Interested in writing or reviewing school history textbooks? View from OUP History Team

At the recent Black British History event hosted by Miranda Kaufmann and SOAS, University of London, OUP’s History Publisher (Secondary Education) spoke with other authors and publishers about how history textbooks get made. We thought it would be useful to share the information here as well, and let you know how to get in touch if you’re interested in writing history textbooks.  

Why write history textbooks?

It’s a really exciting time to be working on textbooks, because, while we at OUP have always tried our utmost to publish books that are sensitive to the needs of all teacher and students, we feel like there’s now a greater energy from every part of the community to really work at this together. We regularly attend subject conferences such as the Historical Association’s annual conference, and we’re very much galvanised by the community’s call to diversify the curriculum and to make history more inclusive. We work closely with teachers and with exam boards to produce materials that are relevant and rigorous. We have a number of projects in progress here, but some we’d like to highlight include a new KS3 History Kerboodle enquiry on ‘How can we find out about the lives of Black Tudors?– this has been produced in consultation with Miranda Kaufmann and is published now. Also, despite the fact that exam specifications are not changing any time soon, we have updated some of our existing textbooks as part of our commitment to the inclusive presentation of diverse histories, and to better reflect the world around us and the history around us. For example, we have published new Second Editions of the AQA GCSE topics Migration, Empires and People Student Book, Health and the People Student Book, and Power and the People Student Book – we are updating these textbooks in consultation with historians, with organisations such as the International Centre on Racism, and with AQA. 

Why work with us? 

Although we are part of the university, as Oxford University Press, we operate independently and have charitable status, and we have experience in creating resources at the right level for school children. And any surplus we make goes back into our mission of improving education for young people.

In our local division, while we have existing reviews and checks in place, we have renewed our efforts to update our existing publications to match the latest understanding of teaching in a diverse and inclusive way. For new publishing, we are carrying out careful reviews consulting a wide range of experts, and are continuing to develop contacts to support us. For example, we have worked with experts in organisations such as the Holocaust Education Trust, and more. We are talking to exam boards, and also talking to university faculties and discussing how to bring scholarship to classrooms. 

All of this is work in progress, but we are committed to ensuring a fair representation of the diverse communities we publish in, and to broaden the study of history and make it more attractive to students of all backgrounds to want to pursue history in further education and as a career. 

How can you get involved? 

Miranda Kaufmann asked publishers to talk about demystifying the process of textbook making. Unlike academic publishing, where quite often, academics submit proposals to editors, in educational publishing, usually it’s the other way around – editors come up with initial ideas, and they seek authors out, so perhaps it can be a bit of a mystery how a school textbook gets made! Publishers regularly talk to teachers, as well as subject associations, to find out what teachers and students’ needs are, see what resources they use in classrooms, and what they wish they could use. We then put together initial ideas, and talk to potential authors. It is a very collaborative experience – we often develop ideas further with the author team, so authors have a big steer over the direction a textbook can take. 

In terms of how we find authors: to write history school textbooks, we generally look for authors who either have a background in school teaching (particularly with teaching experience of the age group we’re publishing for), or historians who know about history pedagogy and teaching. Quite often, we find authors at conferences, universities, sometimes on school visits. Sometimes new authors would contact us directly and send in ideas. And these days, we often find people who are active on social media, who are sharing creative lessons and ideas virtually, and we reach out that way. 

Textbook writing is a very collaborative process – so we would encourage anyone interested in writing history textbooks to get in touch! We often try new authors out on smaller projects first to see if they enjoy writing with us (for example by authoring blogs), and we may ask for writing samples. Because many people find it a big commitment to write alongside their day job every day, we sometimes work with teams of writers to share the burden and share knowledge, and we regularly have our materials reviewed, so reviewing is another possible role to consider, because all our resources go through a very rigorous checking process that can take several rounds of ‘proofs’. 

We love hearing from new bloggers, reviewers and authors, so do get in touch with us at [email protected].

Janice Mansel-Chan, Publisher, Oxford History Team