19th Century Schoolbooks
November 29, 2007 9:00 AM   Subscribe

19th Century Schoolbooks, over 140 examples online. Browse the collection and find digital images of such gems as: School melodies : containing a choice collection of popular airs (1852), The American drawing-book (1847), Slate and black board exercises (1857), and of course we got your McGuffey's.

Found this at the University of Pittsburgh Digital Library. Lots more good stuff online there.
posted by marxchivist (24 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I've got a bunch of McGuffy Readers that my dad unloaded on me. I was thinking of throwing them out (they are modern reprints, I think). If someone wants them, I'd be happy to mail them to you.
posted by DU at 9:26 AM on November 29, 2007

This is very good stuff. I will be exploring for quite a while. Good post!
posted by LeeJay at 9:30 AM on November 29, 2007

There are some great things on the UofP Digital Library. And I love the fact that you can actually save decent sized copies of images.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2007

This is really cool. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 9:48 AM on November 29, 2007

Excellent post. Useful and interesting!

In The art of reading, or, Rules for the attainment of a just and correct enunciation of written language : mostly selected from Walker's Elements of elocution, and adapted to the use of schools. , the first few pages contain some great doodling from 1850. Master Hall was evidently fond of drawing horses. There's a scribble drawing of a sleigh drawn by six, and then the hind end of a horse with the genital area scribbled out.

Old schoolbooks are a real window into the educational philosophies and general mindset of a time period. THe way people used to learn had a lot to do with how they constructed the world.

posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on November 29, 2007

Dear Reader, if e'er self-deception prevails,
We pray you to try the Philosopher's Scales—
But if they are lost in the ruins around,
Perhaps a good substitute, thus may be found:
Let Judgment and Conscience, in circles be cut,
To which strings of Thought, may be carefully put—
Let these be made even, with caution extreme,
And impartiality serve for a beam.
Then bring these good actions, which pride overrates,
And tear up your motives, in bits, for the Weights.

(from Samuel Putnam's Analytical Reader, and I hope this site allows deep linking)

This is a great resource. Thanks.
posted by RogerB at 11:39 AM on November 29, 2007

Oh, very cool! Thanks!
posted by dejah420 at 11:43 AM on November 29, 2007

I just discovered that the poem I quoted above, "The Philosopher's Scales," is actually by Jane Taylor.
posted by RogerB at 11:46 AM on November 29, 2007

Sambo and His Bible. Painfully racist reading about the allegedly happy slave with the supposedly kind master.

The letters, oh the letters, they're hilarious, sycophantic, formal bizarreness, dripping with sugar, lies and bs. Amid the bs there are also some good manners. A Lady on Receiving a Miniature from Her Suiter. A Decayed Farmer Soliciting Employment for Himself and Wife.

A strange mix of some wonderful ideas and staggering ignorance. I like this chapter on how to approach history so it feels more personal, more real to young people, more alive and connected with their lives today.

A relief that textbooks gradually became less religious fundamentalism and abuse endorsements.

Delightful find, Marxchivist. There's nothing like looking at social norms of the past to make one profoundly grateful it's 2007.
posted by nickyskye at 12:36 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

nickyske, that history link is the most fabulous find. In the field of public history right now, the latest trend is to embrace the idea that history is personal, experienced by and retold by people themselves, and that to be effective the presentation of history must begin with some connection to the learner. The trend in place-based history is also huge (beginning with geography), as is the radical notion that museums must let go of their position of authority and control of the narrative.

How nice to see that everything old is new again. I may be trotting some excerpts from that article out to see if I can pass them off as cutting-edge...
posted by Miko at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a school book from the 1850s somewhere in the house. Full of useful stuff like heraldry and a detailed examination of the napoleonic wars.
posted by empath at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2007

Oh, what fun you like that Miko, that we share a similar interest and happily bewildered to find an opinion turns out to be a trend in teaching history.

museums must let go of their position of authority and control of the narrative

oooh, that's a potent statement! You mean it's people's stories, the multi-faceted disco ball of perspectives about What Happened, not merely artifacts that might be important too? But where would that leave the art patrons' tax deductions and prestige in donating museum"wings" packed with stuff?

Just read this: Finland once again took the number one spot in OECD's three-yearly test of reading, mathematics and science abilities of a sample of 15-year old secondary-school students, followed by Hong Kong (China) and Canada in second and third place, according to advance details of results that will be published in full next week.

One thing I noticed living in Europe was how the kids related to The Past as personally meaningful and took their country's history as a source of personal pride. Recently, I met a young girl punk rocker in a small train station in rural Wales. We were chatting as we waited for the train and she knew history local history like a professor, it was stunning and wonderful.

As an American, I resisted the textbook history I was forced to read as a kid and remember daring to tell my fuddy duddy high school teacher that I didn't get why I had to learn about Charlemagne's corpulent neck. What was the point? She had no answer. Momentarily I felt I won but actually lost by not finding out for decades how important learning history really is. As a teen, when truth speaking and outing the hypocrites really matters, I was fed up with the whole contemptuous Eurocentric attitude of look at the quaint Egyptians, picturesque wigwams or memorizing cliches about "the cradle of civilization" being between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The closest I came to approaching history as a teen was being an unofficial student of a amazing, forward thinking professor, Eric Mottram, at London University in 1973/4. He suggested reading a book by Brooks Adams, The New Empire (1902), which taught me the importance of natural resources in a country's history and the cyclic rise and fall of economies.

It was only when I wanted to find out about my dysfunctional family, researched it in the public library and looked at the generations of the past, felt part of the river of time. Then I got history, for the first time, a brocade of stories, lies, truths, manipulations, exploits, creativity, art, visions, fun, survival, power plays, imagination, passion, psychology mixed with geography and business, countless dysfunctional families of all kinds, that I share with the other billions on the planet. An inkling of how things got to be the way they are now.

In comprehending history personally, I was then able to see it less personally.

Gee, I rattled on passionately and feel shy now, lol. Are you a user of textbooks in teaching others?
posted by nickyskye at 2:20 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Neat! I am going to do a project with some of my history students on local one-room schoolhouses next semester and this post could not be more useful. Thanks so much.
posted by LarryC at 3:53 PM on November 29, 2007

Excellent comment, nickyskye. And a great testimonial. There are so many issues in the teaching of history: the backseat priority it takes in school is definitely a problem, getting worse in the days of No Child Left Behind. And I had a similar experience when I first worked at a summer camp with some counselors from Britain - they explained so much about their own towns and cities' history, and I remember being astounded when one of them recited all the monarchs of Britian from about 900 onward.

I work in the museum field, a subset of the broader 'public history' field, in which historians try to connect modern people in everyday life to history. It is an absolutely fascinating field. In one way, history could not be more popular or more current - family history, scrapbooking, watching the history channel, getting into a fiction film like The Titanic or watching Ken Burns' The War, buying an old house and fixing it up, finding a cool old sepia photo at the flea market that makes you wonder, the whole StoryCorps phenomenon, hearing a story about your grandparents' or parents' connection with an event of the past - all of these are powerful, everyday ways of knowing history.

And yet in many museums and certainly history classrooms, history has become a narrative about large powers and faceless events. No wonder museums struggle to keep attendance up.; no wonder people think that history is 'boring.' We are usually not offered a place in the story. As historians, we forget to present and study immigration as a phenomenon that is part of almost all of our own family lineage. We forget to present and study wars as global events that determined a lot about where and how we live today, who in our families lived and died, and why. We forget to allow for multiple perspectives and multiple interpretations of controversial events and painful moments in history, and quail at the inevitable uncomfortable conversations that arise when we do.

I love my field, but I'm a serious critic of it. So many people in history have their heads in the sand and don't think about the consumers of history, the public part, enough at all. There is a tendency to fear laughter, interaction, conversation, and reflection and to instead insist upon what really happened. I see history as a field that has tremendous social responsibility to present windows into the past, to present many perspectives, and to deepen our senses of self, place, and community. That can get messy.

I have seen two deeply amazing exhibits recently.

One was The Power of Children, a highly interactive history exhibit at the children's museum of Indianapolis. It explored the lives of three children at three different times who found themselves at the center of a social maelstrom they had done nothing to cause. The exhibit told their stories through the eyes of the children, and allowed visitors to travel with them, step by step, as the normalcy of their lives was destroyed. It is the only museum I have seen people crying openly in since I visited the Holocaust Museum. There was a lot of incorporated video that shed light on each central story: Ryan White's friends from high school, Ruby herself and other people who endured the early days of integration. At the end of the exhibit you were encouraged to write a promise to e-mail yourself about how the stories would inspire you to make a difference.

The other was at the Levi Coffin House, a well-documented UNderground Railroad house. The family's story was admirable: a Quaker couple who helped over 3000 people pass through to Canada and freedom before the Civil War. They had to do this in secret, obviously - not only from the bounty hunters but from fellow Quakers, not all of whom thought open opposition to slavery was wise or morally justified. They kept the secret even from those closest to them. We visited the house by night, coming to the side door of a busy street. It still has no electricity. We entered and went upstairs, where we saw a small crawlspace where up to 14 people could be hidden at a time. We were able to crawl into it. We also went down into the basement, where there was a well - built right into the basement of the house. Why? So the neighbors could not see how much water the coffins were drawing and begin to wonder how two people could use so much water. Staring into that well, which is still clear and full, and realizing how many people drank from it on one of the most harrowing nights of their lives during a time of terrible oppression - it was a story to become immersed in, and had an utter realness that was meaningful.

These kinds of things are far from boring, but so often, we get in the way of them. The story of one kid with AIDS and how rude his schoolmates were to him? Is that history? Well, yes it is. IT creates some context for understanding how narrow and shallow teenage hatred can be in the face of life's seriousness. The story of one kid being isolated in first grade? Yes, history. Why she was isolated is so hard to understand, but all of us can sit at the little school desk and imagine the strange outlander status it must have been to be the only child in a whole classroom, with only a small understanding of why people hated you so much that you couldn't make friends. The story of one family taking an incredible risk that was life-changing and perhaps life-saving for thousands of fugitives, in the face of a disapproving government, legal penalties, and social rejection: in a small way, who can't relate to the feeling that sometimes moral choices mean social sacrifices, that doing the right thing does not always bring earthly approbation and reward.

It's gotta start with something personal.

I don't teach with textbooks - in the museum setting, we rely on primary source material (documents, photos) and objects. But I did do a lot of work with textbooks for my museum education degree. Analyzing them is fascinating. I particularly was weirded out by the ones from the 60s, and 70s, in which gender role information was coded into everything, even the freaking math word problems. The biases run deep.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Miko, Woo hoo, thanks to your wonderful comment, just discovered StoryCorps. Awesome. Thanks. I'm glad that history is in these days with the excellent History Channel, This Old House, the fun tv shows about families trying to live as they did in Edwardian England or in colonial days and all the great things you mentioned.

So many people in history have their heads in the sand and don't think about the consumers of history, the public part, enough at all. There is a tendency to fear laughter, interaction, conversation, and reflection and to instead insist upon what really happened.

Yes, that's so strange. I wonder what that is all about? I remember as a kid learning about Washington's wooden teeth as if it were high espionage information (a secret snippet of The Interesting Things Only Adults Are Allowed To Know). It was as if history were put into a dehumanizing machine and came out banal, as cardboard, without character or human dimensions.

Do you have any thoughts why history has been taught like that?

How excellent The Power of Children exhibit sounds. I love the part of a promise to make a difference. I think children feel keenly alienated from the adult world, their power discounted, when it is they who have The Future in their hands. How right to inform the children of that power they wield. Your telling of your experience at the Levi Coffin House made me cry. I could see that well clearly in my mind's eye and imagine how it must have felt for you seeing it. What a great museum that is! wow. Looking at that exhibit reminded me of how proud I am of my father's great grandmother, a teacher from rural Devon, who refused to come over the Canadian border into the USA, a country that still had slaves, until the Emancipation Proclamation had been declared and put into practice in 1865. And when she was sure slavery had ended, the week she came to America was the one during which Lincoln was assassinated.

Intelligently mixing histories with history, The Museum of the City of New York has good exhibits sometimes.

My kid sis, a brainiac archaeologist, also savvy about museums and history, innovated teaching kids about archeology by answering their questions online, playing the role of Dr. Dig (that's her in the animation) but she was laid off when it changed ownership, a new non-communicator replacement and now there is no daily question and answer fun the way there used to be. I always thought that was a huge mistake as the site was once very busy, constantly barraged with questions and very loved at that time (2000-2003) by both kids and teachers.

There isn't a single schoolbook or textbook from the 60's or 70's that I liked, except a wonderful geography one.

And you're right, Marxchivist, the University of Pittsburgh Digital Library has some interesting treasures there: Amazing archive of images re that malignant narcissist, Stalin, example, one with his teenage daughter and his mother, the beautiful wife of a savage alcoholic. Photographs from the F. Theodore Wagner Collection, a few examples of George Washington's letters. Cool to see his handwriting. A Celebration of Women Writers.
posted by nickyskye at 9:47 PM on November 29, 2007

Just returned to this post to work through the thread and I am so impressed by the thoughtfulness of the comments. Thanks especially to Miko and Nickskye for the links. The 1850s piece on the importance and power of local history sent shivers down my back--this is exactly what we have come around to, 160 years later.

I am drifting from academic to public history lately and this thread gives me so much to think about.
posted by LarryC at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2007

So many people in history have their heads in the sand and don't think about the consumers of history, the public part, enough at all.
posted by Miko at 9:47 PM on November 29

I think we see eye to eye on this issue Miko. I think you know this too: I've had some experience in the academic and public aspects of history. I believe to be taken seriously (tenure) in the academic world, you need to publish heavily footnoted articles and books that have been peer-reviewed. Those forums don't lend themselves to making things relevant or interesting to your average person/consumer. I think that is where the disconnect comes between professional historians and the general public. I've been fortunate to be published in a peer-reviewed journal and also a history magazine geared toward middle-school students and I had a blast writing each of those. I have a I sure as hell don't do this for the money. I see good in botgreat admiration for public historians and spend most of my time with that aspect of the field. It is a tough job often with a very limited budget.

I've been looking at a lot of local histories recently for a project I'm working on, many of them self-published or by very small presses. It is very frustrating to find a great piece of information or anecdote in one of these books only to not have not footnoted properly or not at all. To which I grit my teeth and wish this had been written by an academic historian. But then, the academic historian probably wouldn't have included the story everybody in that town knew that the girl who sold the lemonade to pay for the monument wanted to marry the son of the guy who was in charge of raising funds for said monument...

I don't know what my point is. I'm glad I have a job where one day I can be creating a footnote half a page long and the next day be thinking of things in our collection an eighth grader will think are cool.

I don't like to think about it, but the field we work in is a synonym for "irrelevant" or "dead," as in "That's history!"
posted by marxchivist at 3:53 AM on November 30, 2007

I have a I sure as hell don't do this for the money. I see good in bot I have great admiration for public historians and spend most of my time with that aspect of the field. It is a tough job often with a very limited budget.

Probably my longest comment here and it was a damn typo mess.
posted by marxchivist at 3:55 AM on November 30, 2007

Yes, Marxchivist: I agree that the there is a vast schism in the history field between history as academic historians practice it and history as it is experienced by people and taught at all other levels. I share your frustration about lack of rigor and sourcing when working with historical information - I'm a stickler for accuracy, and a lot of times, there's poor and even completely wrong information in museums and local histories and corporate histories and the like. But I also feel a frustration that historians will often look down on the topical approach of public history and declare that it is less 'real' than academic history. It is certainly does not share exactly the same aims as academic history, but why the disdain? No wonder people are less interested in their own past, when the academic champions of that past tell most of us we aren't capable of participating in the discussion because we don't share their particular training and biases.

I think historians get into very circular, insular conversations that remove them from the more potent, visceral meanings and uses of history. The way historians craft historical questions, focusing on the largest forces, doesn't play well to the broader audience, who are not usually immediately interested in the theoretical at the expense of the personal.

It really strikes me as strange, though. Obviously there's a division in many fields between the academy and popular culture - but I don't know of any other discipline fields which are so fundamentally different at the two levels. Not literature, for instance - academics in lit seem to be able to handle discussing works at the theory level among their peers, and also leading the book group down at the local library to great effect. I'm not sure why historians so rarely do both - so rarely engage in both serious, high-level conversation and pop history.
posted by Miko at 6:13 AM on November 30, 2007

my longest comment here and it was a damn typo mess

Loved your brief and very interesting comment Marxchivist, wished it were longer, and, as someone whose comments are riddled with typos like fleas on a mangy dog, am somewhat comforted when others' comments occasionally have them too. Enjoyed your typos. :)

from academic to public history

Yes, LarryC, now with Marxchivist's wonderful, honest explanation I see what happened with history, the academics in the science of writing history needed footnotes as evidence, proof that events took place like that or that results could be interpreted as being that. Including these important proofs ended up making the audience for writing about history become other academics, alienating the public.

But I also feel a frustration that historians will often look down on the topical approach of public history and declare that it is less 'real' than academic history. It is certainly does not share exactly the same aims as academic history, but why the disdain?

whoa, So nicely articulated and such an eye opener Miko, Thanks. That makes such sense. I've intuited the contempt coming out of academic history books, like steam rising off cow plop.

I'm not sure why historians so rarely do both - so rarely engage in both serious, high-level conversation and pop history.

It would seem to me that one of the many ingredients in history is of the feelings behind the motivations for doing things. And feelings are so open to interpretation that it might be exhausting for a history teacher to guide the focus from feelings, which children have in great abundance, to proofs, to footnotes as evidence of a narrative.

If I were a teacher of history, I might teach the children to be historians first by writing diaries, the history of their days, or weeks, to analyze what proofs they kept of things had happened, and their feelings, their motivations, how they interpreted events, receipts of money spent, their economies, politics, families, friends, power plays, lies and truths. Perhaps take the kids to an event and have them write about it as journalists, documenting what happened, observe their own capacity for observation and perception. Then compare their perspectives in class and in that way teach them how important footnotes are, proofs of events and the significance of well researched opinions. To study history it would seem important to first learn to be an historian to one extent or another, to go from the personal to the less personal. Or to see what might seem to be less personal as, actually, quite personal.

In English class teachers teach students about their language, how to write and by that the students understand both their limitations and abilities. In doing so they can develop their appreciation or dislike of different writers. They are permitted to form their own opinions, to be active. In science class students are taught to be active science thinkers, to be scientists in science class, to speak another language in language class. But in history class, students are passively force fed another person's version of The Past, like a Strasbourg goose, data funneled without digestion, because there is no internal ability for students to comprehend the meaning of history as a type of complex documentation and interpretation.

Imo, unless history is personally meaningful, it cannot be authentically interesting, except to a small handful of people who are inclined to study it academically in a sort of sterile lab setting, with other academics.

Another way I learned about history was as an adult reading the newspapers in the microfilms department in the library. It was shocking to read things that had been later discovered to be lies but printed first as facts/the truth, like about the stock market crash of 1929, various events during and after the World Wars or the Vietnam War. It taught me the importance of proofs, of footnotes and research.

When I was a kid I met a friend of my dad's, a wonderful archaeologist, later a museum director, the late Dr. Stephen F. Borhegyi. He took me to the Museum of Natural History, where he was worked on Pre-Columbian art. Seeing all the drawers of artifacts, the smell of the place, earthy and musty, holding the shards in my hands, seeing the carefully numbered scraps of The Past, it made physical sense the huge process he was part of, the telling of history with proofs. In spite of his science seeming out of my reach, the result was I've loved Pre-Columbian art since then.

And now so glad for this excellent thread of conversation, making sense of something I'd never been able to articulate, comprehend or find a way to think about before, the different worlds of academic and public/personal history. Thanks LarryC, Marxchivist and Miko.
posted by nickyskye at 9:55 AM on November 30, 2007

Thanks to all as well.

If I were a teacher of history, I might teach the children to be historians first by writing diaries...Then compare their perspectives in class and in that way teach them how important footnotes are...

That would be an excellent approach, I think, and I'd add something else important that historians do: seek to round out their perspective by looking for other, complementary documents besides their single accounts, which (as the kids would learn) are full of omissions and assumptions, biases and agendas. So, for instance, if they went out to write an account about a sporting event, such a horse race or something, you'd have 20 somewhat different accounts from 20 different students. But if you collected those and then added some other documens - the racing form, a bookmaker's account book, some protest material from an animal-rights organization on whether racing should be legal in this town, the winning jockey's version of the race, the losing jockey's version, the register till tape from the betting window, the newspaper story -- you get the idea - then kids would start to understand how to craft a narrative of history that can contain many perspectives within an objective reality.

Great stories, nickyskye - a funny thing is that I, too, caught the museum bug partly because of a trip to the museum of Natural History. In my case we met a bird researcher who invited us to visit, and we were taken through the labs and bird-skin storage areas. We saw the world's smallest bird, world's largest bird, some eiders collected by Admiral Perry, the bower bird, and lots of other things I remember to this day. We saw closed wings of the museum with Audubon prints unviewable to the public, and we saw interesting offices stacked high with towers of books, quirky people behind them compiling data and cracking jokes. It seemed like the world's most interesting work environment! Though that was natural history and not social history, the atmosphere of constant inquiry, surprise, and often delight at this amazing, layered world is what stuck with me.

I must say, I'm very impressed to know someone who knows a Dr. Dig, by the way. We have an archaeology program where I work, and lots of kids who we work with get that magazine...
posted by Miko at 11:32 AM on November 30, 2007

to round out their perspective by looking for other, complementary documents besides their single accounts

ah, That's what I call the disco ball. A mosaic of perspectives and perceptions, interpreted differently as seen or experienced in the light of different eyes.

Yes, love your idea.

How wonderful to learn about the bird researcher who opened that particular gate of your perception. That's a cool story. I feel such love for those who prompted my interest in looking carefully at the many aspects of life. Wish they were alive now to tell them.

Oh yes, my dear sis, the former Dr. Dig, is worthy of being impressed by as a gifted teacher of young kids and she's quite unpretentious about it. She's not especially fond of tooting her own horn, so I thought I'd mention her here with the open agenda of possibly any suggestions anyone has out there in the universe. She's not permitted to use the name Dr. Dig now, since it belongs to Dig Magazine. Tried to encourage her to start up a website of her own, perhaps connected with some other magazine or university. Trying to find a new name (dr. dirt is heavy on the double entendre).

A lovely, interesting, twisty thread. And YAY inspiring teachers.
posted by nickyskye at 12:11 PM on November 30, 2007

I'm not sure why historians so rarely do both - so rarely engage in both serious, high-level conversation and pop history.
posted by Miko at 9:13 AM

Good point, History professors vs. English professors. There are a couple of history professors at the school where I got my graduate degree who I saw do some programs for the general public in a library and they were very well-received. That school does have a strong Public History program though. One guy was a labor historian and the other a Civil War / African American history person. The guy who specialized in 18th century French Intellectual history may not have gone over so well.

Original documents and artifacts are a lot of fun to get younger people excited. When we have a school group in, I'm usually the staff member on the side going to some nerdy looking kid "Pssst, wanna see a list of guys that got their legs blown off in the Civil War and the state paid for their fake legs?" Every once in awhile something like that will light the kid up.
posted by marxchivist at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2007

Every once in awhile something like that will light the kid up.

Nice that you like that lighting up.

Civil war prostheses. wow.
posted by nickyskye at 11:38 PM on November 30, 2007

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