Author of the Month: Kenneth R. CurtisPublished: August 17, 2009
Voyages in World History
Kenneth R. Curtis, Assistant Vice President, International Education and Global Engagement
Brought out in 2009 by Wadsworth Publishing, the 973-page Voyages in World History was written with Yale co-author Valerie Hansen. Intended for use in college world history classes, each chapter of the text centers around a story—a traveler’s account that highlights the book’s main theme, the constant movement of people, goods, and ideas—locally, regionally and around the globe. Chapter introductions are illustrated with images of the travelers and maps that show where and how he or she traveled. They include rulers, explorers, poets, merchants, soldiers, missionaries and scholars. Their narratives provide a framework for each chapter and draw students into the stories of world history as well as helping them to learn critical reading skills through their evaluation of the traveler’s observations and attitudes. Lavishly illustrated chapters feature such titles as “The Peopling of the World to 4,000 B.C.,” “The Atlantic System: Africa, the Americas, and Europe, 1550-1807,” and a concluding chapter entitled “Voyage into the Twenty-First Century.” The use of the travelers’ stories help make the story compelling, Curtis believes. “We tried to provide guides to pull the readers through history,” he said. “It is a matter of seeing individual trees as well as the forest. The students have the travelers to identify with along with interesting images and primary documents from the periods. There is even a feature on the origins of beer and another on Japanese baseball.” Choosing the right traveler “was a bit of a parlor game,” he said. “They had to have an interesting story to tell. They had to open doors to bigger themes. Plus, there was the question of representation. By choosing Simon Bolivar, we could capture the broader influence of the French and American revolutions. Then there were the travelers who are less well known, like Australian Nancy Wake who was the most decorated woman veteran in the Second World War.” Voyages emphasizes interconnections, comparisons and global contexts. “You see the local in relationship to the global,” said Curtis. “You see how the driving engine of historical change has been the interconnection and intercommunication between societies. Very often that has been represented in history courses as a struggle only through conflict and war. We try to tease out more of the creative outcome of interacting societies, whether musically, intellectually or economically. It is intended to be a broad view of the globalized human past.” Curtis earned his B.A. from Lawrence University and completed his Ph.D. in modern African history at the University of Wisconsin in 1989. He joined the university in 1990.