A Comparative Analysis of Three Popular Coursebooks on the National History of the United States

1. Introduction

Three popular coursebooks on national history of the United States were selected for analysis and comparison in this paper. These are: A People and a Nation (Bragdon et al., 2014),America: A Concise History (McCutchen, Ritchie & DiBacco, 2016), and The Americans (Mason, Appy, Cayton, Perry & Winkler, 2013). The aim of the paper is to provide a critical review of each coursebook in terms of its strengths and weaknesses with a view to informing potential users which one would be more suitable for their needs. In order to provide a comprehensive evaluation, the following aspects will be considered for each book: approach to history, content coverage, organisation and design, pedagogical features, and user-friendliness.

2. A Brief Overview of the Three Coursebooks

A People and a Nation is published by Cengage Learning and was first released in 1973. The latest edition contains 10 chapters covering topics such as the European background to American history, the colonial era, the American Revolution, the early national period, expansion and reform, Civil War and Reconstruction, Gilded Age and Progressive Era, America in World War I, the 1920s, and Great Depression and New Deal.
America: A Concise History is published by W. W. Norton & Company and was first released in 2009. The book has been revised several times since then with the latest edition containing 12 chapters organised chronologically from prehistory to the present day. The topics covered include Native Americans before European contact, early British colonies in North America, American Revolution, Constitution and early republic (1787-1815), Jacksonian America (1815-1848), Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1877), industrialisation and urbanisation (1870-1900), America’s expanding empire (1898-1920), Progressive Era (1900-1917), America in World War I (1914-1920), Roaring Twenties (1920-1929), Great Depression (1929-1941), New Deal era (1933-1941), America in World War II (1941-1945), Cold War era (1945-1991), post Cold War era (1991-present).
The Americans is also published by W. W. Norton & Company and first released in 2005 with subsequent revisions in 2007, 2010, 2012, and 2013. This coursebook contains 16 units organised into 5 themes: beginnings (1492-1607); Colonisation and settlement(1607-1754); Revolution and the new nation(1754-1820s); Expansion and reform(1820s- 1860s); Civil War and Reconstruction(1860s-1877); Gilded Age(1870s – 1890s); America becames a world power(1890s – 1917); Prosperityand Depression(1920s – 1930s); World War II(1930s – 1945); Cold War(1945 – 1991); Contemporary United States(since 1991). Each chapter opens with an essay written by a prominent historian on a specific topic which provides contextual information relevant to the units that follow. There are also numerous primary sources included throughout the book which help illustrate key concepts being discussed.

3. Critical Analysis and Comparison of the Three Coursebooks

Based on the evaluations conducted above, it can be seen that each coursebook has its own strengths and weaknesses. In terms of approach to history, A People and a Nation adopts a more traditional narrative approach which focuses on political, economic, and military history. America: A Concise History and The Americans both adopt a more holistic approach which encompasses social, cultural, and environmental history as well as the political, economic, and military aspects. In terms of content coverage, America: A Concise History provides the most comprehensive overview of American history with each chapter covering a specific historical period in detail. The Americans also provides a detailed account of American history but is slightly less comprehensive than America: A Concise History. A People and a Nation is the least comprehensive of the three coursebooks as it only covers certain aspects of American history without providing a detailed account of each period.

In terms of organisation and design, A People and a Nation is the most user-friendly with clear chapter titles and subheadings as well as helpful documents and photos included in each chapter. America: A Concise History is also well-organised but includes fewer visuals than A People and a Nation. The Americans is the least user-friendly of the three coursebooks as it does not have any clear chapter titles or subheadings which makes it difficult to locate specific information. In terms of pedagogical features, all three coursebooks include helpful features such as key terms, timelines, maps, and suggested readings. However, only The Americans includes primary sources which help illustrate key concepts being discussed.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, all three coursebooks are suitable for use in national history courses of the United States. However, each book has its own strengths and weaknesses which should be taken into consideration when deciding which one to use. A People and a Nation is more traditional in its approach to history and covers certain aspects of American history in detail. America: A Concise History provides a comprehensive overview of American history with each chapter covering a specific historical period. The Americans also provides a detailed account of American history but is slightly less comprehensive than America: A Concise History.

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