Scholarly Uses of the Collection

The Early American Schoolbook Collection provides a unique perspective for those who hope to understand the historical foundation of our country’s moral and educational development as it was established and transmitted in these nineteenth-century schoolbooks. The Sunday school books, for example, were written to teach juvenile readers moral conduct and good citizenship. The stories in the books cover a wide range of subjects deemed particularly useful for young people and include natural history, slavery, holidays, travel and missionary work, death and dying, poverty, temperance, immigrants, tobacco, and conduct of life emphasizing virtuous behavior for boys and girls. The majority were published on the east coast by the American Tract Society and the American Sunday School Union, although other publishers were represented. 

The nineteenth-century American textbooks in this collection aimed not only to teach the basics of any given discipline, but give equal importance and attention to teach what their authors variously believed were the foundations of good citizenship. For example, selections in readers often set out views of social roles, moral behavior, and religious piety, while histories and geographies affirmed the superiority of the American nation over all others. The textbooks cover a variety of disciplines with an especially strong collection of early editions of readers by such important authors as Charles W. Sanders and William Holmes McGuffey. Although most were published on the east coast, there are strong holdings of textbooks published throughout the midwest by the 1870s, including some in Lansing, Detroit, and Battle Creek.