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printing for the people: Education

Walker Library / Special Collections / Printing for the People

Textbooks, Tracts, and Tales

Education as we know it today would not have been possible without readily available printed textbooks and other supportive materials. Printing presses made mass production possible and eventually supplanted the transmission of knowledge via oral repetition and written manuscripts. In the nineteenth century, stereotyping, steam power, mechanical typecasting and typesetting, and improvements in illustration reproduction made possible the proliferation of texts like Gray’s First Lessons in Botany and Davies’ School Arithmetic. Today, as electronic versions replace physical texts, old primers, alphabet books, and textbooks have become nostalgic collectibles and historic artifacts. These books guided children through structured curricula, but learning didn’t stop at the school room door. Publishers, including the American Tract Society and the Southern Methodist Publishing House, produced a steady stream of titles whose purpose was the moral education of youth, nudging generations of children along the path towards responsible adulthood and good citizenship.