“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
– Mark Twain
Two full-time Geography professors at College of DuPage have written a particular format of textbook for our course Geography of the Western World. One key feature of the textbook is that it is an open source textbook, online and free for our students (and potentially, for anyone). The other noteworthy feature of the textbook is its format as a series of essays on topical/regional geographic subjects. Given that the textbook is a free and open source textbook, there is no money to be made writing the book. My colleague and I wrote the textbook in order to contest the often exorbitant cost of regular textbooks and to create a base of knowledge that we want our students to have without the need of sifting through longer chapters. Read this and know this.
The essays or chapters are organized by matrix. One side of the matrix consists of five regions – North America, Pacific Realm, Europe, Latin American and Caribbean (LACAR), and the Russian Domain. The other side has eight topical categories of Geography – cultural, economic, historical, physical, political, population, regional, and urban. There are other elements of the textbook too, but this is the core. Therefore, essays are created under the headings of pairs of the matrix – an essay on some aspect of political geography in Europe, another on an aspect of physical geography in the Russian Domain. Notice that this does not mean we are covering the whole physical geography of the Russian Domain.
Far from it. Instead we are covering one topic at a time in the physical geography of the Russian Domain, so that the student gains a flavor of the idea of physical geography and gains a fundamental understanding of one topic in that category for the Russian Domain. For instance, one essay that has been written covers the topic of Kamchatka – physical geography in the Russian Domain. Another addresses the city Tallinn – urban geography in Europe. One essay explains the phenomenon of favelas in Brazil – urban geography in Latin America. Another explains the Cyrillic alphabet – cultural geography in the Russian Domain. Each pair in the matrix produces two or more essays in that matched category.
Each essay is written to explain a fundamental understanding of the chosen topic, but definitely not everything on the topic. The essays are based on the format of an intellectual devotional. As such, each essay is expected to be 700-1400 words. This is not a Wikipedia entry, although certainly we often referred to Wikipedia for some general background information. In fact, a Wikipedia entry is too long, often too dense, and just not right for our introductory level students. Instead each of our essays is a focused, student-oriented explanation of the basics of the chosen topic. Essay – 700-1400 words. Like at the end of this chapter, our chapters include a fun bonus fact or two in a blue box highlighted as “Did You Know?” Citations at the end – yes, but relatively few. For the variety of icons and photos used in the text, generally we must provide citations for their sources. These readings are not dissertations or articles in peer-reviewed professional journals. Those would not be appropriate for an introductory textbook on the Geography of the Western World. Instead, these essays are a synthesis of our own specialized knowledge, other information commonly understood by geographers, and certain specific facts. This synthesis further reflects a boiling down of information to its topical essence. It is our challenge to produce the essay that covers the essence of what the informed citizen would know on that topic. Of course, students or any other readers can pursue additional depth of understanding by finding other material on the topic.
In addition, we have written explanations of the elements of topical geography. What is Population Geography? Here too we have explained the basics. What is Regional Geography? Again, we wrote a characterization of this realm of Geography. To this we added a summary of geographic facts about each region. Even with this set of essays, there were some things that we felt obligated to present more broadly for each region. Finally, we also penned an example of how regions are created within each of our matrix’s regions. What actually is Scandinavia?
Occasionally, we were fortunate to receive another scholar’s work as a guest essay, specifically designed for this textbook project. In those cases, the author’s name heads up that essay. Otherwise, we wrote all the other essays. We have made frequent use of The Noun Project, a large set of online icons, available for free use with proper citation. Similarly, all the photos and maps included in this textbook are available for free use with the proper citation, usually through the Creative Commons. We are pleased to promote artists’ and scholars’ work and do provide them with recognition and citation. For instance, our front cover image of the Lofoten Islands, Svolvær, Norway is a photo by Valdemaras D. on Unsplash. The back cover photo of Kremlin churches in Moscow, Russia, was taken by former COD student Joel Weiland. Neither we nor these photographers, cartographers, or illustrators will profit financially from this textbook or its contents.
It may occur that a fine piece of journalism is published too late to be utilized for our already written chapters. When we note those cases, we will add a red box “Hot off the Press” at the end of corresponding chapters.
Also, with certain chapters we include a green box “Check Your Understanding” that asks the reader to answer one question about the day’s topic.
Overall, consider this. For the student reader, imagine that the student is at a party. When chatting with someone there, somehow Iceland is mentioned. By reading, learning, and remembering the information in the essay on the physical geography of Iceland, the student would be able to make an impressive explanation of the features of the physical landscape in Iceland.
Did You Know?
With each chapter and in a blue box, the “Did You Know?” feature highlights a fun fact that may be tangential to the topic of the essay.
Joel Quam Scott Campbell