How does one actually get a project going here?

I’m fascinated by the idea of feedback, so here are a couple of ideas:

First, I’m currently working on a Primary Source historical reader of a series of letters from the 19th century. The Ranney brothers were a half-dozen guys who were mostly born in Ashfield Massachusetts in the first decade of the 1800s. They spread from Ashfield to western New York, southwestern Michigan, Arkansas, the Indian Nation (Tahlequah), and several went looking for gold at Pike’s Peak and California. They wrote to each other about family concerns, politics (they were abolitionists), and business (many were in the peppermint oil business). I discovered these letters (nearly a hundred!) in a file drawer in a town historical society. Photographed them, transcribed them, and have been writing historical frames for the letters. So far, they’re at .

I’ve used these letters with good results in my US History course, and I think they could be useful to other educators interested in giving their students insight into the concerns and interests of regular people in rural America in the nineteenth century. I’m not unhappy with the format so far, but I was thinking Hypothesis might be helpful and it is not available in the Pressbooks platform I’m currently using. Could I get it here?

Second, I’m planning a “Readings in American Environmental History” course this summer for upper-level History undergrads and grad-level Minnesota High School teachers looking for continuing ed credits. It will use my existing textbook but will include readings from the core texts of the field (monographs and articles).

I’m considering adding to the existing text, but I’m also considering collaborating with other recent Env. Hist. graduates on a “Comps Field Readings” anthology based on the notes we all took when we read these texts in grad school. This might be a team-built text, and it might evolve over time as new grad students participated – and again Hypothesis might be an ideal way to engage readers/students.

My main question is, how does collaboration work here and can I create some projects or is that something I have to get permission to do each time from a gatekeeper?

Thanks, --Dan

1 Like

Hi Dan, welcome to the Rebus Community! Thanks for sharing these ideas with us.

This sounds like a unique and very interesting project! I’ve never heard of the Ranney brothers before, but sounds like they’ve had quite a few adventures. It’s amazing that you’ve discovered near a hundred letters from their travels! Thanks for the link to the work you’ve done so far on the Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project Pressbooks network.

It looks like you have a lot of the formatting work out of the way already, which is a great start. Having looked through the book, I did note that the photographs of the letters were missing alternative text, which will be helpful for anyone access digital versions of the book with a screen reader.

Definitely! What has the response been from your students so far?

As to your question about Hypothesis, it is available on Rebus’ instance of Pressbooks. Are you hoping to use it as a tool by which students can share their feedback? If a move is necessary, you can easily clone or import content from one Pressbooks book to another.

What I especially liked about this project, and a good message to highlight for potential collaborators would be what you noted in the book’s Acknowledgements:

The interest and care of people like Grace and Nancy [from the Ashfield Historical Society] ensures that such items will be available when curious historians drop in with questions one day. And they continue an important tradition of making their region’s history available to the public, both in person and on the internet.

As for the “Readings in American Environmental History” course, adding to the textbook with the help of recent graduates seems like an excellent way to keep the book up-to-date and also engage, and make use of the expertise of the graduate students!

If students are going to be involved in the making of the book, it’s important that they understand the nature of the license on the work, that they still retain copyright on their contributions (unless waived), and sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or some agreement consenting to participating in the project. We’ve written about working with students in our Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students, and it includes some helpful sections on licensing and MOUs.

Collaboration works in different ways on each project – dependent largely on the folks who are leading or managing a project. We’ve documented our approach so far in The Rebus Guide to Publishing.

The best way to start a project will be to fill out this project summary template, and tell us all about it in the platform. Once you’ve gathered your team around the project, you can start posting calls for participation (in the Contributor Marketplace, your own networks, etc.), depending on what tasks you have at hand.

We are not gatekeepers here, and we definitely do not want to be! We’d be excited to support you however best we can as you start creating your projects. Right now, we’re hoping to help all creators and collaborators on open textbook projects by adding to the Rebus Guide, the video series on the same, and by making improvements to this platform to better manage the work being done on projects.

I hope this helps for now, but if you have more questions (or feedback, we like it too!), please let us know. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the kind words, Apurva. And for the links, which I’ll study and then use to begin my process. My students responded very positively to the Ranney letters, which was fun for me. It would have been unfortunate if they had gone no farther than my dissertation. I’ll go back through and insert some alternative text for the images, and make a point of adding it as I work from now on.

I’ve been in contact in the last couple of days with a Canadian Environmental Historian who was very involved in NiCHE when she was a grad student and who, like me, blogged extensively about her comps reading in Environmental History. I suspect she may want to collaborate, if we can get the timing right. And then as I work with High School History teachers this summer and Env. Studies grad students next spring, I hope to attract more people who will be willing to contribute to the project.

1 Like

You’re welcome! Please let me know if you have any questions as you go through the guides and templates, or once you begin your process.

It’s great that the students have already responded positively to the letters – this is encouraging, especially considering your plan to involve them even further as you expand the book.

Thanks for heading back in the book to insert appropriate alternative text. As we see it, accessibility work must be inseparable from the conception and creation stages, not just something that happens at the end of the publishing process. If you’re interested in learning more about accessibility in open textbooks, I highly recommend the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit.

I hope the timing works out with the potential collaborator! Summer might be a good time to attract contributors around the project, as people are winding down from the academic year (in North America) and opening to the possibility of a different kind of work.

Keep us posted on how you go, and as I said earlier, we’re happy to spread the word in our networks once you are ready. We have been supporting the creation of a History of Applied Science and Technology open textbook, and the collaborators on this project might be interested in the work you’re doing here, and may be eager to participate or share details about the project in their professional networks. :slight_smile:

Thanks! I was planning on taking a look at that project, as I’m teaching a “History of High Tech” course this fall, focusing on the microcomputer and communication revolutions.

Nice! I’m tagging @danielle Mead Skjelver here, who’s one of the executive editors on the book, in case you wanted to chat with her further about the book and if you could use (or contribute) to certain sections based on your areas of expertise. Linda Ruggles is the other executive editor on the book, and Danielle or I can put you in touch with her too, if needed.

Hi @dan.allosso, I wanted to follow-up regards to your question around how someone can actually get a project started here. We’ve spent some time developing a clear pathway for anyone wanting to start their own open textbook project, and you can see the simple steps here: Create a New Project. New projects would receive a dedicated discussion space, in the Open Textbooks in Development category, where they can direct interested collaborators, grow their team, and move forward with their project.

As always, if you had any questions or comments, you could let us know here or post in the Help & Questions category. Looking forward to seeing how you get along! :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thanks Apurva. I’m not quite ready to jump in yet. Partly that’s because I’m hearing more about issues I’m not as excited to pursue as issues I am. For example, as I’m reading the Project Scoping Overview I run into the bolded “keep accessibility top of mind”. I’m
not even really sure what this entails. Are you saying “don’t even bother thinking about creating an open textbook until you’re a master of UDL.” Seems like a bit of a barrier to entry/participation.
Might be a more effective to approach issues like this with a carrot than a stick. Something like,“hey, there are people here who speak UDL, so if you’re a subject matter expert or a pedagogy person maybe it makes sense to team up.” So far I’m not hearing so
much of that at Rebus. I’m hearing more "these are our priorities and they should be yours too.” Although I’m not averse to accessibility in any way, it’s not my priority and the approach is a bit off-putting.


Thanks, Dan.

I appreciate your feedback about the Project Scoping overview, as you’re going through it. Specifically about the section on accessibility – you’re right that entails so much, and for this reason amongst many, we’re not saying that you should first become an expert in all-things Inclusive Design before you start your project. And too, accessibility can mean so many things – of tone, language, technical formats, etc. Our approach is actually more similar to what you’ve said here, which is: keep something like this on your mind as you do work on the project, and where you can, reach out to others who are more experienced with these issues and team up.

A big takeaway for @zoe and me as we were writing these guides is that there are many different paths or routes that someone could take when making an open textbook – depending on the person, what they are creating, where they are located, what their priorities are, etc. It’s not a clear-cut “one approach fits all” process, and we certainly don’t want to force creators down one route. What we’re trying to do with the guide is present a set of considerations and guidance on what the pieces could be, leaving it up to the creator to stitch it together and implement as they see fit.

We should perhaps express this better and more clearly in the guide, especially in the first few sections, so thanks for bringing this to our attention. As the title suggests, it’s a work in progress, and we’re hopeful that it will keep changing as people like you read it, use it (or find that you can’t for certain reasons) and share your feedback/experiences with us.

So for your case, if you don’t have the time or resources to make accessibility your main priority, that’s okay. We bring accessibility up early on in the guide, because, in our experience at least, it’s been easier to address throughout the creation process as opposed to something to come to after release. And we’ve seen that if things cannot fit in along the way, it’s helpful for creators, readers, adopters, to know what these things were – so they know what to expect as they go through the book, and so they can help with these gaps down the line.

As I said, please do continue to share any more feedback you have as you keep reading. And if you do decide to go ahead with starting a new project, that’s great! We’ll keep an eye out for it, but no pressure on our end. :slight_smile:

1 Like

I noticed you mentioned using Hypothesis in Pressbooks. I did some digging and it is indeed possible to use in Pressbooks! I activated it, tried it out, and it works! Seems like an interesting tool! Here’s how to do it:

1 Like