Historians quoted in battle over textbooks that include material written by others

Historians in the News

... Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers. And while it is rare that the same language is used in different books, it is common for noted scholars to give their names to elementary and high school texts, lending prestige and marketing power, while lesser known writers have a hand in the books and their frequent revisions.

As editions pass, the names on the spine of a book may have only a distant or dated relation to the words between the covers, diluted with each successive edition, people in the industry, and even authors, say.

In the case of the two [Prentice Hall] history texts [which feature similar passages about 9/11], the authors appeared mortified by the similarities and said they had had nothing to do with the changes.

“They were not my words,” said Allan Winkler, a historian at Miami University of Ohio, who wrote the “Pathways” book with Andrew Cayton, Elisabeth I. Perry and Linda Reed. “It’s embarrassing. It’s inexcusable.” ...

The similarities in the Prentice Hall books were discovered by James W. Loewen, who is updating his 1995 best seller, “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.” ...

Professor Winkler, one of the authors of “America: Pathways to the Present,” said he and his co-authors had written “every word” of the first edition, aiming to teach American history from a sociological perspective, from the grass roots up. But, he said, in updated editions, the authors reviewed passages written by freelancers or in-house writers or editors.

He said the authors collaborated on their last major revision before Sept. 11, 2001, working with editorial staff members in Boston. But he said that after the attacks, he was not asked to write updates and was not shown revisions.

“There was no reason in the world to think that we would not see material that was stuck in there at some point in the future,” Professor Winkler said. “Given the fact that similar material was used in another book, we are really profoundly upset and outraged.”

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