Picking books

November 10, 2003



I am thinking about books for next semester. So far the only classes I know I will be teaching are two sections of Western Civ part 2 at Local Suburban University. The history department there are nice folks. This will be my first semester at Local; I should expect students whose reading skills and work loads are comparable to students at Urban Research University; and they insist that I use primary documents as part of the syllabus. I was glad when I heard that during my interview.

I have picked a textbook. The textbook I chose has a couple of short documents in every chapter, which means that I could get away without a reader if I wanted to. I am going with Tom Noble et al Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment. from Houghton-Mifflin. While I know two of the authors, and am friendly with one of the authors, I am picking this book over the alternative because it has better pictures.

You laugh, but images and art are an important part of Western Civilization and I thought that these images did a better job of matching the material. I also decided that having several short documents interspersed in the narrative would work better than having one long primary document at the end of each chapter. I was interested in some of the Prentice-Hall offerings, but their review copies never appeared. It is too late now, but I will bug them for next semester.

I have not picked readings. Or, rather, I have not finished picking readings. I know we are reading Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. It is an unwritten rule of Western Civ that you have to read Remarque, even though many people also read it in high school. I know we are reading something from the French Revolution. I am currently leaning toward Tom Paine's Rights of Man although I might also add some Edmund Burke. Hmm, perhaps Burke's speech where he makes the points that will later be elaborated into his response to Paine?

What I have not decided is whether I will stick with those two primary documents, if I will add a monograph of some sort, or if I will go with a reader. I want them to have something that shows the ancien regime, I want them to have a monograph, but my historiography is weak on Western Civ and I can not pick a book off the top of my head. I need about 200 pages of easy reading about Georgian or Victorian England, preferably talking about class and social structure; that would be about perfect.

Looking on my shelves of unread books - the read books are all in boxes in storage - I see three candidates: John Pemble The Meditarranean Passion about Victorians and Edwardians on vacation, Ina Taylor Victorian Sisters, about four English sisters who married across class lines; Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle, about eighteenth-century British politics, or Robert Darnton The Great Cat Massacre about eighteenth century French society and culture. Darnton is the most influential of all these books; he is also the only one I have read for myself. I guess I need to gut a few books this week. I might even have to go to the storage unit and shift boxes. Ugh.

Writing this has been useful. I will add a monograph of some sort, if only to expose them to the ways in which historians think. Darnton is my null choice. I will look for something I like better but if I can not find anything better, he will do very well indeed. So what if it was written in the 1960s; it is still good work and it inspired a generation of historians. If I use a reader, I will add some Burke.

Now if only my Russian history was more up to date.

Posted by Red Ted at November 10, 2003 01:53 AM | TrackBack