In 2014, after responding to a JISC funding call to explore the ‘Institution as e-textbook publisher’, a group of us from the University of Liverpool (UoL) won funding to develop an Open Access e-textbook called Using Primary Sources. The team behind the textbook is made up of around 30 academics (from Liverpool and beyond), UoL librarians and Liverpool University Press (LUP). From the outset, the main aim for us was to create a resource that would help students integrate source materials into their written work. As General Editor of the book, I work closely with the library to digitise materials from the University’s collections that we use within chapters, and with LUP to prepare for publication.
Authors planned chapters around themes, for instance on Political Culture, Environment, Trade and Commerce, or Popular Religion. Authors were asked to write a 7,000 word chapter which conformed to a specially designed template, and to work alongside UoL librarians to find materials to use in their chapter. As you can see, Biblioboard – our publishing platform – has allowed us to upload high-quality digitised sources from UoL collections which link out from the themed chapter. Within their short chapters, authors were asked to offer a quick historiographical overview and some reflections on the type of primary sources they had chosen to focus on. Then, chapters conclude with some practical advice on how to ‘use’ primary source materials to construct arguments or demonstrate points. Naturally, this advice can only be suggestive, and has proven to act as a good starting point for classroom discussion. Furthermore, we have produced lesson plans which will be included online soon. We hope these can be usefully adapted by historians who are interested in using the e-textbook in their teaching.
One of the benefits of creating an e-textbook is that we can keep adding to it. We are about to publish two more chapters (on ‘Colonial Violence’ by Deana Heath, and ‘Global Histories of Health and Medicine’ by Leon Rocha & Kayleigh Wall), and we can always add more materials to chapters, or invite new contributions in the future. In the History department at UoL, we have been working to embed the resource throughout our curriculum, and students have been positive about the value of the textbook.
A project of this size was always going to be a complex challenge to manage and complete, but working on it has proved to be an immensely rewarding experience. As we all know, creating any sort of teaching resource takes a great deal of planning, effort and time, and it has been difficult fitting this project alongside all the other work that we do, and the pressures that we face. If we want to prioritise improving the pedagogical value and sustainability of such resources, then these projects need to be generously funded.
About the author: Dr Jonathan Hogg is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool and author of British Nuclear Culture: Official and Unofficial Narratives in the Long Twentieth Century (Bloomsbury, 2016).