Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Tyranny of Readers

I am starting to think about next year's courses. I have a number of tweaks to make to assignments, but the more pressing issue is what books to assign (because the bookstore wants me to order them soon).

In my intro classes I assign them a textbook for an overview of the period, and the rest is mostly primary sources. Much of that comes from a reader, or collection of primary sources with short editorial introductions. I find I have a love/hate relationship with most of the ones I am using.

Using the reader is convenient because it saves me the trouble of hunting down such a wide array of primary sources myself. The editors usually provide some handy background information on the document and its author. All the stuff is is one handy book, so students don't have to worry about losing handouts and the like.

The major problem I am having is that I feel like when I am using a reader, the book itself drives the content of the course more than I like. For example, for ages I have used Geary's Readings in Medieval History in my medieval survey. I like a lot of things about this book: I like that it uses long excerpts, or complete sources where possible; I like that it covers a broad range of topics; I like some of the specific sources included. But the last time I was using it, I felt frustrated. It seemed like we kept talking about kingship and institutions of power. It's not that I wanted to ignore these things entirely, but it felt like the book was sending us in that direction because of the materials it included. That is partly my issue, as I don't mind supplementing a reader with other materials, but I like to use as much of the selections in the reader as possible, so students get their money's worth from it.

So, I'm now trying to decide whether to continue using the book, substitute another reader (which might have similar issues), or put together my own slate of sources for the students. I'd welcome comments on what has worked for you.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

I have tried (and will probably try again) the several-sources approach. E-mail me if you want details.

Geary is the best of not-so-great options, mainly because he uses full-text sources. But is there *anything* on women anywhere in there? Nope.

clio's disciple said...

He's got some of the interrogation of Beatrice de Planissoles, and something on St. Clare. That might be it, though.