井の中の蛙

11/9/2007

A brief rant at an easy target

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:37 pm

So I’m grading my latest World History quiz, and one of the terms is “samurai.” Being a two semester World History sequence, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the samurai — I had one day to cover pre-1500 Japan and Korea — so the answers were mostly based on the textbook (loosely) or people’s prior understandings of the term1 or on Wikipedia.2 At some point I got suspicious and looked up the glossary definitions at the back of the textbook.3 Most students don’t use it, but sometimes they think it’s a good short-cut for the short-answer identification quizzes I give. It’s a viable suspect.

Here’s what the book said:

Samurai (SAM-uhr-eye) A Japanese warrior who lived by the code of bushido (p. G-9)

Yeah, that’s it. No chronology, no economic or political context, and an undefined foreign term at the heart. A quick survey of the rest of the glossary reveals that most of the other definitions are: a) longer; and b) better. Not all, mind you.

Yeah, I had to check and see if they had, in fact, defined that foreign term.

Bushido (BOH-shee-DOH) The “way of the warrior,” the code of conduct of the Japanese samurai that was based on loyalty and honor. (p. G-2)

Aside from the proununciation error, it looks…. Oh, the Japanese samurai… as opposed to samurai elsewhere? “Honor” is a pretty vague term, too. Again, no chronology, no authorship, minimal context.

I know it’s a minor point, but this text is in its fourth edition and these textbooks go through what’s supposed to be exhaustive reviews by dozens of scholars. So why does the glossary read like a touched-up Western Civ text?

  1. ahem []
  2. the Wikipedia article has a note at the top begging for expert assistance and citations. Any of our readers already wikipedians? []
  3. Bentley and Ziegler and Streets, Traditions and Encounters: A Brief Global History []

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