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The West Point History of the Civil War

The United States Military Academy, Rowan Technology Solutions, and Simon and Schuster have partnered together to create The West Point History of the Civil War, available 21 October 2014.

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THE BOOK WILL BE RELEASED IN TWO FORMS

The print edition, published by Simon and Schuster, will feature almost one hundred detailed maps based on the latest Civil War scholarship and drawn on top of satellite terrain information combined with period land-use documents. The book also highlights the era’s rich visual legacy with beautiful full-color artwork.

The digital version of the book, produced by Rowan Technology Solutions, contains all the same text, maps, and art as the print version, but in a dynamic interactive package. In the digital version, the maps are animated; terrain is modeled three dimensionally; and the reader can view interactive mini-documentaries about the war.

The History of Warfare

In 1847 Dennis Hart Mahan (USMA Class of 1824) published the first official West Point military history textbook. In it, Mahan used historical examples to teach his cadets what the nineteenth century professors referred to as the “art of war,” the human aspect of armed conflict beyond the technical details of attack and defense. Roughly every thirty years since then, the United States Military Academy has updated its text to reflect new interpretive ideas and more recent conflicts. The West Point History of Warfare represents the latest iteration of the Academy’s endeavor and takes the concept of what a textbook can be to exciting new levels.

Partnering with the Viola Foundation in December 2011, the Department of History at West Point sought to create not just the best military history textbook ever, but the best textbook ever. Just six month later, the two organizations assembled fifty of the world’s leading military historians and outlined a plan to craft a narrative that would stretch across 2,000 years of human history.

By December 2012, seventy-one chapters of text were underway and Rowan Technology Solutions was formed to manage the rapidly growing endeavor. Teams of editors, cartographers, designers, and computer programmers from New York to Nebraska assembled the various authors' text into an electronic format. The audacious effort produced 700 new geo-referenced maps, never before seen animations of some of history’s most famous battles, and innovative interpretive pieces that engage reader’s visual, auditory, and tactile learning centers.

As early as the summer semester of 2013, rough mockups of early chapters were beta tested in the classroom on iPads, and, in the fall, the entire first half of the enhanced ebook went live to 1,100 cadets across West Point. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both students and faculty alike.

Student Experience

The West Point History of Warfare has leveraged the capabilities of technology to enhance the pedagogical possibilities of what a digital textbook can be:

Carefully designed animated maps and interactive widgets enable the cadets to efficiently understand the material, allowing them to focus more time on higher level analysis and evaluation.

Cadets can view an animated map of a battle or event across its entire space and time rather than having only a few discrete moments at their disposal and having to conjecture what occurred in between.

The inclusion of many photographs, cartoons, works of art, video clips, and primary source excerpts immerses the cadets in the period they are studying.

Extensive endnotes guide readers to the sources, primary and secondary--in many cases with hyperlinks giving readers direct access to the texts cited.

All of these features create a more dynamic, interactive, and memorable learning experience, increasing the cadets’ retention of information and level of engagement.