Archive for the ‘education’ Category

You know that old metaphor about whether scholars are hedgehogs or foxes? (See a great series on this topic over at Notorious Ph.D.’s blog.) Well, apparently grad students are all badgers. Any of this sound familiar?

    “I am writing a treatise just now,” said the badger, coughing diffidently to show that he was absolutely set on explaining it, “which is to point out why Man has become the master of the animals. Perhaps you would like to hear it?
“It’s for my doctor’s degree, you know,” he added hastily, before the Wart could protest. He got few chances of reading his treatises to anybody, so he could not bear to let the opportunity slip by.
“Thank you very much,” said the Wart.
“It will be good for you, dear boy. It is just the thing to top off an education. Study birds and fish and animals: then finish off with Man. How fortunate that you came! Now where the devil did I put that manuscript?”
The old gentleman scratched about with his great claws until he had turned up a dirty bundle of papers, one corner of which had been used for lighting something. Then he sat down in his leather armchair, which had a deep depression in the middle of it; put on his velvet smoking-cap with the tassel; and produced a pair of tarantula spectacles, which balanced on the end of his nose.
“Hem,” said the badger.
He immediately became paralyzed with shyness, and sat blushing at his papers, unable to begin.
“Go on,” said the Wart.
“It is not very good,” he explained coyly. “It is just a rough draft, you know. I shall alter a lot before I sent it in.”
“I am sure it must be interesting.”
“Oh not, it is not a bit interesting. It is just an odd thing I threw off in an odd half-hour, just to pass the time. But still, this is how it begins.
“Hem!” said the badger. Then he put on an impossibly high falsetto voice and began to read as fast as possible.

I’m rereading The Once and Future King by T. H. White for the first time since I was a kid. I had forgotten how delicious and wise and funny it is. Don’t we all need an audience like the Wart sometimes? Some of us even resort to writing blogs. And I just love that “‘It’s not very good,’ he explained coyly.”

The story which the badger tells from his treatise is quite wonderful also, and a great literary response to biological determinists on human warfare as “natural.”

(Aside: It depresses me how many of the initial hits for a simple Google search of “badger once and future king” are commercial reading summaries, presumably for students assigned The Once and Future King in a class. Not that book guides are inherently bad, but this looks like “I didn’t want to do the homework” material, and it’s disheartening that there are readers out there so overwhelmed or under-motivated that they would miss out on the delight of this book. Don’t even get me started on the “FREE OaFK Essays!” links.)

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Even with a little more temporal proximity than I had during the fall, trying to write a blog post about the first major texts I read on this current research trip is making me realize how quickly memory can fade in the face of the overwhelming volume of records I’ve begun to collect. When I made a note to this effect three weeks ago, I’m sure there was a particular reason I thought writing about Johann Matthias Schröckh’s œuvre on this blog would be useful…but it’s completely escaping me now.

At any rate, it’s probably simply a good exercise for me to try to do some of the mid-research reflection and organizing that everyone seems to recommend and hardly anyone seems to have down.

Schröckh (1733-1808) was a professor of history and poetry, but so far I haven’t read much else about his career. From the Eckert-Institut’s terrific collection, I have notes on two different series, both of which were obviously popular enough to go through multiple editions (there were also English translations in the 1780s, according to WorldCat). One series is the Allgemeine Weltgeschichte für Kinder, a longer, more narrative work. Schröckh also revamped and republished an earlier history text by Hilmar Curas Einleitung zur Universalhistorie as his Lehrbuch der Allgemeine Weltgeschichte. I’m interested in how the title change (“introduction” –> “reader”), illustrations, tone, and content signal a shift to a targeted youth audience for the more modern textbook (Schröckh’s describes editing the original to make it more “comfortable” for young people). But I’m also curious about the meaning of Curas’s “Universalhistorie” versus Schröckh’s “world history.” In both cases, as with most of the late-Enlightenment world history schoolbooks I’ve read, “world” history is actually code for the history (biblical and classical) of the ancient Mediterranean.

Some tantalizing moments, for future thought:

  • Schröckh offers reasons for not providing sources for his history. What does this imply about historical pedagogy? Compare this to the emphasis on scientific credentials given by authors of later geography textbooks and especially of atlases for children.
  • In later texts, orientalist discussions of India and China begin to slip in the “Old History” sections. When does world history stop connoting what we would call ancient history today? (And why do both terms still obscure their Eurocentrism?)
  • After leaving the Jewish calendar chronology of “Alte Geschichte,” what matters? Christ, then Luther, then Napoleon. Also, why the absence of Old Testament heroines from the early sections?

One special discovery came with an edition of Schröckh’s Curas revision, where I really hit the jackpot on marginalia. In the next few weeks, I might write a blog post about the marginalia I found in various books this time, as well as some of the questions I have about what to make of such scribbles. Deciphering these notes is a rather daunting prospect, since these are in the old German Handschrift, which is really a different alphabet (also look for a future post on some of the interesting linguistic features of German handwriting and print choices that I’ve been encountering).

an example of the marginalia in a Schröckh volume

But fortunately that tortuous process is Future Emily’s problem. For now, I’m going to get back to my last few days of research time at the Staatsbibliothek Kinder- und Jugendbuchabteilung. (That’s right, folks, a whole library room just full of old children’s books and people who like them. Heaven…)


Note about Steve

After taking a couple of days off immediately after Steve Bodner’s death, I managed to get back to work at the library in Braunschweig. My mother reminded me that this was probably fitting, since Steve was so encouraging when I got into grad school and in our conversations during my coursework. Hence the return to regular bloggy topics. But I know that this site received more visitors by far for that post than for any other in its short duration, so if you have arrived here looking for more information about Steve, here are some links:

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Mark Helprin, who likes to leave messages on his friends’ answering machines in spurious (but highly convincing) dialects, inscribed several of his books in imaginary languages.  In A Dove of the East, he wrote Skanaarela tan floss atcha atcha qumble ta. Da bubo barta flay? Staarcroft.  I spent the better part of a decade trying in vain to figure out what that meant.”

– Anne Fadiman, “Words on a Flyleaf,” Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Since it’s now snowing on this very blog (what can I say? I couldn’t resist), I suppose the time has finally come to clear house of all these finds-of-the-day from Europe back in sunny September.  More pressingly, in fact, I’ll be leaving for another quick trip to Germany in the middle of January and I hope to be dazzling you then with new, spectacular discoveries from the archives, like:

Dear Future Historian, I am an 10-year-old middle-class child and I would like to tell you what I think about the books I read. First….

Anyway, until that letter comes my way, here are some more obscure “signs” of children’s reading. This past September in Braunschweig, I worked in the Georg-Eckert Institut für Schulbuchforschung library, which is possibly the nicest, most accessible research library I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring.  Among many terrific things they do is aim to collect as complete a collection of textbooks as possible, regardless of the physical condition of the copies they find.  What this means for historians of childhood is that the tantalizing scribbles normally cause for tossing an old book have been preserved in at least part of their collection.

Here are some of the endpaper signatures I found in my preliminary hunt through the historical holdings.  (I’ve indicated places where I’m not sure of the names or handwriting, and help  deciphering these is welcome!)


Louise Dähmert signed her copy of this secondary-school reader a year after publication, but by 1860 it was owned by someone named Breishov (?). Die höhere Töchterschule: Ein Lehr- und Lesebuch für Deutschland’s weibliche Lehr- und Bildungsanstalten (Beck, 1827)




One of my favorites is Friedericka Ludwig, who signed her short world history textbook not just once in 1830, but again in 1833.  Practicing a more grown-up hand?  Or perhaps she had an avaricious younger sibling who needed to be warned off. Kleine Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privat-Unterrichte heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1830)






Many scribbles of different archaeological strata in the book pictured above, which I haven’t been able to identify or place in order yet.  But it looks like at some point during her ownership of this world history textbook, Natalie/Nathalie Gloeckler became Madame Nathalie Lejeune.  Is Natalie the artist of this so-appropriate illustration for a section on the geopolitical history of ancient India?  (click to see it more clearly) Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privatunterricht heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1830)


I honestly have no idea on this one to the right: Strobel?  Since this is on the title page, it should by rights be Mr. Nösselt himself, but perhaps the reader was in the same misapprehension as young Anne Fadiman (see above). Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privatunterricht heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1838)


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Wow, ten posts in and I’m already resorting to epigraphing DNA a second time.

The Campaigners for Real Time claim that just as easy travel eroded the differences between one country and another, and between one world and another, so time travel is now eroding the differences between one age and another. “The past,” they say, “is now truly like a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there.”

Life, The Universe, and Everything, chapter 11 (Douglas Adams)

Instead of what would inevitably be mundane and myopic dispatches from Fellowship Application Writing Land, where I have taken up temporary residence, here’s another tidbit from my foreign travels back in August. In fact, it is a timely piece of advice as I’m in the middle of planning another Europe trip for January.

In 1781, Henri-Abraham Chatelain wanted parents of students to know the benefits of travel for their daughters. It would, he rhapsodized, allow students:

a.  To extend their knowledge and augment their enlightenment.
b.  To develop their judgement and perfect their taste.
c.  To acquire a more special knowledge of men.
d.  To train themselves in good manners and the customs of the world.
e.  To make themselves more skilled in their profession.

Have your life travels done all that for shaping your character? I don’t have a definitive assessment for you of whether I have augmented my enlightenment and acquired a more special knowledge of men, but I can tell you that the same day I read the Chatelain pamphlet in France, I also recorded this observation about working in the unusual space of the Bibliothèque nationale:

Today I was placed in one of the seats that must be in high demand come dark, northern winter. Around 3:30 the sun started beating in, making me so kitten-on-the-windowsill sleepy that it took me three minutes to realize the reason I couldn’t understand the book in my hands? It was in Dutch, not German.

a. D’étendre leurs connaissances & d’augmenter leurs lumières.
b. De former leur jugement & de perfectionner leur goût.
c. D’acquérir une connaissance plus particulière des hommes.
d. De se former aux bonnes manières & a l’usage du monde.
e. De se rendre plus habiles dans leur profession.

Henri-Abraham Chatelain, L’Éducation mise à la portée de tout le monde (Lausanne: Jules Henri Pott & Comp., 1781), 136.

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