The Story of Civilization will eventually be a four-volume series covering the entire span of world history. Each volume has a core book plus a number of ancillary items. This is similar in concept to Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, but The Story of Civilization is written primarily for a Catholic audience.
Volume I: The Ancient World and Volume II: The Medieval World are available at this time.
Phillip Campbell is the author of the texts and the presenter on the video lectures. I first encountered his work when I reviewed a video history course that he created for Homeschool Connections. I was very impressed with both the content and his presentation. So when I heard that Campbell was to be the author and presenter for The Story of Civilization, I expected that the quality would be excellent. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Story of Civilization series is written for use with students in grades one through eight although Volume I is probably most appropriate for grades two through six and Volume II is likely best for grades three through eight. The idea is that you will cycle through the four volumes in chronological order over four years, possibly going through them a second time when your children are four years older. Which of the additional resources you will use depends upon the ages of your children as well as your own preferences.
The core textbooks intersperse historical fiction with the actual history, with the author clearly delineating when he shifts into storytelling. This makes the books especially suitable as read-alouds even though older children can read them by themselves. You can even use the core textbooks entirely on their own without any of the other resources if that suits your purposes.
These are substantial books with over 300 pages each. For parents who lack time to read these books aloud, or for children who want to listen a second or third time, sets of audio CDs present the entire contents of each book. Voice actor Kevin Gallagher reads each book against a dramatized background of subtle music and sound effects. Volumes I and II each have a set of seven audio CDs that run about 8.5 hours each.
Video lectures running about ten minutes per chapter are presented by Phillip Campbell himself. Lectures review key points and characters from each chapter. Campbell adds occasional explanations that go beyond the text plus a few graphics and visual aids. While he sometimes references the historical fiction stories in the lectures, you will want to read the full stories in the text. Immediately after each lecture, the video presents some review questions and activities that the family can try to answer together or in competition with one another. (Lectures are streamed from TANhomeschool.com.)
Neither the lectures nor the audio CDs are essential, but they might be very helpful. Some students might find it helpful to read the book while listening to the audio CDs.
The publisher recommends the activity books for students in grades one through four, but older students might benefit from some of the activities since they all relate to the chapter material in some way. Activities include coloring, map work, cut-and-paste pieces to be used with craft activities, various types of puzzles, and drawing. Some of the coloring pages feature simplified versions of the dramatic drawings of characters that are used in the core textbook. Activity book pages are perforated for easy removal, and those that need to be used for crafts are printed on only one side of the page.
The teacher’s manual for each volume is essential if you want to do anything more than just read the text. It guides the use of the activity manual as well as all other lesson activities. You can’t use the activity book without the teacher’s manual.
Each chapter section of the teacher’s manual begins with five comprehension questions that should be used orally. (Answers are included below each question.) Next are narration exercises. The teacher’s manual has simple headings such as “Chariots” and “The Hittites” for two narration topics followed by a paragraph or two of a sample narration. This lets parents know what type of information students should be retelling based on what was covered in the chapter. You could ask for either oral or written narrations. Other activities vary from chapter to chapter. There are one or more craft projects for each chapter. Most but not all chapters have one map activity and one coloring page. Make-and-eat snack projects and drawing activities show up in some chapters. The occasional drama projects seem better for students beyond fourth grade. Other activities such as writing a riddle poem, taking a poll and graphing the results, and a water displacement science experiment are representative of a few other types of activities that show up just once or twice. You should not try to complete all of these projects.
I want to revisit the projects since these are probably the largest component of the activities for each chapter. Chapter-by-chapter lists of required resources for craft, snack, drawing, and science projects are at the beginning of the teacher’s manual for easy reference. Those lists are also included with each project’s instructions within each chapter’s instructions. Step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, but they will take time and require parental oversight and assistance. Crafts require fairly simple materials such as cardboard, brown paper bags, tape, markets, toilet paper rolls, metal brads, hot glue gun, googly eyes, bronze spray paint, and modeling clay. While there is nothing expensive or difficult to find, you still need to plan ahead.
The test books are suggested for students in grades five through eight. Questions for each chapter generally consist of two or three sections of questions. Questions are multiple-choice, matching, or true/false. Tests pages are perforated for easy removal, and test answers are at the back of each test book.
The companion timeline for each volume is a glossy, 36” x 18” poster that covers only the time period of each volume. Most of the illustrations from the textbook appear again on the timeline, serving as visual reminders to students of what they have read or listened to. While the back side of each timeline has 20 “Timeline Trivia” questions, I expect that most families will want to mount the poster somewhere readily visible, covering up the reverse side. Students do not add anything to the timeline; it serves only as a visual aid.
The complete set for each volume includes the textbook, teacher’s manual, audio CDs, streamed lecture videos, activity book and test book. The timeline is included as a freebie when you order the complete set. The activity book and test book are both consumable, so students who will be using them each need a book their own. You can check out free previews and sample pages here for Volume I and here for Volume II..
The quality of all of the components is excellent. The caliber of the writing and the illustrations as well as the production quality of both CDs and video lectures are outstanding. In addition, the resources have been field-tested by a number of families who were able to provide valuable feedback to help make the entire course easy to use, even for those with large families.
I mentioned at the beginning that The Story of Civilization was written for Catholic families. However, the first 27 of the Volume I's 35 chapters could easily be used by any audience. Only with Chapter 28, “The Coming of Christ,” does the Catholic nature of the series become evident. Chapters 29 through 35 integrate the history of the church with the history of the Roman Empire up through the rise of Constantine. In Volume II, the Catholic content is much more obvious and a Christian worldview pervades the course. For example, on page 271 we read,
We must not forget the role Christianity played in the inventions of the Middle Ages. Yes, many of the inventions were created by monks. But more important, the Christians of Europe believed that the world was governed by an all-knowing God--a God who was rational. This means that they believed the secrets of nature were knowable. If God was knowable through reason, so were the laws He made to govern the world. The Catholic faith encouraged people to be curious about things. Learning about he world was a way of learning the mysteries of God.
I was surprised that the beginning of Volume I skips over early prehistory that we know from the Old Testament. It introduces “The God of Israel” in Chapter 7 where we meet Abraham and Moses. There’s no mention of Adam and Eve, Noah, or other events covered in the Old Testament prior to Abraham. Chapter 8 succinctly covers Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land up through the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 587 B.C. So, while the textbook brings in biblical history, it does so briefly. I get the impression that the publisher expects their customers to also use TAN’s The Story of the Bible, a two volume series designed very much like The Story of Civilization. That series provides thorough coverage of the Bible with the first volume devoting significant attention to the book of Genesis. So if you also use The Story of the Bible, you’ll have plenty of coverage of biblical history.
The publisher envisions that the audience for Volume I is most likely to be younger students who are just beginning the four-year sequence. Thus, the activity book for that volume targets those younger grade levels. Nevertheless, you can still include older children, probably those up through sixth grade with Volume I and up through eighth grade with Volume II. Older students might skip the activity books entirely or complete only the activities suitable for their grade levels. If junior high students read the text, watch the video lectures, and take the tests they might still need to complete additional work for it to be sufficiently challenging for them. You might assign further reading, research, and writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these textbooks. I think many junior high and high school students might likewise enjoy reading or listening to the books or watching the video lectures even if not for full course credit. An older student who “missed” out on a Catholic foundation in their history in previous years might find The Story of Civilization volumes a great way to quickly catch up.
Catholic families have struggled with The Story of the World and other history resources that are great for Protestant families, but tricky for Catholics to use. They now have an excellent choice that supports the Catholic faith. The first volume is so well written that non-Catholic families might even find it worth working around what they view as problematic elements to use this series, but the second volume is likely to seem too Catholic for most Protestants.