The Family: A World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press , Whelchel Washington State University-Vancouver.
Mary Jo Maynes and Ann Waltner have authored a tightly written and succinct, yet admirably comprehensive, survey of family as a theme in world history. Smith and Anand Yang, and, if this volume is characteristic of the quality of others in the series, both the editors and Oxford University Press are to be thanked for providing teachers and students with concise and effective treatments of themes in world history that represent the best current scholarship. Although specialists themselves in European Maynes and Chinese Waltner history, the authors have read deeply and widely in the histories of other world regions, demonstrated by their broad-ranging treatment of Africa, the Americas, and West, South, and Southeast Asia.
In addition to geographical breadth, the book's chronological coverage spans the very earliest archaeological evidences of family to contemporary debates about conceptions of the family. This is a tough assignment and I believe the authors have done a superb job of showing how and why family matters in world history without oversimplification or overgeneralization. They deftly use personal narratives where possible or, when there are no such sources available, make use of archaeological evidence in ways that bring out the human experience of family in the past.
Organized into seven chapters, roughly corresponding to standard world history periodization, the book begins with human origins and early domestic life to BCE , captured through everything from fecund-looking female images to skeletal DNA analysis. There are student-friendly touches in this chapter, fleshing out sketches of archaeological remains with descriptions of how children would have observed their surroundings and understood their place in the community.
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One of the strengths of their book comes out sharply in this chapter: their skill in weaving together sufficient information of a standard historical sort such as the rise of early polities from Mesopotamia to the Maya with information on family and gender.
Students with little or no background should be able to follow their arguments easily, neither inundated by facts nor lacking sufficient context to grasp the significance of what is being said about family. One of the most persistent and familiar problems in world history is how to make periodization work globally.
Periodization is problematic enough within the relatively limited scope of regional histories; it becomes even more difficult when used on a global scale.
In particular, this chapter treats marriage as its central theme in the era of early modern colonization, and rich examples provide color and interest for the reader to better appreciate the role played by family in larger historical processes.
The chapter also includes case studies of Armenian, Sephardic Jewish, and Chinese Malaysian merchant networks and the family histories embedded in them, providing a vivid sense of diversity within the commonality of global patterns. Perhaps this is hard to avoid, given the themes of industrialization and national revolutions, but I wonder still if it would not have been possible to broaden the scope of coverage here.
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This chapter would have provided a good opportunity to make use of scholarship on the Japanese family, for example, during the transition from Tokugawa to Meiji times in response to industrialization, war, and Westernization. Again, perhaps this is inevitable, but the only mentions of African or other Asian examples are through the lens of colonialism. In the last two chapters, in particular, but to some extent elsewhere in the book, treatment of the Islamic world is a weakness.
Having taken part in projects that aim to be similarly comprehensive, yet concise, I am well aware of the pitfalls of omission and the delicate balance between coverage and limitations on length. Still, I believe better balance could be achieved through the incorporation of more on the Islamic world, especially post Throughout the book, Maynes and Waltner emphasize the approach they outline in their preface: families change over time in relation to larger historical processes but they are also agents of historical change.
This book could almost stand as a basic text in world history--one that just happens to be organized around the theme of family. It could work well as a supplemental text in a survey course, but it could work equally well in a more advanced course in comparative world history to illustrate a thematic approach that invites and demonstrates the value of comparative studies. Student-friendly additions include a chronology, a list of suggested readings, and a list of websites appended to the book.
Citation: Linda Walton.
World History- Islam
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