Like most instructors, I am never fully satisfied with the textbook I wind up choosing for my students. This one lacks a social history bent, the other is regionally-focussed in ways I don’t like, that one doesn’t say nearly enough about the economy or demography, and some seem geared toward the instructor rather than the student. I have often wanted to tear out the odd-numbered chapters from one text and staple them to the even-numbered chapters from another and then pass a third through a grinder and sprinkle its cheerful spirit of enquiry throughout. Writing a course text myself did not seem to be much of an option. This open text book project made all those scenarios possible.
This textbook is a document that exists in the Creative Commons. It is meant to be torn apart, restitched, added and subtracted from, improved, challenged, brought up to date, and even re-imagined. It is a system of storage rooms in which you’ll find information you can use or lock away. My goal has been to (a) provide a familiar framework of pre-confederation Canadian history that raises challenging questions for undergraduates and (b) to build the kind of text that I would want to use in my own classes. To that end, this open textbook is organized along lines that meet most post-secondary learning outcomes in this field while simultaneously leaving my own imprint on the final product. It is, then, both recognizably a survey text for the years to 1867 without being absent of personality. I strove to reassert an Aboriginal perspective on events and in this last regard I hope, humbly and as a non-Aboriginal person, that I have achieved some success. I have, as well, endeavoured to raise the profile of both demographic and environmental history at a time when both fields require our attention and I did so, as well, in the companion text, Canadian History: Post-Confederation. The bottom line, however, is that the instructor and the students are in a position to make this text their own. And I encourage you to do so.
In order to make a resource like this one as widely available as possible one has to make the greatest possible use of other open educational resources (OER). Illustrations, for example, must be free of copyright and exist in the public domain or, if copyrighted, be released under a Creative Commons license. Including material that does not allow for sharing privileges limits the usefulness of the finished product. Meeting this objective structures the process of writing an open textbook in distinctive ways. OER are used liberally but the vast majority of the text is comprised of original material.
Knowing that some sections are likely to be reused more than others (and some possibly replaced more often than others), one makes judgment calls as to the length of sections so as to facilitate both processes. Learning Objectives, Key Terms, Exercises, Short Answer Exercises, a Glossary, and other features are added, knowing that they will be replaced/augmented/tweaked – and that the ability of a user to do so has to be made as easy as possible. The whole, then, is designed for repurposing and re-crafting, a rather different point of departure than one takes when writing a conventional monograph.
Some years ago I worked on a campus where a large patch of lawn was laid down between two busy buildings. There was a nice sidewalk around the edge, but it was obvious from the outset that people were going to walk across that grass. We watched as the path appeared, yellowed, and then became hardpacked – all in the course of only a few months. Then the facilities team showed up and laid the sidewalk where it was meant to go – where users wanted it to go. Interestingly, it was not in a straight line. This open textbook is like that experiment. I encourage you to reuse, remix, repurpose in ways that show us where users want it to go. Be fearless and creative.
Here’s your chance to make history.
John Douglas Belshaw