One thing I’ve learned about teaching over the years is that in an undergraduate course, it’s usually a mistake to assign the best scholarly works that you otherwise rely on in your field.
There’s some exceptions. I teach an upper-level honors seminar in colonial African history where the point is to expose students to the historiography of a particular specialized field, and so there I do try to teach what I see as the canon in that field. Though even there I throw a lot of idiosyncratic choices in the mix like David Hecht and Maliqalim Simone’s Invisible Governance or Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.
Outside of such courses, however, it seems to me it’s usually a mistake to assign works that are the best in conventional scholarly terms. I’m not saying that as a criticism of such work, not at all. However, when you’re teaching, you need something that’s got some rough edges, some openings, something discussable. I think this is especially true in historical scholarship. A great work of scholarship assigned in a small discussion-oriented course is likely to just fall with a thud on the students. If it’s short, it may provide useful empirical information that the class can make use of later. Its usefulness as an object of discussion fades in direct proportion to its scholarly quality. A terrifically good book that is also a properly scholarly book may have a great deal which makes it discussable, but only among other scholars.
It takes a long time to sort out which books or articles may be scholarly, of high-quality, and yet also have some kind of adventuresome or speculative argument which readily engages undergraduates who have no long-term or dedicated interest in historiography or scholarly practice. These are not necessarily the same kinds of books and articles that are written by self-conscious popularizers: I would say that David McCullough’s 1776 is as undiscussable as a high-quality monograph on some aspect of the Revolutionary period. 1776 may be more readable, but there’s not that much to talk about within the text itself, just about the relationship between popularizing history and scholarly history as forms of writing.
This observation is one of the reasons that I’ve rarely used the same syllabus twice for the same course. I pretty much rip them up and start again. I actually have a hard time imagining using the same syllabus twice except in my aforementioned honors seminar, where stability from year to year is institutionally important.