Comparing international textbooks to develop historical thinking

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Author: John J. DeRose
Date: January-February 2007
From: Social Education(Vol. 71, Issue 1)
Publisher: National Council for the Social Studies
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,269 words
Lexile Measure: 1780L

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Throughout my 12 years of teaching history, my students have frequently expressed curiosity about the way past events involving the United States were viewed by other nations. For instance, my students have often wondered how World War II is presented to students in Germany, or what students in Japan learn about the dropping of the atomic bombs. I have often used the internet to find primary sources from other countries--such as wartime propaganda posters--to help students analyze events from different points of view. Secondary sources from the perspectives of other countries are also available in print or online. I have even been fortunate enough to have foreign exchange students who are willing to talk about what they were taught of the past and the teaching materials used in their nations.


During the past year, I have also used a book called History Lessons: How Textbooks from around the World Portray U.S. History, by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward, to help my students look at events from a global perspective. (1) The book includes passages about significant events in American history translated into English from textbooks around the world and can be used to help students make comparisons with their own textbook's version of events. I taught the following lesson on the Vietnam War using excerpts from this book and from our own textbooks to compare how American and Vietnamese texts described the war.

The Vietnam War Textbook Lesson


Students will compare and contrast passages about the Vietnam War from excerpts of a Vietnamese textbook with passages from their own U.S. history textbook. (The author used excerpts from History Lessons.)

Suggested Time

1-2 class periods

NCSS Standards Addressed




Students will:

1. Compare and contrast their textbook's account of the Vietnam War with a Vietnamese textbook account of the same event or period, to consider disparate historical perspectives.

2. Interpret the biases and limited perspectives present in textbook accounts.

3. Evaluate the quality of historical sources of information.


Students should read their own textbook's account of the Vietnam War. Since many U.S. history textbooks devote an entire chapter to this event, this comparison activity might work best at the end of the unit, when students have almost finished reading the chapter and have also viewed other sources of information. My students use McDougal Littell's The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century, which covers the Vietnam War in Chapter 22. (2) Students should also read about the Vietnam War from a Vietnamese textbook, excerpted in History Lessons: How Textbooks from around the World Portray U.S. History (pp. 311-315).

After students finish reading both textbook accounts, they answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

1. How are the accounts similar?

2. How are the accounts different?

3. What possible biases or limited perspectives exist in our textbook's account of this event?

4. What possible biases or limited perspectives exist in the Vietnamese textbook's account of this event?

5. Explain why you think, or do not think, that one of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A159177974