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Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People
Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People
David Edwin Harrell Jr.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005
1328 pp., $78.00

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I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom
I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom
Patrick Allitt
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004
256 pp., $24.95

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Bruce Kuklick


Text Messages

Misplaced priorities in the teaching of American history.

The textbook in American history is an institution in itself. Such texts are used in Advanced Placement (AP) courses in 11th grade in high schools across the country, and they show up again in the two-semester surveys of American history that millions of college students take in their freshman year, often required by state legislatures or college trustees. The texts can turn authors into millionaires and make a lot of money for successful publishers. They are also in some ways works of art, accurately summarizing the scholarship of hundreds of historians who have labored in the primary sources and diligently produced monographs unreadable except to the erudite or masochistic. The texts bring together inquiries in political, diplomatic, economic, labor, intellectual, religious, cultural, ethno-racial, and gender history—and whatever other kind of history industrious American historians have invented.

The textbooks are also behemoths. They are the volumes that are causing health nuts to worry about the burden of backpacks on schoolchildren. Unto a Good Land—a survey of American history recently published by Eerdmans—weighs between 6.5 and 7 pounds on my bathroom scale. It has more than 1,200 pages, and they are double columned. Over 800 words can be crammed into a single page, although there are also pictures, maps, cartoons, engravings, and inset sections entitled "In Their Own Words" that break up the text. There are also appendices that reprint the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation, election results, and a chart of population growth. Instructors can get a manual and a "Test Bank" that has lecture notes, discussion items, and multiple choice and essay questions for exams. Students can go online to a website to get full texts of documents. But Unto a Good Land also provides outlines for each chapter to help students, and at the end of each chapter this text is exemplary in recording a short catalogue of books for additional reading. ...

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