Driving Awareness, Adoptions, and Affordability
While most of us are focused on the price of textbooks, what interests me most is the way Creative Commons can fix other problems with textbooks. I am not convinced that the monopoly held by four publishers has been healthy for the field of history. For example, I am not sure how every textbook came to follow nearly the exact same narrative when it comes to labor history. Why is it Homestead, Haymarket and Pullman Square every time? The Seattle General Strike, Bisbee Deportation, Ludlow Massacre, and Battle of Blair Mountain were at least as important as the strikes and conflicts in Chicago and Pennsylvania, yet they never make it into the textbooks. The same is true of civil rights history—why only focus on one Freedom Ride, one voting rights campaign, one boycott, and one sit-in? And why is it always the same ride, boycott, voting rights campaign, and sit-in? The consequence is that students do not know that there were Freedom Rides and sit-ins and boycotts and attempts to disenfranchise voters across America.
If you gathered all of the authors of US history textbooks (these are the leaders of my field who rose by their merits) and told them they could not include examples beyond this pre-set narrative they would rebel against you. Somehow these editorial decisions have been made in advance, and few notice that our history is not really being written by historians.
One of the great possibilities for open textbooks in my field is the ability for instructors across the country to “sprinkle-in” primary sources and examples form local history. For example, I discuss the sit-ins in Charleston and Huntington when I teach civil rights here at Marshall. Even the back row comes to the edge of their seats when I show clips of old local TV footage! With an open textbook, I can sprinkle in lots of other examples to show how important labor history is. For example, the US Army Air Corps actually dropped bombs on striking coal miners in the 1920s! When students read this they get really excited about labor history in ways I could never make happen with stories about Chicago rail workers demanding a 10% raise.
Writing a textbook is not a project I saw myself doing a few years ago, but the idea kept growing on me and I now see such a project as something of immense value. One of the other great new possibilities of this model just became apparent this past month, in fact, as a pair of instructors went in and selected certain chapters and created "derivative" textbooks for specialty courses such as Reconstruction and the Gilded Age and World War II and the Cold War- two courses that have never had an intro textbook in the past.
I am hopeful that others will find that the CC license allows them to include examples from local history and/or sources that demonstrate perspectives different from my own interpretation.