The iPad: A Digital History Gateway


I'm searching for the best iPad textbook for U.S. history and civics. Any suggestions?


Having just bought an iPad, I was eager to investigate your question. Given the combination of rich historical archives and resources on the Web and the growing use of the iPad and other tablet devices, I can imagine a new kind of textbook, one that facilitates teachers guiding students in historical investigations and problem-solving.

. . . . I sought out textbooks that harnessed the potential of the web to facilitate historical inquiry and argument in K–12 classrooms.

Students could encounter and annotate primary and secondary sources, watch video, use graphic organizers to organize evidence and information, and listen to stirring speeches and dynamic lectures. They could look at Thomas Jefferson’s desk and compare, on a single screen, a draft of the Declaration of Independence (both a picture and transcribed version) with the final document. When they needed additional background information, they could click buttons to access narratives, timelines, maps, and vocabulary. A textbook that uses contemporary technological capabilities could include tools for collaborative work where students virtually discuss sources or plan multimedia presentations. In other words, I sought out textbooks that harnessed the potential of the web to facilitate historical inquiry and argument in K–12 classrooms. But after some exploring and trial runs, I would have to say that this possibility, where digital textbooks also mean better textbooks, is still unrealized. Digital textbooks do currently provide things that typical print ones do not. For example, students can write in their books, annotating text and taking notes. Publishers tell us that they will be able to update content more quickly, keeping better pace with recent scholarship. Educators see potential in the digital for making textbooks more accessible for special needs students and in ideas like e-learning portfolios. Teachers are using apps to harness the power of the iPad, or doing what one pair of teachers calls "D.I.Y digital textbooking." Below are some of the currently available textbooks and educator-created resources.

Textbooks to Explore is a group working under a Creative Commons license to develop open access course units with “texts” (includes images, videos, and websites). Teachers can create their own customized course, or modify and use what others have already created. Currently only a few history courses exist. Unit “chapters” consist of a list of resources and include both written texts and embedded images and documents from other open-content providers such as the Library of Congress or National Archives. Perusing these resources can be cumbersome and the lists can feel disjointed, but this resource is worth checking out. [FREE] CK-12, a nonprofit foundation, is creating “flexbooks,” and has mostly generated textbooks for STEM disciplines, but they also offer an open-access U.S. History textbook. You can download particular chapters and create a customized book. Each chapter includes primary and secondary sources and questions for analyzing those sources. The centrality of sources to these books is more evocative of college texts than your typical K–12 book, but some users will still need a synthetic narrative, something not provided here. (These sources and questions are from the open-access Reading Like a Historian curriculum from the Stanford History Education Group.) [FREE] For more open-access U.S. history textbooks, all of which offer a narrative, see here. [FREE] Also see the Hippocampus project, produced by the Monterey Institute of Technology and Education, to find organized resources that can either be used as a textbook or accompany an existing textbook. [FREE for individuals] also currently offers one open-licensed U.S. history textbook and one U.S. government textbook. Both books are designed for college-level courses and users pay for supplementary materials to the text. [FREE] Inkling, a for-profit company, has a few history and civics textbooks. Both of the currently available U.S. history books start with high-quality college-level textbooks and add some new features made possible by tablet devices. For example, hear Eric Foner in “author insight” podcasts for this version of Give Me Liberty: An American History or have students do review questions for a chapter in Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past, a textbook that includes material from J.W. Davidson and M. H. Lytle’s After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Inkling also publishes a popular civics textbook by Thomas E. Patterson. Download the Inkling app to review a sample chapter from one of these books. [Must PAY to use additional chapters] The big textbook publishing companies are no doubt looking to enter this market. (Inkling is a collaborative between McGraw Hill and Pearson). Look for those products to be rolled out soon. Publishers like Bedford St. Martin’s (History Class) and the Social Studies School Service (Active Classroom) have already created flexible platforms to design and publish your own books or course of study. [Must PAY to use this resource] However, given the exciting work being done by educators to use iPads to support quality teaching and learning, it’s likely that they will be the ones who will really show the textbook companies what can be done with an iPad. Browse the following links to see some of this exciting work.

Educators Sharing Ideas

See Joe Jolen’s blog on teachers and students creating e-books. Read Glenn Wiebe’s guide on getting started with iPads and using them effectively in the classroom. See here for edtechteacher’s extensive list of ways to use iPads in the classroom, complete with video tutorials and helpful apps.

About the Author

Daisy Martin, Director of History Education at, recently co-authored Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms, published by Teachers College Press.