History came alive for me when, as an undergraduate, I learned that historians argue. I was already a history nerd who enjoyed learning (really, memorizing) the names and dates of the past. But the sense of satisfaction I derived from “knowing” the past paled before the enthusiasm I experienced when I began “engaging” history by scouring primary sources, evaluating the work of professional historians, and advancing my own weak-kneed arguments. My transition from “learning” to “engaging” history occurred because Diana Magnuson of Bethel University did not shy away from highlighting moments of historiographical controversy and transformation, even in lower-level history classes. She pulled this off largely through the use of the Major Problems in American History texts.
The fourth edition of the survey-level Major Problems text has just been released. Coedited by Ed Blum, one of the founders of this blog (along with Kevin Schultz who has edited his own excellent textbook HIST), and Elizabeth Cobbs, the new edition, like previous editions, consists of primary sources and short, argument-driven essays from leading historians. Blum and Cobbs pull from the long-respected work of masters like Joyce Appleby, David Armitage, and Drew Faust, as well as exciting new work by junior scholars including Rachel Hermann, and TUSH’s own Emily Conroy-Krutz. These essays are preceded by 8-10 brief primary sources.
If you have never picked up a Major Problems text, you can request an instructor copy here. We all ought to wrestle with the question of how we move our students from “knowing” to “engaging.” Toward that end, Blum and Cobbs have given us a valuable resource.