Remixing an OER textbook

This is a 12-ish minute long episode of History in 5-or-so Minutes, in vlog format this time, in which I talk about beginning to rewrite the Openstax US History textbook. I’m going to use this as the basis of a US History I class this spring, but not before I revise it sunstantially. I’ll discuss those revisions chapter by chapter as I rewrite or as I create PowerPoint lectures and videos using the content.

Zotero Groups & Fair Use


As I’m beginning to prepare for my American Environmental History course next semester, I’ve started a Zotero Group containing a bibliography of some of the books that contain chapter readings and some journal articles I’m going to assign, or that are available for students working on term papers. So far, these are just books that are in BSU’s Library (I’ve given them a list of a few more I’d like them to get). This is a public list, so if other people start joining the Group and contributing titles, I’ll probably add tags that will indicate for my students which books are available locally and which they have to order via ILL, or in the case of articles where they can get hold of them. I normally attach pdfs to my own Zotero entries, but I can replace them with stable link URLs in the public lists.

Does anybody else use Zotero Groups? I believe if you click on this link ( ) you should be able to see the bibliography, but please correct me if I’m wrong?

I’m thinking about the additional readings I may assign in this class. Many of them are chapters in monographs, which I believe I can assign and students can go to the Library and read or scan the chapter. We have a really cool, fast scanner, so I may put the texts on course reserve. I’m curious about how other people doing OER deal with content from copyrighted (all rights reserved) sources. I’ll be talking with a Librarian later today about the Minnesota State University system’s fair use guidelines, but if anybody has experience they’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about it. My thought was there ought to be a way to replace the printed course-pack with some type of digital one, but I realize there may be objections to that because it’s easy to limit the printed course-pack to a finite set of students in a particular class during a particular semester…but even so, there’s got to be a way to update this idea for the 21st century. I guess making these types of pointers available in Zotero is a first step, for people who have access to an academic library. It’s not ideal for folks who don’t, however; but maybe that’s a battle for another day.

OER EnvHist!


In addition to the Creative Commons course I’m taking this semester, I’m also involved in a project to turn my American Environmental History textbook into an OER (Open Educational Resource) prior to using it to teach a course called “People In the Environment: Environmental History” in the Spring semester. “People In the Environment” is a required course for all Bemidji State University undergrads, and it is usually taught in interdisciplinary teams. It has been ages (literally between 5 and 10 years!) since a historian has been on one of these teams, so I’m going to rectify that in the Spring. I’m going to trach a survey of American Environmental History this Spring, and then I’m putting in a request to teach a more in-depth version of it, with readings from some of the major works in the field, this summer.

As part of that process, I’m going to turn my American Environmental History textbook, which is already a very cheap alternative to the other textbooks available from academic presses, into a fully OER production. I may continue to sell copies of it on Amazon, since that seems like one of the lowest-cost ways to get a decently-printed paperback into peoples’ hands. Currently the book is $25 and the Kindle is either ten bucks or free (if you have Kindle Unlimited or if you buy the paperback you get a free Kindle copy). It will probably come down a bit from there. I’ll also probably be making audio and my course videos available online in a more permanent form. Maybe discussion prompts and quizzes and exam questions, as I put together the course material.

Hopefully turning this authoring project into an OER authoring project may give other Environmental History teachers an incentive to not only use the material but contribute to it and add their own content and perspectives. I don’t claim to have any type of unique insight into Environmental History — except maybe my feeling that it should be much more available to students and that opening this project up a bit might help make that happen!

What’s the Problem with Proudhon?

The latest installment of History in 5-or-so Minutes, which actually comes in at about 4 minutes! Enjoy!

And here’s the text:

In discussion this week with my two Modern World History sections, I ran into some interesting responses to the passage from Proudhon I had some of them read. This week we were talking about issues in the nineteenth century including the European colonialist scramble for Africa, Commodore Perry’s forceful opening of Japan to western trade, pseudo-scientific racism and the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and the response by Latin Americans to “The American Peril.” The Proudhon reading was paired with a passage from Ernest Edward Williams’s “Made in Germany”, in which Williams complains of the negative effects of German industrialization to British market dominance. Students in the group reading Williams and Proudhon seemed to understand the “Germany” passage much more easily than the Proudhon, despite the fact that the “Germany passage was longer and came from what I think of as a slightly more difficult sourcebook.

So I’m starting to think about the issue. What’s the problem with Proudhon? Probably the main issue is in the introduction to the passage from What Is Property?, where the editors announce that Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was an early socialist and is associated also with anarchism. Boom! That was it, I think, for many of my students.

When they were describing the reading in discussion to classmates who had read other materials, several of the students said things like, “Well, he was a socialist” or “that type of thing sounds good in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.” These comments were not really germane to the brief passage, where Proudhon doesn’t actually make any concrete proposals. Well, okay, the editors did include the part where he says “Property is robbery!” So maybe the sensationalism of that line drowned out the rest of the argument, which was a bit less flashy. But that leaves me with the same questions.

Should I avoid using this particular passage, because of the introduction as socialism and the line equating property with theft? I’d like to direct the discussion more toward Proudhon’s critique of absolute ownership (the freedom to destroy) as being both unsustainable and not in society’s interest. And I’d like to make the more general point that not having a viable alternative doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a valid criticism of the status quo. Maybe I’ll try to sneak up on this next time I teach this module: introduce the criticisms of absolute property rights, unregulated markets, etc. before identifying these critiques as coming from socialists. And there are other folks (pre-Marx, too!) like Robert Owen who I might introduce as people who offered some creative solutions to the problems they perceived.

The question seems contemporary, with people on the left beginning to identify themselves as socialists (Bernie) or Democratic Socialists (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). Maybe I’ll start some type of a forum or blog space, where people could present their arguments and understandings of these issues. Just a thought, but wouldn’t it be fun to teach an interdisciplinary course with an economist and a political scientist, called something like “Free Markets vs. Socialism.”