How not to write a textbook

Interesting story in the Post about how the Virginia history textbook used across state high schools is rife with errors. They have an on-line quiz, and some of these errors really seem pretty minor, i.e., the month in 1865 that the 15th amendment was ratified (I got 5 of 8, by the way).  I was even willing to forgive them being off a full year on the first Battle of Bull Run, but I’m not feeling so charitable after the Post pointed out why the text was under such a thorough review:

These are among the dozens of errors historians have found since Virginia officials ordered a review of textbooks by Five Ponds Press, the publisher responsible for a controversial claim that African American soldiers fought for the South in large numbers during the Civil War….

The review began after The Washington Post reported in October that “Our Virginia” included a sentence saying that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South. The claim is one often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most mainstream historians. The book’s author, Joy Masoff, said at the time that she found references to it during research on the Internet. Five Ponds Press later apologized.

Based on the standards of internet research used in the writing of this text (hey, it’s on some webpage, it must be true!), many of my students may have a lucrative career in writing texts.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to How not to write a textbook

  1. jonolan says:

    Given the Liberal slant of “mainstream historians,” I wouldn’t lend much weight to the fact that they don’t support the assertion that thousands of Blacks fought for the Confederacy.

    Stonewall Jackson’s own memoirs describe 3000 or so Blacks fighting alongside the Confederates at Frederick, MD and this is backed up by the memoirs of the Union’s Inspector of the Sanitary Commission, Lewis Steiner, when he described Jackson’s retreat from the town.

    To be fair though, the Confederacy didn’t formally enlist the Black; they were militia raised by individual commanders who ignored the politics of the time. That makes the records harder to track.

    The only reason I happen to know about it is that I lived outside of Frederick for 5 years or so and it’s local history.

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