Date: Thu, 16 Feb 1995 13:04:27 PCT
Sender: H-NET List for World History <>
From: “Daniel A. Segal” <>
Organization: Pitzer College
Subject: National [U.S.] Standards for World History
To: Multiple recipients of list H-WORLD <>

National [U.S.] Standards for World History

By Daniel Segal, Pitzer College,, 16 February 1995

I want to again suggest that we not allow extremist attacks from the right to define the debate about the proposed “National Standards” for world history. What I find striking about the proposed “Standards” for world history is how little they depart from a number of problematic conventions of our discipline.

Earlier on H-WORLD, for instance, Piers Larson wrote critically about the reliance in the “Standards” on a compromised and vexed notion of “civilization”—and specifically, on the implicit privileging of stationary peoples over more nomadic peoples.

And previous to that, I had criticized the “Standards” for failing to develop critical thinking skills about the contingency of modern identities of race, nationality & ethnicity.

Here I would like to add what I see as a third, though clearly related, limitation of the proposed “Standards” for world history. As I read them, these “Standards” have not adopted a fully global scope and as a result, they contain a highly circumscribed understanding of the what Ruth Benedict called “the great arc” of human possibilities (*Patterns of Culture*, 1934: 24). This, in turn, means that the “Standards” do not provide students the comparative perspective needed to see the contingency of their own social conventions and cultural presuppositions. In the version of “world history” embedded in the proposed “Standards,” modern global capitalism is not, for instance, compared with the kula exchange of the Western Pacific, nor the potlatch of Northwest Coast Native Americans. This “world” is too small for my taste at least.