Today’s guest post comes from Ben Wright, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, who focuses on religious conversion and early American antislavery. He is the co-editor of Apocalypse and the Millennium in the Era of the American Civil War (LSU, 2013), the editor of the Teaching United States History blog, and co-editor of The American Yawp.
Like many of you, I find myself teaching the first half of the U.S. history survey this fall. The first few times through the course, I used a textbook and appreciated the clear organizational structure and built-in pacing. Teaching with a textbook felt like teaching with training wheels, and I certainly needed them for my first few laps. But as my confidence grew, so did my desire to assign primary sources, articles, monographs, museum catalogs, and other readings. While I am impressed with the quality of many texts – Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty, and Kevin Schultz’s HIST are among my favorites – I cannot justify assigning an (often outrageously) expensive textbook if it is not going to be the cornerstone of my course. But my course evaluations often include requests for textbooks, particularly among athletes or other students with serial absences. I have tried placing a textbook on reserve, but in the three semesters of doing so, no one has ever checked out the book. It seems like our discipline could use an affordable, synthetic safety net for students who would like one. Continue reading