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What's in the Library: Books: Text Books

What is a Textbook?

It is not surprising that the phrase "it's a textbook example" means that a particular situation or event provides a typical or even archetypical example.

You are probably already familiar with textbooks as they are often the foundation for many courses. In general, a textbook, or "survey" text, offers basic accepted facts, research, theories, or knowledge about a particular subject that is typically used by or required knowledge for people studying that subject. Oftentimes textbooks are seen as offering a "canonical" view of concepts in that they provide commonly accepted information on a topic; as such, textbooks provide a starting point for inquiry but can inspire readers to critique or even contradict the commentary. 

In the art and design educational environment, art history survey texts are frequently used as a foundation for understanding the chronology of art movements throughout history. Although trends have changed recently to embrace broader geographic, cultural, and aesthetic vantage points, survey textbooks are oftentimes associated with a particularly Western European scholarly stance. Most recently, the writings of Marilyn Stokstad or Lisa Cartwright & Marita Sturken have offered a new approach to understanding works of art and design by presenting them as interpreted through visual of material culture theories.

A textbook combines elements or REFERENCE books by providing expansive information on a given topic, yet there are aspects of a MONOGRAPH in that they are usually written by single authors or occasionally writing partners (for example, Honour & Fleming; or Cartwright & Ssturken).Despite this, it is best to approach a textbook in a similar manner as a reference book in that it will offer a starting point for research only. 

Using Textbooks

Can I cite from a TEXTBOOK is a research paper?

Any source used to research an academic paper should be included in the Works Cited list/Bibliography. Be aware, however, that:

  • instructors oftentimes will not accept textbook entries as works to be cited in an academic paper as they only offer a cursory overview of topics and not original, primary research.

So, instead, it's best to use your textbook in a similar manner to a reference book as a guide to your topic for sourcing:

  • key writers, theorist, critics, or authors who are experts on your topic, then search these people as authors in a library catalogue to access their own primary sources
  • keywords or subject that you can use to search for books or peer-reviewed journal articles supporting these concepts

In general, think of reference books as a "road map" to your topic and not the final destination! The primary or secondary sources found in books or journal articles are the materials that should be used to build a research paper.

What is a Textbook?


A TEXTBOOK provides:

  • a starting point for researchers

What is the benefit of TEXTBOOKS?

  • to inform or educate the student researchers and guide them through the learning process for a given subject or topic
  • to provide perspective, interpretations, and analysis of historical time periods, movements, or people
  • to provide rigorously vetted fact-checking to avoid propagation of false information or facts
  • to offer the authorized, canonical viewpoint of historical time periods or movements
  • to help researchers become cognizant of key themes, concept, or ideas shaping historical time periods or movements and the people involved in these epochs
  • to source an authoritative bibliography of works by people profiled in the reference resource, or to find the names of central writers, theorists, or critics who specialize in researching historical time periods, movements, or people
  • to assist students and researchers in formulating a hypothesis about a topic based on prior, recognized research;  commonly accepted ideas described in reference books oftentimes help researchers to critique, challenge, or expand upon these canonical viewpoints

Who maintains the editorial process?


  • scholars, researchers, historians, critics who are recognized as experts in their field of inquiry


  • university presses OR
  • private, commercial companies OR
  • non-profit organizations



Examples of Print Art and Design History Textbooks at OCAD U