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History under fire for bias to the East

The new national standards for world history have come under fire for not emphasising the importance of Western civilisation; the criticism coming hard on the heels of the furore over standards for American history for pushing aside "politically incorrect" white males, such as George Washington, in favour of ethnic studies.

The standards for world history drawn up by the University of California are voluntary standards being developed as part of President Clinton's reforms and are expected to be widely adopted. They look at ancient Chinese civilisation and such cultures as the Olmec in Mexico and the Nok, in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as European culture.

"It's a welter of detail, an outpouring of information," said Lynne Cheney, a Republican who chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Bush administration. "By deciding not to give any emphasis to Western civilisation, they lost any organising principle. If you look over history for the past 500 to 600 years, the rise of the West is the organising principle, and the key to the rise of democratic standards."

History professor Gary Nash, of the University of California at Los Angeles, who co-directed the two-and-a-half year project, dismissed Mrs Cheney's objections. He said the rise of the West was one of the important themes in the new standards, but in certain periods of history what was more important was the reach of Islam and China.

The standards cover Egyptian civilisation, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, European imperialism, the two World Wars and the Cold War. But they also cover less familiar themes drawing heavily on archaeological information which document the development of mankind and the rise of ancient civilisations. Students are required to demonstrate an understanding of early hominid development in Africa, and of the emergence of Islam, and how Islam spread in south-west Asia, North Africa and Europe.

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