Taylor & Francis is proud to publish our first Open Access Textbook, Making Sense of World History by Rick Szostak. We caught up with Professor Szostak to talk more about the contents and structure of the book, as well as his experience of publishing Open Access. This comprehensive and accessible textbook is freely available to read and download here.
How does Making Sense of World History differ from the many World History textbooks out there?
· Five innocuous organizing devices that lend greater coherence to the study of world history
· An exhaustive and balanced treatment of themes (to avoid a biased history) and an emphasis on interactions among themes
· Greater clarity in terminology
· A focus on historical “episodes” that are carefully related to one another
· Use of interdisciplinary techniques for transcending historical controversies
· Explicit (but subtle) attention to skill acquisition in organizing information, cultural sensitivity, comparison, visual literacy, integration, interrogating primary sources, and critical thinking more generally
· Coverage of many important topics that are neglected in other texts (e.g. how human personality was shaped in human evolution, treating the fishery along with the emergence of agriculture and nomadism, discussing the emergence of democracy in Costa Rica at some length, and using the experience of seigneurial tenure in Quebec to provide comparative insight into the abolition of feudalism in Europe)
· A sustained attempt to draw lessons from world history [The last chapter is devoted to this.]
· A unified authorial voice (most world history texts have multiple authors)
The first two bullets are the most important. One of the organizing devices involves the use of dozens of flowcharts to show how different themes interact in driving major historical events or processes; and how results of some processes become inputs into others. Another involves identifying the common challenges faced by rulers, merchants, farmers, parents, and dozens of other historical agents, and then comparing how these are addressed in different times and places.
I also use in-text boxes to discuss processes that transcend the temporal limits of particular chapters. I start each chapter by discussing how it both builds on previous chapters and sets the stage for later chapters. The fifth organizing device is the use of evolutionary analysis, which is great at showing how one historical event builds on what had happened before.
These organizing devices allow me to pursue ten themes (culture, social structure, politics, economy, technology and science, art, population and health, environment, human genetic inheritance, and personality) through history, and focus on how these interact. Most world history texts pursue only a subset of these and thus leave out crucial elements of the story.
What are the key features that students and instructors will find helpful?
I came across a remark years ago that inspired this book: that students and instructors of world history find it hard to achieve coherence in a course that addresses so many different times and places. The organizing devices together impart two different types of coherence: They make it easier to see how later events and processes build on earlier events and processes; and they make it easier to draw comparisons across time and place. The final chapter provides a further form of coherence in attempting to draw lessons from the past that can guide our future.
That final chapter can also provide an answer to students who are required to take world history and wonder why. They will be further aided here by dozens of "postscripts" in the text that briefly mention current events or circumstances that reflect distant history (e.g. Why does Denmark govern Greenland?)
The book takes skill acquisition seriously. It occasionally asks readers to put themselves in the place of historical actors -- to develop the skill of perspective taking. It works on visual literacy with the flowcharts, but also guides students to reflect on the hundreds of illustrations in the text. It guides students to ask questions about each of the dozens of excerpts from primary sources in the text. And it guides students to perform acts of comparison, flowcharting, critical analysis, integration, and historiography themselves. There are several questions at the end of each chapter in addition to those attached to documents and the occasional question in the text itself. There are also guiding questions at the start of each chapter.
I must say that the book is gorgeous. Newgen did a great job typesetting, and I am thrilled by the appearance. The Index is fantastic too. Over 500 illustrations and 70 maps are beautifully reproduced. Different types of Box are shaded in different colours.
How did you find the Open Access publishing experience?
I am excited by the potential of Open Access. I do most of my reading online these days, and value the ease with which one can search online texts. Students may in reading a later chapter wish to refresh their memory regarding some earlier event and will be able to do so very quickly. I am also quite pleased, though, that hard copies are available for those who prefer to have a solid book in their hands. Both will find the Index a very useful guide.
I have had the honor of speaking to university audiences in the Global South. I am particularly keen on how Open Access can facilitate learning by students that struggle to afford textbooks and have access to limited library resources.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering publishing their book as an Open Access text?
Go for it! I want my book to reach the widest possible audience. I once taught a course that used a book that was available for free online through my university library; every year a few students still bought a hard copy. So I suspect that will be the case here. If Open Access allows the book to reach a wide market, some hard copy sales will follow.