have preferred to see the discussion of women within the main body of topical discussions, instead of seemingly included as an afterthought or a way to sell textbooks. When Kasturba Gandhi is not recognized, and therefore an opportunity to point out the active role Indian women played in the Indian Freedom Movement is missed, I doubt the sincerity of the authors’ inclusion of women.
Section two of chapter 26 deals with nationalisms in Turkey, Persian, and Africa, and section three, titled, “China Struggled to Become a Modern Nation,” devotes five pages to the Boxer Rebellion, the Nationalists, and the communists under Mao. In this treatment there is a sufficient coverage of the history of the period for the student to get a fairly good picture of what happened in China between 1900 and 1935. This equals more than one page per decade, far less than the one page per year devoted to World War I and the Depression, yet far better than the single page devoted to the years 1909 to 1935 in India.
Four pages in section 4 cover Japan’s modernization and imperialism in Korea, as well as the Russo-Japanese War and the Japanese role in World War I. These pages cover a period between 1900 and 1920, thereby dedicating two pages per decade to political developments in Japan. The final section of this chapter deals with “Economic Crisis in Latin America.” This unit deals with World War II, beginning with “Japanese Aggression in Asia” and “Italy’s Conquest of Ethiopia,” and takes the reader through the Second World War in Europe and the Pacific to the end of the conflict in 1945. Here, 27 pages are devoted to 25 years, better than one page per year. In the discussions of either of the world wars, there is no mention of India’s role in supporting the Allies.
The last unit in the book, “The World Since 1945,” has six chapters. The second chapter, “Asian Nations Struggled to Gain Stability,” covers the period from 1945 to the present, between pages 774 and 805, in which all of post war Asia from 1945 until the present is covered. The first section, titled, “Communists Took Control in China and Created a New Society,” dedicates six pages to China, and two an a half pages to the Korean War. In this discussion, descriptions of China are not overly cloaked in Cold War rhetoric. Passages describing the problems caused by “more than 30 years of war,” which had left the Chinese people “miserably poor. . . decimated by periodic epidemics and famines” are however written with an attitude about modernization versus tradition. In this instance, it does not portray the Chinese simply as “poor, toiling, starving peasants,” thereby playing on the sympathies of the reader, but it infers that these poor peasants were in this condition because progress had not yet arrived to lift them out of their poverty and ignorance.
There is the notion in this book, as in most World History books published in the West, that progress and Westernization, which are usually seen as synonymous, can lead poor nations to prosperity and social justice, regardless of the need to make such “progress” culturally specific. Numerous times the authors have used the phrase, “some progress” was made, or “increase in production,” thereby automatically assuming that all progress is positive and to be desired. Compared to other textbooks, this one does not dwell overly in this progress-over-all orientation in which non-Western nations are all portrayed as evolving toward Western modes of production and social organization. In many books, modernization is confused with westernization.
Section 2, titled, “Japan Became an Economic Giant in the Postwar World,” deals with that nation’s amazing reindustrialization after World War II. Japan is the only country to which a whole sub-section is devoted discussing alternative views of the costs and benefits of development and industrialization, pointing out that aspects of industrialization such as pollution and inflation put new pressures on the society and often damage family relations. Three pages are devoted to postwar Japan.
Six pages in section 3 of this chapter, “India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh Become Independent Nations,” cover the period spanning independence, partition, the non-aligned movement, Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency,” and foreign relations, which focus on the on-going problems in Kashmir, through to the break-up of Pakistan and the death of General Zia ul-Haq. Out of two and a half pages focusing specifically on India, over half a page is devoted to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. That this was the only time the Indian constitution was violated and the only interruption in democratic rule in over forty years (up until the 1990, publication of this textbook) is not mentioned. It is ironic that in a book which only dedicates two and a half pages to India, covering forty years, a fourth of the space is used to discuss the Emergency, which lasted for less than two years and was an aberration in the strong democratic traditions that have characterized Indian politics since independence. In fact, in these two-plus pages, there is not one mention of the dynamics of Indian democracy. Only the problems are discussed. In the section on Japan there seemed to be a more generous treatment of politics and civic culture. I speculate that the tendency for textbook writers to focus on religion in India and politics and economics in Japan may make it difficult to see India in any other light besides cursed by caste and shackled by religious tradition.
Even when the authors think that they are making positive statements about India, they do so by contrasting tradition against modernization. An example of this is found in a description of the policies of Nehru, compared to Gandhi, “who wanted independent India to return to its traditional way of life.” The new prime minister “emphasized modernization,” and “wanted to unify India by overcoming the dividing forces of religion, language, caste, and regional interests.” Once again, India’s diversity and traditions are explained as impediments to progress. These attitudes are woven into each paragraph in the sub-section titled, “Social and Economic Problems.” There is no such negative sub-heading included in the sections devoted to China, Japan, or other regions of Asia.
In the remaining pages of the section on South Asia is a discussion of the problems faced by Pakistan as a new country. Interestingly, the attention paid earlier to India’s problems, allowed the authors to say that Pakistan “faced problems similar to those that plagued India–rapidly growing population, poverty, illiteracy, and cultural and linguistic differences.” The last sub-section, “Independence for Bangladesh,” devotes two paragraphs to the discussion of that war and its causes. The text does mention that “more than 1 million people lost their lives.” The figure is more aptly estimated at 2.5 or 3 million, and there is no discussion of blatant and wide spread human rights abuses during that genocidal nine month war, nor that the US supported the losing side.
This section ends with recent politics in Pakistan, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution, Pakistani support for the Afghan rebel forces, Zia’s death, and Benazir’s election as Prime Minister. Pakistan was not described as a pawn in Cold War politics. It is amusing to note that in the last sentence, Z.A. Bhutto is referred to as “Ali Bhutto,” a name never used by Zulfi. In the review at the end of this section, the students are asked to identify and explain items such as non-alignment and mixed economy, and such notables as Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Ayub Khan, Zia ul-Haq, and Benazir Bhutto. They are also asked to “List the major social and economic problems faced by India.” Similar questions focusing on negative aspects of postwar China or Korea or Japan were not asked in the review sections at the end of those chapters. Consistently, India is seen as a problem waiting to happen. Her strengths and successes, such as national unity amid linguistic and religious diversity, advances in industrial production, agriculture, technology and higher education, a free press and a vast publishing industry, and the political empowerment of those formally known as “untouchables” are not considered.
In this final section on South Asia, the maps and photographs chosen are significant. There is a full-page map of India with religious demographic information, titled, “Religious Division and the Partition of India, 1947.” On the next page is a quarter-page photo of Indira Gandhi waving to a crowd of supporters. The caption reads, “Indira Gandhi campaigns for prime minister of India. What did her opponents accuse her of doing to win the election?” Since the book tells us that she was accused of election fraud, the only photo depicting India in this section is one with a negative caption. The next photo is of a young woman looking through a microscope, the caption reads, “In Bangladesh a research technician works to increase agricultural output.” These two photographs, sitting as they do across from each other on facing pages, are quite a contrast, one a corrupt politician and the other a serious young researcher. India, has obviously lost out in this visual comparison. The final photograph in this section on South Asia is of Benazir Bhutto as she is sworn in as prime minister of Pakistan, on December 2, 1988, “becoming the first woman to govern a Muslim country.” Once again, India looses the image game–Indira Gandhi was the first woman to govern a country in South Asia and in fact, when she was elected in 1966, she was truly one of the first women to be an elected national leader anywhere in the world. This fact is omitted. Even within the restricted area of South Asia, in comparison with the tone used in the treatment of other countries of the region, India just can’t win! This type of negative treatment that India usually suffers in the US media is one reason that NRIs were so amused when Jesse Helms, back in 1995, introduced Benazir Bhutto in the Senate Chamber as the “Prime Minister of India.”
In the last section of this chapter “Asian Nations Sought Security and Economic Growth,” the authors attempt to show that though “Asia is a region of great diversity containing many nations that differ significantly from one another [. . . .] a closer look . . . reveals a number of experiences they all have in common.” They state that “most of the countries of Asia at one time had been colonies,” forgetting that China and Japan had never been in that category. That’s a huge chunk to leave out of such a broad generalization. They then state that after independence, “most new Asian nations set up representative governments [but] with the passage of time, democracy failed in most of Asia.” They are ignoring India’s success, much less Japan’s. It is little wonder why India’s democratic institutions were not discussed in the earlier sections, it did not fit the summating paradigm of how the authors view Asia. Lumping all the countries of Asia together, they treat “Economic Development” the same way as they dealt with “Political Development,” in very general terms.
After discussing these pan-Asian topics for more than seven paragraphs, the textbook states, “authoritarian measures, in some cases, have led to more rapid economic growth but at the expense of individual rights and freedoms.” This is a good example of the discourse of the textbook located in the point of view of Western superiority. Firstly, all the countries of Asian can not be lumped together in the way that the authors have attempted, and failed to do. Some were under colonial control, some not, some became Communist, some did not, some have stable democracies, some do not. There are simply too many differences to generalize about politics or economics, as the authors have done. The strategy in this capacity is one that is often used when organizing World History curriculum–Asia, Africa and Latin America are considered as the “other” of the developed, westernized world. The countries of Southeast Asia are particularly vulnerable to this strategy, and they are lumped together with China and Japan as a footnote. Secondly, the authors seem to be justifying “authoritarian measures” as a path to “more rapid economic growth,” much in the same way that by some of my previous observations and arguments I could be perceived as an apologist for caste.
Concluding this chapter is a half-page discussion of “Asian Cultural Diffusion,” accompanied by a large photograph of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Japan, with the caption, “An example of Western cultural diffusion is this popular American food franchise found in many Japanese shopping centers. What Asian-made products have dominated world markets?” This half page, which is the crowning comment that these two historians would like to make about Asia, states that “For hundreds of years, Asia influenced the West.” They cite “ancient religions, philosophies, and martial arts,” and art exhibitions in “Western galleries,” as well has “Asian-made” consumer goods. They discuss research done by “Western business leaders” into why the Japanese are “remarkably competitive” in the world market. Another contribution mentioned was that “Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolent resistance had a powerful impact on the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960’s.”
In all, 28 pages were devoted to the discussion of post-war Asia. Sadly, they sign off on Asia with the Kipling quote, “East is East and West is West,” adding that “for a long time, Kipling’s observation appeared correct, [but] since the early 1970’s. . . a greater understanding seems to have developed.” They attribute this to the recent economic role played by the “Pacific Rim countries.” It seems to me that it can instead be greatly attributed to the explosion of the Information Age. Hopefully, the world is moving towards a mutual understanding by all peoples, East and West, North and South, that international relationships must be formed on equal terms.
There are four more chapters in this book: “The Nations of Africa and the Middle East Became Independent,” “Latin America Became the Focus of World Attention,” “Challenges Faced the Superpowers in the Modern Era,” and “The Modern World Faced the Challenge of Rapid Change.” All of these chapters have about 29 pages each. The section begins with a discussion of “African Nationalism,” which is explained much in the same way that nationalism in other parts of the world has been explained in this textbook. It is seen as a natural outgrowth of colonialism, consisting of three levels:
The promise of human rights for all, economic prosperity, and democratic freedoms, are tied in with this picture of nationalist movements, but in the view of the authors, the majority of these new nations were unable to achieve these lofty goals due to poverty, corruption, traditionalism, and/or violence. This description of the rise of nationalist movements is simplistic and based on a “Western-Centered Approach.” 8
The problems encountered by ninety-seven scholars who participated in a study, Asia in American Textbooks — sponsored by The Asia Society in 1976, are duplicated in the Mazour and Peoples’ World History textbook, published fourteen years later. In The Asia Society study the compilers categorized hundreds of comments that their reviewers made about over three hundred Social Studies texts on Asia. Based on this exhaustive collection of materials, they isolated three main approaches to the study of Asia:
Another sub-category included in their discussion of the “Western-Centered Approach,” is “Confusing Westernization with Modernization.” In this narrative style “modernization, Westernization, and even industrialization are used interchangeably as if they were synonyms.” Several scholars who participated in this study of 1976 pointed out that
such treatments fail to take into account that Western ideas are actually adapted by Asians, not slavishly copied, and that this has occurred to a far greater extent over a much longer period of time (witness the seminal impact of Chinese and Indian civilizations on most of the rest of Asia) and that Asians have also influenced the West.
Several other sub-categories were mentioned, such as an “Emphasis on Asian Problems–Neglect of Asian Strengths,” magnifying the role of “Europeans and Americans in Asia,” and defining Asia in terms of contact with the West. It is interesting to note that in this study conducted in 1976, of the World History textbooks examined, less than 16% of the text was devoted to Asia. In my recent study of four World History textbooks, the same statistic holds true, 15% of the overall materials were devoted to Asia, even though, as The Asia Society publication points out, “Two-thirds of the world’s people live in Asia.” Textbooks writers often “discuss only the Western contributions to Asian life and fail to mention any Asian initiative and strengths at all.” This harks back to the professor in North Carolina who seriously informed the audience that India had contributed “a kind of mushiness” to world culture.
The last sub-category identified in The Asia Society study criticizes the rationale used to study Asia, often based on the idea that by better understanding the peoples of Asia, Americans will (a) see their own culture as “distinct from other nations,” (b) ensure the security of the United States, and (c) be better able to create markets for American goods in Asian nations. The study points out that obviously, all of these reasons for the study of Asia are very Western-Centered much like the tourism rationale used in the 1961 textbook.
The final chapters of the Mazour-Peoples book are rife with many of the “approaches” described above. They write of the “struggle between continuity and change, between old and new,” indicating that there is inherently a conflict between modernity and tradition, and that non-Western societies adopt Western values instead of selectively adapting them. In these final chapters on the “Third World,” the main purpose is to show how the countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America are moving along the road to progress. In the last two chapters, “Challenges Faced the Superpowers in the Modern Era,” and “The Modern World Faced the Challenge of Rapid Change,” neither Asia, Africa, Latin America, nor any non-Western nation are even mentioned. The entire content of the last two chapters of this book are exclusively devoted to changes and developments in the West. Fortunately or unfortunately, in most classrooms students rarely get to the last chapter of their World History textbook, most classes don’t get past the 1960’s and many find the school year ending just after the Second World War.
The treatment or maltreatment that India and non-Western regions of the world receive in U.S. World History textbooks, the lack of preparedness of many U.S. teachers to teach about India, and the checkered history of Area Studies, all indicate that the study of Asia, and other areas of the non-Western world, has suffered through various rationales and has been subjected to perceived changes in national interest. Regardless of these factors, most school districts mandate lessons about Asia as part of the required curriculum. How the history and culture of India are actually taught, however, leaves much to be desired.
My own experiences during 1993-1996 as an M.A. student in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin caused me to contest some of the assumptions that seemed to direct the study of Indian history and culture among certain Western academicians. I also began to questioned the theoretical constructs of some of the more well-known, leftist-oriented scholars from India who have dissected the nascent nation-state and, for whatever reasons, along with their Western counterparts, regularly demonize India’s national urges, deconstructing and disempowering the world’s oldest, most philosophical, and most resilient civilizations. It seemed to me, as a student in Area Studies, that the study of India was based on narrowly defined approaches to South Asian history and culture, wherein ideological portals have been fabricated within various academic disciplines, each convinced they are the “true” path to India. No doubt, each is a path to understanding. However, Indian culture and society has been analyzed, reanalyzed and over-analyzed, from every multi-perspectival position possible.
Many of the things that were taught about Hinduism and India in several of the classes I took at the university level seemed somewhat out of sync with current research going on in India. I found that some of the scholars had a patronizing attitude towards indigenous Indian intellectuals who write from an “Indian” perspective. Many of the assumptions and methodologies used in modern Asian Studies simply were not verified my experiences and understanding of Indian Civilization. Title Six Centers were initially funded based on perceived Cold War imperatives that for decades guided the study of non-Western cultures in the USA. There needs to be a change in the approach to Areas Studies.
The preceding analysis exposed how textbooks can distort images of India and Hinduism. The following analysis reveals how the educational training teachers receive does not provide them with adequate information in order to approach the topic from an informed and informative perspective.
Why World History is Taught as “Western Civ”
Teacher preparedness to teach Asian Studies in Secondary Social Studies classrooms is essential. The following analysis points out the academic causes for the pitfalls and shortcomings that inevitably accompany teaching about South Asia and Asia in general. The results of this analysis, which quantified the courses student teachers took prior to graduation from The University of Texas at Austin, indicates that the preparedness of future Social Studies teachers to teach Asian topics is inadequate. Most in-service and pre-service teachers have had insufficient or nonexistent course work in Asian Studies and yet the curriculum requires that they teach Asia-centered topics in such subjects as World History and World Geography. It is imperative that this issue be addressed if we are to transcend the problems discussed by Indian-American students discussed in the first section of this paper.
In order to triangulate the data describing how Asian Studies is presented at the secondary level and to understand why World History is usually taught as Western Civ this paper concludes with a quantitative analysis of the course work taken by Social Studies teachers who completed their studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Statistics were obtained by documenting the courses they had taken at The University of Texas prior to signing up for student teaching in the Social Studies. These student teachers applied for either History certifications or Social Studies Composite certifications between 1989 and 1995. The courses listed on their transcripts were broken down into categories which included not only South Asia, East Asia, and other Asian nations, but Africa, Post-Soviet/Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and U.S. Minority Studies, as well as three types of Geography–Physical, Cultural and Area Studies. This analysis also tabulated the number of hours taken in Economics, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Government, and finally, the total number of hours that each student had taken in Western (American and European) History.
In today’s educational discussions, it is important that a distinction be made between multicultural education and global/international education:
The following analysis details the courses taken in both multicultural and international areas. The results are represented by graphs10 displaying all the courses in the Social Sciences taken by this sample of student teachers. The records of two groups were analyzed: 123 student teachers who had applied for a History certification, and 111 student teachers who had applied for a Social Studies Composite certification.
Out of a total of 2829 hours taken in courses on history and culture by the 123 History student teachers, only 195 hours were taken in Asian Studies (see Figure I). This represents 6% of the total. Ironically, the majority of these future teachers will at sometime during their careers be called upon to teach World History. That these World History classes are usually presented as a course on Western Civ is no wonder since the teachers have taken 71% of their coursework in American and European History. Courses on other non-Western areas of the world did not fair any better than Asia. These future history teachers took 3% of their coursework in African Studies, 4% on the Middle East, and though it would seem that history teachers in Texas would have taken a significant number of courses on Latin America, this area only represents 6% of their coursework. Both Post-Soviet Studies and courses on American minority groups represented only 5% each.
Of the 111 student teachers who had applied for Social Studies Composite certifications, 4% had taken a course about Asian (Figure II). Out of 2937 hours taken in courses on history and culture, 77%, or 2265 hours were devoted to American and European topics. Courses covering the other areas of the world suffered the same fate as Asia, 3% of the courses were on Africa, U.S. minorities and the Middle East, 4% on Post-Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and 6% on Latin America.
When the data is broken down further (Figures III & IV), it can be seen that out of 123 future history teachers, only 12 took one or more courses on South Asia–less than 10%. And of 111 Social Studies teachers, only 15 took a course on South Asia. Since in the teaching profession, teachers impart information which they know, stressing things about which they feel comfortable teaching, it is easy to see why as many as 90% of practicing teachers may feel insecure discussing South Asia and may prefer to ignore Indian civilization or present it using the cursory “Indus Valley/Taj Mahal/Mahatma Gandhi” lesson planning strategy. Sensationalist news stories are still the basis upon which information about India rests with someone who is not informed about the culture and sensitive to India’s complexities and consistencies.
Ninety-six percent of the 123 student teachers seeking a History certification had taken at least nine hours of Western History. Of the 12 students who had taken a course on South Asia, only 10% took more than one course. Part of the problem lies in how the course requirements are laid out at The University of Texas in order to obtain a degree and teaching certification. Naturally, American History is, and should be, required for two semesters (six hours). Western Civ is then required for two semesters. After a course in Texas History, to please the legislators, the students are on their own to choose classes that interest them. The only stipulation is that the courses selected should be upper division courses. Unfortunately, most survey courses at the university, such as “Introduction to Hinduism” or “Introduction to India History” are offered as lower division courses and do not fulfill certain requirements of those planning to major in History. These courses may still be taken as an elective, but at the crucial point in which they should be automatically included in the curriculum offerings, they are precluded. Upper division courses in Asian Studies tend to be more narrowly defined, such as “The Moguls,” or “The Rise of Buddhism.” Though interesting courses, they are less useful to future teachers who need the broad base of knowledge about a region offered in a survey type course, especially if that is the only course that they ever take on the non-Western world.
When seen in totality, of the 234 student teachers whose course work was analyzed, only 27 took any classes about South Asia. The average number of hours that history teachers spent studying about South Asia amounted to .41, or less than half an hour (Figure V). This criteria, when applied to teachers seeking Social Studies Composite certifications, indicates that they have collectively spent only one third of a semester hour in a course on Asian Studies (Figure VI).
Ironically, the data collected from a study of Secondary Social Studies textbooks11 runs parallel with the course work that was taken by the student teachers. Figure VII represents a quantitative breakdown of the number of pages dedicated to different regions of the world, based on nine World History and World Geography textbooks. 58% of the pages in these textbooks, which were intended to focus on the entire world, are dedicated to Europe, 4% to India, 6% to China, 3% to Japan, 2% to other Asian countries such as South East Asia. Interestingly, all the rest of the world, including Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Pacific, Australia, Africa and Latin America, are crowded into the remaining 27% of the total pages.
It is noteworthy that a very large number of students took more than one course in Psychology. As can be seen in Figures VIII and IX, the vast majority of the students took multiple courses in Psychology. Though Psychology is important and is required of those seeking teaching certifications, the quantity of courses taken in Psychology exceeds the needs of the practicing teacher. Very few Social Studies and History teachers will ever have to teach Psychology, almost all will have to teach World History. Because it would be difficult for a student to take a separate course for each area of the world, the need for an upper division class on non-Western World History would solve many of the problems of preparedness that new teachers face.
Social Studies in a Changing World
The average American knows virtually nothing about Asian history and cultures in spite of the fact that over half of the world’s population lives in Asian countries, occupying vast tracts of the planet’s land mass, notwithstanding that most of our U.S. classrooms now have a significant representation of students of Asian heritage. The need for a comprehensive and nonprejudical treatment of Asian Studies in the American classroom is apparent. The changing face of our ever shrinking world, international relations, and the demographics of American classrooms, make the case for knowledge about Asian civilizations obvious. Unfortunately, the actual construction and application of Asian-centered curriculum materials is more difficult to obtain. Much of the problem lies in the fact that appropriate pedagogical materials, beyond the state-adopted textbook, which, as seen above, can be more harmful than helpful, are not readily available. More importantly, the majority of the many excellent teachers in our schools often have not had adequate prior training in content areas specific to Asia, or to other non-Western regions of the world. Most World History classes are in actuality Western Civilization courses with perhaps a very short unit devoted to a few essentialized lessons on Asia.
This dawn of the Twenty-first century has found us sharing in a world of increasing cultural diversity and global interdependence. It is the responsibility of educators to enhance their students’ knowledge and understanding about other cultures without transmitting and perpetuating their own misconceptions, stereotypes, and biases about those cultures. The central problem is this: How do teachers, who have had woefully inadequate training in non-Western cultures, teach about the history and culture of Asia, or Africa or Latin America, without reinforcing biases, misconceptions, and stereotypes commonly held about those cultures? For teachers who have no training in non-Western topics, teaching about global issues can be daunting.
Unfortunately, the term “Global Education” has been somewhat tainted by the ubiquitousness of the word “globalization,” which has come to be associated with a type of neo-liberal trans-national exploitative capitalism. Though economic cooperative interaction is to be encouraged among nations, frequently the results of such trade agreements are often slanted to the benefit of the occidental/economically more developed world. The programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) often result in a reverse transfer of capital actually increasing the poverty of countries of the “South” while facilitating the flow of wealth to the lender countries of the “North.” For this reason I have come to view the term “Global Education” as insufficient and unfortunately negatively colored by its presumed similarity to “Globalization.” I hope to find a term to express the ideas inherit in “Global/International Education” without implying a hegemonic relationship or a patronizing perspective. I have considered several terms that might be more appropriate. One phrase, “Inter-subnationalism,” implies the inter-relationships across regions without culminating in the politics of the nation-state, but it is rather pretentious. Regardless of what one would call this school of thought, it seeks to promote understanding between people of different ethnic, linguistic, religious, and national groups.
In addition to international and demographic imperatives for improving the study of Asia in American classrooms, there are interpersonal and humanitarian reasons as well. Motivations for studying other cultures should not be constrained by nationalistic or economic variables. There is a “need to promote a harmonious coexistence among the peoples of our planet.”12 Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent. Studying about other cultures from a respectful perspective helps students to broaden their understanding of their socio-physical world. These experiences provide them with not only valuable opportunities to develop more respectful and realistic views of other peoples but allow them to develop a better understanding and appreciation of themselves, whether they are Indian-Americans or any other American ethnic group.
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