For over ten years now, I have consistently adopted a standard U.S. history textbook
and reader (a collection of original source documents). In recent years, the average
price to students for both books was approximately $60.00. Since the recession of
2008, I have been keenly aware of finding ways to reduce the financial burden of education
on my students.
To CALM my History 131 classes, I directed the students to an online version of Eric
Foner’s Give Me Liberty!, which is available at Boundless.com at no cost. Similarly, rather than ask students to purchase a separate book of original
documents, I was able to identify a wide variety of primary sources available on the
I have also provided students with relevant digital resources including, for example,
“Study Space,” a free companion site to Give Me Liberty! Students can rely on the website resources to review concepts in the reading, quiz
themselves, and watch Foner video interviews with respect to “big questions” in U.S.
Finally, I compiled a digital library of multimedia Internet sources (for example,
from History Channel and PBS documentaries) for the students’ benefit. Most importantly—from
my perspective—students are invited to make their own contributions to our collective
resources, conducting their own digital historical research, as they contemplate and
validate the digital sources.
I was motivated to CALM my classes because—especially since 2008—students explained
that they were not able to afford the books on the syllabus. Moreover, students in
History 131 have been far less likely to purchase books, because the vast majority
are not History majors. To make a long story short: it was strikingly clear to me
that students were not purchasing the books, nor reading them.
The only challenge I foresee is that I have not eliminated the perennial obstacles
to meeting the requirements of the course. In other words, no matter how inexpensive
I make the reading list, students will have to discover for themselves that if they
don’t do the reading, that is the most costly mistake of all.