Tag Archives: higher education

  • A Brief History of UTP Higher Education

    The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation—starting with our Vice-President, Michael Harrison, on how a Canadian university press ventured into textbook publishing in a serious way.

    In May 2008, the University of Toronto Press broadened its well established scholarly book program to include a greater capacity for books intended for course use. As Canada’s most venerable English language university press, UTP has long been a leading presence in Canadian-based English language scholarly publishing. Although the press has often published works that enjoy considerable success in the classroom, this success has largely been tangential to the primary mission to publish the results of research excellence in the humanities and social sciences.

    Those of us involved in UTP’s new “Higher Education” division are aiming for something a little different. Higher Education was founded on the acquisition of various lists from Broadview Press, amounting to over 300 titles—and the bringing over of several experienced Broadview staff members, including Anne Brackenbury and Natalie Fingerhut (Acquiring Editors), Michelle Lobkowicz and Anna Del Col (respectively, Sales and Marketing Managers) —and me. Others, including Beate Schwirtlich who manages our Production, Mat Buntin (Senior Publisher’s Representative), Kris Gies and Mike Byer (both Publisher’s Representatives), have joined us since. All of us continue to work from an office in Guelph originally opened by Broadview.

    Although UTP is quite a different place than Broadview Press, Higher Education carries on an approach long taken by Broadview Press (and in my own case, before that at McClelland and Stewart). Like Broadview, Higher Education finds itself competing against far larger textbook publishers such as Pearson, Nelson, Oxford, Cambridge, Palgrave, McGraw-Hill,  Routledge, Norton, etc., as well as more “scholarly” presses such as UBC Press, McGill-Queen’s—and in some ways, our colleagues in UTP Scholarly Publishing. Lacking the resources of all of these more established presses, it has been necessary to develop a competing “story.” “The Little Engine That Could” comes to mind.

    Measured against older houses our story also sounds like a line from Stuart McLean—“we may not be big, but we’re small!” We publish fewer titles per year which means we can devote greater marketing attention per book—and authors are not overlooked because their market is deemed economically less important. Beyond our core subject areas—History, Politics, Anthropology, and Sociology—the titles we publish serve audiences sometimes pushed to the side by the larger text houses, taking us into communities such as Latin American Studies, North American Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, Women’s Studies, Indigenous Studies, History of Science, Ethnography, Social Work, Environmental Studies, and many more. We believe Higher Education’s list of course books, combined with the rich publishing offerings of UTP’s Scholarly Publishing Division, places the press second to none in Medieval Studies.

    We take care to cover a broader curriculum, enthusiastically taking on upper level course books, as well as those intended to serve often more lucrative introductory levels. However, we prefer the notion that textbooks should make a meaningful scholarly, as well as pedagogical, contribution. A survey “textbook” and a scholarly monograph are two different things, but they should both make an intellectual contribution.

    It’s easy to be jaded (“students today…”) but could it be that students have a better chance of being stimulated when encouraged to consider a challenging thesis, rather than simply a review of the agreed upon “facts” and the lists of “points on the exam”? Is it possible that a really good “textbook” presents material in a way that neither students nor their professors have considered before? Can textbook authors be allowed “authority”? And looked at another way, could it be that the results of something worth researching are also worth presenting to as wide a scholarly audience as possible, including undergraduates? Sometimes, these books actually sell pretty well!

    We’re by no means alone but those of us in UTP Higher Education prefer to be inspired by publishing values like these—and to publish books by authors who are inspired by them. Some great examples that we have published in the past five years include A Short History of the Middle Ages, The Promise of Sociology, A History of Science in Society, Trickster, Wasase, The Labyrinth of North American Identities, The Shock of War, Lament for America, and many more… all available at prices that students can afford!

    -Michael Harrison, Vice-President

  • Teaching Sociology to the Millennials

    In the second of a short series of blog postings, author Rob Beamish discusses his experiences teaching introductory sociology, and how those experiences altered his writing of The Promise of Sociology: The Classical Tradition and Contemporary Sociological Thinking. This book was recently named one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2011 by Choice, a popular publication of the American Library Association.

    The Promise of Sociology opens with a profile of first year students, or the “Millennials” (students born after 1990 who are now entering college or university), including who they are, how their life experiences have shaped them to date, what strengths and skills they bring to postsecondary education, and how well they may or may not meet the expectations of their professors.

    A key theme in this opening chapter is the tension students will experience as they enter and must adapt to the largely print-based culture of postsecondary education. As successful as they were in high school, the expectations and skill sets needed to excel in university are quite different, and even though universities and instructors have made some concessions to the needs, wants, strengths, and interests of the Millennials, students themselves must make significant changes to succeed in the postsecondary system. The chapter is partly a reminder to the instructor about the students she or he will teach and partly a warning to first year students about the institutional expectations they will experience at university. Mostly, however, the chapter focuses on the engaging challenges, freedoms, and rewards that a postsecondary education holds out for students and the place that sociology can play in helping them realize the full potential of a liberal education.

    I use a variety of sources to develop my profile of the Millennials, including The Beloit College Mindset List. The Beloit list is a useful reminder for instructors, particularly those who are as senior as I am, about the cultural and experiential divide that exists between professors (even young ones) and first year students. But as useful as the list and my other sources are in building a profile of the students I teach each year, my most profound insight came in the middle of a lecture on Emile Durkheim and his concept of social facts.

    Several years ago I began to use Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater to provide a concrete illustration of the ways in which individuals’ biographies are shaped by the social worlds in which they live. Carrier’s story lends itself perfectly to a discussion of the social facts associated with the family, school, church, hockey rink, friendship groups, gender, class, ethnicity, residence, province, nation, and dominant culture (see the back of a Canadian five dollar bill for an example). I wanted students to grasp Durkheim’s notion that individuals are shaped by the social facts that surround them and are internalized in their everyday lives. Using Peter Berger’s imagery, I emphasized that every individual stands at the centre of a large number of overlapping concentric circles, and we proceeded to explore the social facts—or concentric circles—surrounding Carrier, and then his mother, father, siblings, and extended family in 1940s, rural Quebec.

    To personalize the example, I asked the students to focus on how large their world was when they were five years old—what social facts impinged on them? I then asked how those concentric circles had changed by the time they were ten. When I asked about the age of 15 I was stopped short, because I suddenly realized that for those students 15 was only two or three years earlier. Much of what 30- or 40-year-old professors—to say nothing of 62-year-olds—know as part of their direct life experiences is purely abstract history to first year students. The social events and forces that shape the contemporary world may be something those students have heard or read about but they are not among the social forces that have directly shaped students’ lives (which is why it is always easier to teach introductory sociology to “mature students” coming into university because they have so many life experiences to draw upon and can quickly see how events in the past have shaped them and their circumstances in the present).

    I drew two important lessons from that moment. First, because I firmly believe that sociology must be historically informed, I wanted to insure that my students were exposed to a perspective that emphasized the intersection of history and sociology. I also wanted the perspective to be something they could easily grasp at the outset, would serve them as a basic road map for thinking sociologically, and would lead them into a more profound sense of the importance of history for sociological analysis. As a result, I spend more time in my course and in The Promise of Sociology examining C. Wright Mills’s conception of “the sociological imagination” than is typical of most introductory courses or texts.

    Rather than the quick overview found in most introductory courses, I take some time to explore how Mills’s idea moves students well beyond the psychologistic (or egocentric) view of “the natural attitude” and their “everyday stocks of knowledge” and enables them to grasp the relational nature of the world in which they live. While the phrase Mills crafted to capture sociology’s “task and promise” is brilliant—“the sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society”—I carry the discussion further into an analysis of Mills’s three key questions:

    “What is the structure of this particular society as a whole?”

    “Where does this society stand in human history?”

    “What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? And what varieties are coming to prevail?”

    The key relations that sociology must constantly address—structure/agency, macro/micro, field/habitus, power/knowledge, and past/present/future—are all captured in those questions. I use Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in the same vein that Durkheim studied suicide: to take what appears as an individual, psychologically based drama and indicate the rich, complex sociological understanding one can gain of 1950s North America by using Mills’s three, seemingly simple, questions.

    Second, I realized that all first year courses—but sociology in particular—are part of an important transition in students’ lives. While they will progress from information consumers to knowledge producers over the course of their degree, the greatest change must come in first year where students who are only two or three years beyond the age of 15 are expected to demonstrate many of the skills of scholarly craftsmanship by second year.

    To emphasize the nature of the transition students must achieve in their first year and to provide them with guidance and some of the tools necessary to make that change, The Promise of Sociology also explores the frequently forgotten appendix to The Sociological Imagination, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship.” Despite all the changes that have taken place in Canadian society since 1959 and all the adaptations that universities have made to the digitally based information society of today, postsecondary education best prepares students for the future when it instills the skills, perspective, and commitment to scholarly craftsmanship that Mills emphasized in that appendix. Letting students know what their “apprenticeship” will involve, giving them some of the tools to begin that journey, and emphasizing the promise that lies ahead as the craft of sociology is mastered are specific goals that I have woven into the first two chapters of The Promise of Sociology.

    —Rob Beamish, Queen’s University

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course in introductory sociology or sociological theory and would like to request an exam copy, please email requests@utphighereducation.com. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

  • The Form and Function of a Textbook

    In the first of a short series of blog postings, author Rob Beamish discusses his motivations for publishing an introductory sociology textbook without all of the "bells and whistles" normally aimed at first-year university students. His book, The Promise of Sociology: The Classical Tradition and Contemporary Sociological Thinking, was recently named one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2011 by Choice, a popular publication of the American Library Association.

    When I learned that The Promise of Sociology had been selected by the American Library Association as one of the “Outstanding Academic Titles” for 2011, I was completely surprised. It had never crossed my mind that an introductory text would be recognized in that manner. As the surprise subsided, I felt genuinely honoured, humbled, and then proud of the accomplishment. But the strongest emotion came last—a sense of gratification. I was very gratified that others felt there was room—and perhaps even a need—for an introductory text that goes against the grain of the standard, large-format texts currently dominating the discipline. It was reassuring to know that others felt that first-year university students could and would embrace an introductory book that presents an extended argument in a simple, black and white, text-centred format.

    There were several reasons for adopting that format—reasons that stemmed from my own goals as a university instructor as well as the feedback I have received over the years as I developed The Promise of Sociology. The first and most overwhelming reason for using a standard book format concerns my primary objective as an introductory sociology instructor. I still firmly believe in the tenets of a liberal education in which students must actively engage with texts that require them to slow down, read closely and carefully, and reflect on the argument that is being presented. I believe this is best done through a text that is not rife with visual distractions—the different eye-catching colours and far too numerous tables, summary inserts, and photographs that interrupt the reader progressing down the page. On the basis of experience and student feedback, I do not believe that the hyper-active format found in many mainstream books can or does successfully compete with, replicate, or really even complement the world of rich, multi-coloured, moving digital images and information that today’s students consume on a regular basis—nor do students require that stimulation. My experience indicates that today’s students need books and forms of instruction that help separate them from the ubiquity of high-sensory information that they actively and passively consume throughout their daily lives. Thus the Promise of Sociology’s format reflects my primary teaching objective.

    Many students have said to me, “I really love your book professor, it reads just like a novel.” At first I wasn’t sure that was such a compliment, until I realized that it meant they liked the fact that the book carries a “story line” from beginning to end—there is an overall narrative to the book. And that was a second objective I had in writing The Promise of Sociology. Rather than covering a large variety of topics and never being able to go into any of them in depth, I chose to focus on fewer topics and issues and pursue each in greater depth while making links between them. My students have always indicated that they enjoy the detail of the coverage which allows them to really engage with a topic and explore it more fully than they could in other introductory courses. My first year students want their university experience to be very different from high school—they want the challenge of “deep learning.”

    The idea of exploring a particular topic in depth and showing its full complexity stems from my initial overall objective—having students slow down so they can read carefully, reflectively, and critically. It also relates to the format I have chosen and my overall objective for first year students, in particular, and university students in general. Today’s students enter university as seasoned information consumers—in fact, they are bombarded by overwhelming amounts of information from a myriad of media. My goal is to inspire students to progress from being mere information consumers to becoming genuine knowledge producers. Producing knowledge requires sifting through the barrage of information that inundates students, synthesizing what is important, and creating students’ own understandings. I consciously wrote The Promise of Sociology to represent the end result of knowledge production—an integrated whole that can stand on the merits of its own content without the glitz of colours, graphs, charts, summary boxes, and other paraphernalia—those elements can be added to make lectures and tutorials more animated and engaging. Because my overall objective was to write a book in which the ideas and arguments could stand on their own merit, I found it incredibly gratifying that the American Library Association chose to recognize the book as it did.

    —Rob Beamish, Queen's University

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course in introductory sociology or sociological theory and would like to request an exam copy, please email requests@utphighereducation.com. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

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