Both a historical recovery and a critical rethinking of the functions and practices of textbooks, Archives of Instruction: Nineteenth-Century Rhetorics, Readers, and Composition Books in the United States argues for an alternative understanding of our rhetorical traditions. The authors describe how the pervasive influence of nineteenth-century literacy textbooks demonstrate the early emergence of substantive instruction in reading and writing. Tracing the histories of widespread educational practices, the authors treat the textbooks as an important means of cultural formation that restores a sense of their distinguished and unique contributions.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, few people in the United States had access to significant school education or to the materials of instruction. By century’s end, education was a mass—though not universal—experience, and literacy textbooks were ubiquitous artifacts, used both in home and in school by a growing number of learners from diverse backgrounds. Many of the books have been forgotten, their contributions slighted or dismissed, or they are remembered through a haze of nostalgia as tokens of an idyllic form of schooling. Archives of Instruction suggests strategies for re-reading the texts and details the watersheds in the genre, providing a new perspective on the material conditions of schooling, book publication, and emerging practices of literacy instruction. The volume includes a substantial bibliography of primary and secondary works related to literacy instruction at all levels of education in the United States during the nineteenth century.