Teaching and Learning History

American Yawp

  • 1.  American Yawp

    Posted 01-27-2016 12:28:00 PM

    Has anyone successfully used the free online American Yawp for a primary textbook in an American Survey class?

    I am looking at possibly switching to using it completely and doing away with the students buying a text book. Right now I am using Give Me Liberty by Forner and I do not like it. I was thinking of using Yawp and then supplementing it with primary sources.

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    Sarah Albertson
    LeTourneau Univ.
    Longview TX
    sarahrandow@letu.edu
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  • 2.  RE: American Yawp

    Posted 01-28-2016 01:58:00 PM
    I reviewed this text along with 5 other free online U.S. History texts for the California State University system this past August. It was then clearly a work in progress, so the authors/editors may have revised or added material since then. I reviewed only the recent-U.S. parts (1865-present). But here is my review of the text as of August 2015.

    http://americanyawp.com/
    This is a real mixed bag, appearing to be a work in progress. No chapter seems like it is a finished product yet. There are some really excellent sections within chapters, including really fantastic and well reproduced images and illustrations, but interspersed throughout every chapter are statements of fact for which no clear evidence exists. In addition, there are some glaring omissions. Thus, a mostly excellent chapter on Reconstruction has good and nicely-nuanced descriptions of debates over rights for black men versus white women, but fails to examine race and gender with respect to white men, which many scholars have pointed out allows white men to stand for the universal human, in contrast to all women, and all non-whites, who are particularized as distinct from the universal human. This is a problem elsewhere in this--and many other--texts. However, this text does a very nice job of examining white manhood during the Progressive Era. Some other content issues: Indians during late-19th century westward expansion briefly mentions important events or persons without sufficient context or development. Thus: "Sitting Bull was killed," but we get no explanation of the context, who did it, or why. The description of the Dawes Act is quite superficial, and provides no real description of its purpose or actual effects. In the section on "American Empire," there is a brief mention of "modernization-hungry Porfirio Diaz" with no further context or explanation. Although this chapter offers more extensive coverage of Empire than the other texts being reviewed, it reads like a rough draft. It is very poorly organized with few connections drawn among the various events described. The discussion of immigration in late 19th-early 20th century presents "push-pull" framework without recognition of the important scholarship critiquing this approach. This section also neglects the quite large scholarship on the intersections of race and gender in the history of immigration. Most recent research on the World War I draft soundly refutes this text's characterization of it as "reasonably equitable. . . and generally well-received without serious objection by the American people." The description of Black men and the Selective Service is especially inaccurate, as is the claim that women enthusiastically supported the war. Recent scholarship shows this was largely determined by class, and somewhat by race and ethnicity. The chapter on the Cold War mistakenly states that Eisenhower defeated Truman in 1952. (A later description of this election gets it right.) The role of the U.S. in the return of the French to Vietnam after WWII, and support for the French Indochina War as described in this text is not in agreement with much of the recent scholarship, or even with State Department documents that have been available for decades. It also mistakenly refers to the Geneva Conference in 1954 as "U.S. brokered," which is not correct. There is an excellent section on the "permanent war economy" following WWII, as well  as its relationship to growing racial inequality related to housing and other aspects of the 1950s economy. This is something largely ignored by the other texts. Accompanying maps and other images make this very effective. The coverage of the U.S. war in Vietnam is a mixed-bag, as well. Pieces of it are scattered through more than one section. Some on Vietnam is excellent, but it includes some quite blatantly political claims that give at least an inaccurate impression of things. For example, the authors write: "American-sponsored nation-building efforts flourished across much of South-Vietnam." I have taught a course on Vietnam for 20 years, and I have seen no evidence that would support such a statement. A chapter on "Gender and Culture in the Affluent Society" is just a disorganized hodge-podge of disconnected brief paragraphs on radio, TV, Rock & Roll, the Beat Generation, and homophile organizations. Despite the chapter title, there is no gender analysis. The penultimate chapter, called "The Unraveling," refers to "the monolith of American culture" as "white, male-dominated, conservative, and stifling." Maybe so, but there is nothing in previous chapters that would help the student think about the historical roots of this culture. This chapter, again, is, as some have said about history, "just one damn thing after another." There seems to be no particular organizing principle. One of those things is the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration, which appears here without the students having been given important historical background on the history of the U.S. in Iran, the hostages in Lebanon, or the revolution in Nicaragua. This section concludes by telling the reader that a full investigation cleared Reagan. This is factually incorrect. He was not cleared. They simply did not uncover sufficient evidence to prove he was involved, which is different from being cleared. In the final chapter, "The Recent Past," we have a purely presidential synthesis approach organized around Clinton, G. W. Bush and Obama. NAFTA is briefly described, but its effects are not. The Gulf War gets 3 sentences. Obama is described as a "community activist," although "community organizer" would be the accurate term. The description of the 2007-8 economic crisis is confusing. Some sense of the authors' own confusion may have been reflected in this mystifying sentence: "Issues have confronted Americans with sustained urgency." Finally, the chapter concludes with this rather offensive description of Obama: "Obama was a lame duck before he ever won re-election. The Obama administration campaigned on little to address the crisis and accomplished far less." I'm not sure what this means, other than that it is not meant to be complimentary. In any case, it tells the student nothing useful.

    The text is in great need of proofreading. It also needs work on organization within each chapter, with paragraph organization and structure, etc. It needs better transitions between paragraphs and among sections to help students make connections. The writing style is often abstract, with extensive use of passive voice. Many awkwardly-phrased sentences have abstractions as the actors: "Global economic crisis gave way to global war." "War unleashed . . . technology." "War broke out." "Riots rocked Detroit." "Prosperity began to retreat." Many of these are silly cliches, such as: "Time marches on." "The present becomes the past and the past becomes history." And perhaps most absurd: "The last several decades of American history have culminated in the present." This is worse writing than most of my students would do. The formatting of the text on the page is in one very wide column, making the lines too long to read comfortably. However, the embedded images and illustrations are very high resolution and better than any of the other texts reviewed here. There are no animations or audio. There are citations in the form of chapter endnotes, and there are further references listed at the end of each chapter. but no glossary.

    This is basically a web page. I could not find an option for pdf or Word doc. It can be printed from the web. Navigation is a bit confusing at first, since once in a chapter, it is not clear how to go back to the table of contents, which is where one must go to find the primary sources. I found no options for annotating within the text. Finally, there are no primary sources available for the years after 1923. There is a note that they are waiting for copyright permissions.

    The best sections are very engaging, and it covers a number of important topics not well-covered in other texts. The embedded images are especially wonderful.

    Proofread, proofread, proofread! Organize, organize, organize! Get rid of cutesy cliches. Correct factual errors, especially those statements that are simply political positions disguised as facts. I don't think any instructor will want to adopt this text until the primary documents post-1923 become available. Until then, it's just the text. Further, this needs to be designed for full online use. Right now, it is just a traditional-looking textbook digitized and posted online. It doesn't really make much use of features that would enhance student learning, such as group forums, places to comment on the text, etc.

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    Gerald E. Shenk
    Professor, Social History
    Social & Behavioral Sciences Department
    California State University, Monterey Bay
    Seaside, CA  93955
    Phone: 831-582-3882
    email: gshenk@csumb.edu





  • 3.  RE: American Yawp

    Posted 01-29-2016 10:21:00 AM
    Hello Gerald,

    Thanks for  posting your review of American Yawp.  I'd be interested in reading your reviews of the other free online history texts.  Are those available anywhere?

    Gina Ottoboni





  • 4.  RE: American Yawp

    Posted 02-01-2016 01:21:00 PM
    Dear Gina,

    Reviews of free online texts in all disciplines for the California State University System are at http://coolfored.org/reviews.html. To get to the U.S. History reviews, you have to scroll all the way to the end. You will find all of my reviews there, as well as those by others in both the CSU and the California Community Colleges.

    Gerald

    --
    Gerald E. Shenk
    Professor, Social History
    Social & Behavioral Sciences Department
    California State University, Monterey Bay
    Seaside, CA  93955
    Phone: 831-582-3882
    email: gshenk@csumb.edu





  • 5.  RE: American Yawp

    Posted 01-28-2016 02:13:00 PM

    I'm using The American Yawp right now, for the first time. We'll see how it goes at the end of the semester, but after three weeks, it seems to be fine. As Gerald Shenk just mentioned, the layout can be confusing: it's difficult to get from one chapter to the set of primary sources, for instance, and it's not possible to view all of the primary sources in a chapter at once. If you want students to bring the sources to read in class, they have to individually print 4-6 sources or bring a laptop/tablet. It needs better outlines, timelines, terms lists, and/or other hooks for students to be able to get their heads around this big chunk of text.

    That said, I think the benefits outweigh the costs. It's not quite as good as some standard texts I have used, but it's comparable. The text is generally fine, and while there are things I feel are left out or could be cut, I've never read a textbook that I wouldn't want to change in some way. Using a free, open textbook seems an inherently worthy effort.

    Right now, I intend to use it again next semester, and just download and combine the primary documents into a single PDF that I will provide electronically. I'll probably try to make some of the problems into virtues - have my students create terms lists for each chapter, perhaps.

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    Charles Roberts