The American Yawp

Congratulations to Ben Wright ’05, who recently won the Digital Humanities Award for Best Use of DH for Public Engagement as co-editor of The American Yawp, a pioneering online U.S. history textbook that is free, open, and built collaboratively by a lengthy (300+) and impressive list of historians:

Unchecked by profit motives or business models, and free from for-profit educational organizations, The American Yawp is by scholars, for scholars. All contributors—experienced college-level instructors—volunteer their expertise to help democratize the American past for twenty-first century classrooms.

The American Yawp home page

Ben and his co-editor, Joseph Locke, have received other national attention for their work. It’s featured in the March 2015 issue of Perspectives, the newsletter of the American Historical Association, where Ben and Joseph explain their distinctive choice of title:

The title, The American Yawp, was chosen to capture a vibrant past. Even excellent textbooks struggle to encapsulate American history. Some organize around themes—“The American Promise,” “The Story of American Freedom”—while others surrender to the impossibility of synthesis and retreat toward generality—“America’s History,” “The American People.” But in the oft-cited lines of the American poet Walt Whitman, we found as good an organizing principle as any other: “I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable,” he wrote, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Long before Whitman and long after, Americans have sung something collectively amid the deafening roar of their many individual voices. The American Yawp offers the story of that barbaric, untranslatable yawp by finding both chorus and cacophony, together, as one.

And in an interview published earlier this week at Inside Higher Ed, the two American Yawp editors shared their hopes for similar projects moving forward:

Photo of Ben WrightOur model is completely reproducible. We’ve accomplished this without institutions, grants or rarefied technological know-how.  And we very much hope that others will follow our example. We already know, for example, that within our own profession there is quite a bit of interest for a similar project in world history.

…This has been and will continue to be a labor of love. We entered the historical profession because we believe there is a moral imperative to study the American past and to share that knowledge with students and with the public. The rising costs of higher education makes that difficult. Academics recognize this, and we believe that’s why over 300 academic historians were so willing to participate in this project.

You can read more from Ben — a Rice University PhD now teaching at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia — through his contributions to our series offering advice to our students considering grad school.


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