The debates concerning the quality of textbooks on History have been led in the United States within the recent decades. The decreased quality of the course books on national history has been pointed out by American Textbook Council. Deciding between the contemporary course books, educators should evaluate content and layout of available historical texts critically. Incorporating visual aids and maps into the text is expected to make a book student-friendly and improve learners’ understanding of the materials.
However, the authors of the textbooks should not go too far, overfilling their books with images which they often consider to be self-explanatory, sacrificing the space of traditional black-in-white text. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate and compare three popular coursebooks on national history.
History of a free nation by Bragdon, McCutchen, and Ritchie is used in a number of American schools. However, besides its advantages, this text has some weak points at the same time. Deciding on this book, a tutor will have an opportunity to use the teacher’s edition while preparing the lesson plans. Covering the national history from the New World till the present moment, the information provided in the textbook is not limited to the historical materials only.
Incorporating charts and tables into the edition, the authors were aimed at developing students’ general literacy and improving their understanding of the course materials. The layout systematizes the materials and is learner-friendly. On the 1118 pages a reader can find the chapter reviews and index for the whole book which simplify the student’s task and make the work more convenient.
Learners can take advantages from charts for climate, population and religion. Bearing in mind the fact that understanding of historical materials is impossible without knowledge of the related sciences, the authors tried to make the text accessible for students with diverse levels of preparation.
Thus, education purpose of the coursebook is not limited to creating learners’ awareness of separate historical events and epochs but presupposes deepening their knowledge in various spheres for creating a full picture of the state of affairs instead of shedding light upon separate fragments of the materials. At the same time, these charts are always close at hand and are easy to use.
Thus, on the one hand, learners do not have to keep in memory the enormous amounts of data, knowing where to find the necessary information if it is required. On the other hand, consulting the charts every now and then according to the principles of visual memory, students would remember them at least partially.
Containing a dictionary of geographic and history terms, and written in rather simple language, the book may be regarded as learner-friendly. Students are offered to look through presidents’ profiles or important historical documents. A teacher can use planning guides of the teacher’s edition while preparing for the lessons. Tutors do not have problems with collecting visual aids, deciding on this text, because the book is overfilled with various images and charts.
These are only some inconsistencies in theoretical materials that are considered to be the main drawbacks of the book. Thus, for example, authors are accused of oversimplifying some episodes and underestimating the role of religion studies in the course of history.
The word ‘Christianity’ was mentioned several times in the book, but the historians are accused of not providing information on the theories. Teachers should not rely on the text of the coursebook only if they want to make knowledge of their students comprehensive.
History of a free nation by Bragdon, McCutchen, and Ritchie is teacher- and learner-friendly, providing them with numerous visual aids and additional materials on related sciences but underestimating and sometimes even distorting particular historical events.
History of the United States by DiBacco, Mason, and Appy is another textbook popular among contemporary History teachers. The authors of this textbook managed to strike the right balance between incorporating additional materials and visual aids and providing accessible and reliable data on history of the native country.
The primary goal of the historians was to tell the whole story, considering various aspects of the life of the society, viewing the facts from various perspectives and paying proper attention to the most important events.
One of the main benefits of the coursebook is integrating multicultural perspectives for deepening the students’ knowledge. The text contains a lot of economic, religious and geographical themes, shedding light upon the most important events and pointing at their impact on the course of history.
Creating students’ awareness of such difficult questions might seem to be an overwhelming task for a single coursebook. Still, systematizing the materials and implementing the principle of proceeding from the simple to the complex, the authors managed to make the text accessible for high school students.
Incorporating visual aids into the book, they found the golden mean and allotted enough space for traditional black-in-white text, not relying on self-explanatory pictures and making students acquire theoretical terms and be able to use them by the end of the course.
It is important that the edition contains an atlas and gazetteer because it makes work on the historical topics more convenient, providing students with an opportunity to create links between the historical events and corresponding locations, suggesting that the events in question took place on the native land and motivating learners to visit the historical sites.
Creating a teacher’s annotated concise edition, authors enabled instructors to work with the primary sources, deepening their professional knowledge and improving the teaching-learning process instead of using ready-made lesson plans. History of the United States by DiBacco, Mason, and Appy may be regarded as one of the best contemporary textbooks on American history.
It contains a comprehensive analysis of the historical development of the native land, involving learners and teachers into the research process, providing them with all the necessary materials and motivating to deepen their knowledge by working with other sources.
America: Pathways to the present: Civil War to the present by Cayton, Perry, and Winkler is appreciated for the accessibility of the materials for students with different levels of preparation but criticized for distortion of particular historical facts and providing some subjective views.
The language of the text is simple and easy to read. The writing style and narrative key chosen by the authors make students enjoy the learning process.
On the one hand, it might be interesting to learn the historical materials reading the textbook like a work of fiction. On the other hand, it limits students’ opportunities for acquiring theoretical materials and learning the necessary terms. Thus, it can be used as additional source, but the question whether it can be used as the main coursebook is rather disputable.
Being learner-friendly, it requires teachers’ contribution to development of the lesson plans, finding the necessary visual aids and adding important information to the book materials. It is possible to use separate excerpts from the textbook in lessons for combining business with pleasure if an instructor wants to generate learners’ interest in particular issues. Still, it should be noted that this text is insufficient for creating students’ awareness of the historical development of the country.
The textbook might be used by teachers who have profound knowledge of the subject and can evaluate the materials critically. Lacking knowledge of the subject, students would not be able to work with it without external help and teachers should not rely on the book as the main source of information.
The main disadvantage of the coursebook is insufficiency of materials for teachers. Being aimed at enhancing students’ academic achievements, tutors will have to work hard on lesson plans, collecting the materials using other sources. America: Pathways to the present: Civil War to the present by Cayton, Perry, and Winkler is easy to read but sheds light only upon a separate episode in the history of the country and distorting particular facts, requires teachers’ hard work on the lesson plans.
All the three textbooks on national history have their advantages and disadvantages, depending upon the authors’ views on the primary purpose of the educational process and the subject itself.
Weighing all pros and cons of History of a free nation by Bragdon, McCutchen, and Ritchie, History of the United States by DiBacco, Mason, and Appy, and America: Pathways to the present: Civil War to the present by Cayton, Perry, and Winkler, a teacher should critically evaluate the theoretical materials, quality and quantity of visual aids as well as other options, simplifying the teaching-learning process and deepening learners’ knowledge of the subject.
Bragdon, Henry, Samuel McCutchen, and Donald Ritchie. 1998. History of a free nation. New York: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill.
DiBacco, Thomas, Lorna Mason, and Christian Appy. 1991. History of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Cayton, Andrew, Elisabeth Perry, and Allan Winkler. 1998. America: Pathways to the present: Civil War to the present. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.