It’s been a while since I reviewed a textbook. But as I reached for the next one on my shelf this week, something gave me pause. It’s actually been quite a while since I used a textbook for the classes that I teach. The question of whether to use a textbook or not is one that has come up several times in talking with some of my colleagues who are in the same general situation as me (ABD, or very close, and teaching part-time at universities and colleges). Most of my colleagues choose the textbook route, but for several years (and particularly for my online classes) I have chosen not to textbook. So I thought I’d talk through some of my reasons and some of the challenges and freedoms of not using a textbook.
This week’s review is of Excursions in World Music, 6th edition, 2011, published by Pearson. Bruno Nettl is the general editor and, like Worlds of Music, each chapter in this textbook is written by a different author. Unlike WoM, however, some authors write more than one chapter in this text. For example, Isabel Wong contributed the chapters on Japan and China, and Thomas Turino penned the chapters on Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The first edition of Excursions in World Music was published by Prentice Hall in 1992 and featured most of the same authors and topics.
Today we begin the great textbook review. I decided to start with Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples Shorter Version, 3rd edition (2009). Jeff Todd Titon is the general editor and each chapter is written by a different author. This “review” series will address the content of the textbooks, but I also wanted to include a bit of info regarding buying the book, different formats it’s available in, etc. This is more to cover practical information for (future) teachers. I am assuming (dangerous) that we’re all past the point where this would be a textbook in a class we’re taking. Of course the info will change over time, so this is just a (admittedly rather long) snapshot of what’s available now.
The issue of textbooks is an interesting one. I know by just mentioning the term, I risk glazed eyes and a brief but effective mental shutdown before you click away, but bear with me. I’ve been preparing my online world music class for the fall and the question of textbooks always comes up. To use a textbook or not to use a textbook, that is the question…Well, actually that’s the first question. Many other questions follow: if I use a textbook, which one do I use? If I don’t use one, how do I find consistent readings? If I do use a textbook, do I use the full or shortened editions (if any are available)? Do I make supplemental CDs for the areas the textbook doesn’t cover? Do I make CDs for every student or do I put a few copies on reserve at the library? Is it ok for students to use an older edition? Are there any electronic copies available for students? I can’t fit the entire textbook into one semester, so which chapters do I pick? Do I go in order of the book or skip around? Why are questions about textbooks consuming my life?
The time of year has come for comprehensive exams and thesis/dissertation defenses. It’s also that time of year when time itself seems to be leaking away for papers to be researched and performances to be rehearsed. Many of my friends are in this process, as I will be shortly, and so I find myself turning to things that ethnomusicologists have written about themselves and their experiences. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is heartening to know that even established scholars aren’t necessarily the untouchable pillars they can appear to be. It is comforting to know that they, too, went through processes like this and that they came out the other side, changed, different, but whole.
Ethnomusicologists have a problem. As a general rule, we conduct fieldwork to gather data and in the course of this fieldwork, we often have life-altering experiences. No matter what form one’s fieldwork takes, we meet new people, learn new things, and discover new ways of looking at the world. As human beings, we’re yanked out of our own egos and confront new realities. I wonder if this isn’t part of the reason that earlier scholars didn’t talk about their own experiences in the field: not only were they striving for a scientific objectivity, being confronted with different world views is terrifying. And what’s even more terrifying is the thought that now you have to somehow translate that experience into words on a page. How do you convey the depth of your feeling without coming across as self-serving? How do you make readers understand how fundamentally jarring and beautiful it is to be changed? Is this why ethnomusicologists are often accused of insular writing? We write for other ethnomusicologists because we know they understand.