Archive for the ‘Find-of-the-Day’ Category

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:


Read Full Post »

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)


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Toward the end of my research trip to France, I made the unfortunate discovery that during la rentrée, the end of la fermeture, when everyone comes back to Paris and school begins, it’s imperative to reserve a seat at the BnF the second that reservations open….or you’ll fail to get a spot at all. Which is what happened to me, after three weeks of easy access and learning the system. It meant the few hours at the end when I did manage to get into this strange subterranean building were pretty frantic, but there was a fun silver lining.

My mother and I had a lovely lunch with a family friend who works at the BnF and gave us the enormous treat of going “behind the scenes” to the staff canteen (this being France, there are at least 3 public cafés elsewhere in the library). Then, because I couldn’t get in to do actual work, we got to go up the towers with him!

First, a note on the strange/genius/ghastly/stunning architecture of the relatively new Bibliothèque nationale main site, François-Mitterand. It provokes strong, polar reactions in visitors and users. So far, I’ve met two historians who are definite fans (mostly because the highly automated, centralized, organized system for reserving places to work and books from the collection is apparently a big improvement on the old library). But others find the underground labyrinth confusing and the architecture a bleak error in the classic Parisian landscape.

All the books are kept in the four huge towers, while the readers sit underground. This caused a now infamous problem: the architect forgot to protect the books from sunlight, and heavy wooden shutters had to be installed.

So, those shutters may work well to preserve the collection, but not, let me tell you, to give a feeling of security at your back while you’re standing on the outside in front of floor-to-ceiling glass and all of Paris is spread out in miniature at your feet.  My mother bravely walked all the way along one edge with our host, but I chickened out and crept back to the safety of the elevator.

I did, however, get to see lots of other neat things behind the scenes. For example, the books are transported from various nooks and crannies in these enormous towers via little pods on moving tracks, sort of like the train at Curtis Orchards.

This video will let you see the books traveling on their merry way, though it also reveals that we weren’t the very first explorers allowed in to see the inner workings (there are regular guided tours). Still, it was an unbelievably cool experience for us!

Read Full Post »

Two more little finds-of-the day from the BnF in this post, trying to catch up as we make our way into October in real time (although it was warmer in Minnesota this weekend than it was two months ago in Parisian summer!).

1.  Did you know that we lose an hour and 22 minutes of day throughout the month of August? Source: Almanach des Enfans Pour l’Année 1835

2.  As is so often true, Jane Austen has the best words on the subject of today’s find-of-the-day book:

Mr. Collins: “I am happy on every occasion to offer those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies.”

“You judge very properly,” said Mr. Bennet, “and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”

“They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”

While looking at French almanacs published for kids in the late eighteenth century, I came across the Almanach des Enfants: Nouveau Recueil de Compliments et de Modèles de Lettres pour le jour de l’an, Les Fêtes de Famille, etc., etc. (1851). It’s an example of an apparently expansive genre providing readers (in this case, children) with prepared little compliments in poetry or prose that can be memorized and delivered to a parent, sibling, or teacher on particular occasions.

Now, I love my brother very much, but I have to say that I can’t think of any particular occasion on which I would be moved to recite the following to him:

It is not in vain that a mother

nourished us from the same milk,

As a brother I cherish you,

I love you as the equal of a father.

One can only hope that the audience didn’t all grow up into Mr. Collinses:

*    *    *

Ce n’est pas en vain qu’une mère

Du même lait nous a nourris,

Comme un frère tu me chéris,

Moi je t’aime à l’égal d’un père.

Read Full Post »

My trip to France this summer was the first time I’ve been in Paris during the notorious “fermeture” of the August vacances, when the city shuts down for a month-long holiday.

"Closed for August vacation" signs in the 18th arr.

[Photograph from http://cedricm.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_archive.html]

It was amazing to see how thoroughly this pervades the city: everyone from the man who repairs umbrellas in the Marais to French blogs go on vacation. It also makes “la rentrée,” the beginning of the school year and reopening of businesses in September, a much bigger deal than it is in the (decentralized) United States. See, even Astérix is getting back to the grindstone!

Book cover for Astérix et la rentrée gauloise

But I was tickled to read in a girls’ magazine from the 19th century that this phenomenon is nothing new. Here is the almanac’s entry for the month of August:

The month of August is a time of rest for children; those who have taken part in the prize-giving have permission to enjoy themselves all the time during vacation; they play all the games possible with their little comrades.

Le mois d’Août est pour les enfants un temps de repos; ceux qui ont eu part à la distribution des prix ont la permission de se divertir pendant tout le temps des vacances; il jouent à tous les jeux possibles avec leurs petits camarades.

La Poupée: Almanach des Petites Filles (1869, p. 12)

Read Full Post »

Children’s fiction in the late Enlightenment was often presented in dialogue, as a sort of play. Some of these publications are surprisingly engaging, with comic characters, little dramatic subplots, and even minor stage directions. This kind of dialogue provokes interesting questions about how young people might have interacted with the text and one another, in an age when reading aloud was still more common than not.

But those stories are definitely the exception. For the most part, these exchanges between “real children” are as didactic and forced as other early children’s literature. It’s odd, though, to see even a two-dimensional, paper child expressing opinions about their own learning, when I’m so urgently seeking any scraps of evidence about real children’s reading subjectivities. I need to spend more time thinking about the relationships between historical readers and these dramatis personae.

Here’s an example from perhaps the most famous French periodical for young people, Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s Magasin des Enfans, which I finally got around to reading in the BnF last month. Take a look at this exchange between two friends about their dolls and trinkets:

Lady Spiritual: It’s been more than six months since I threw all these things in the fire: I begged Papa to give me all the money that he had spend on these bagatelles so that I could buy books and pay all kinds of teachers.

Lady Babiole [name of a fairy tale princess from Mme. d’Aulnoy]: I’m not of your taste: if I were the mistress, in place of giving two guineas a month to my geography teacher, I would have the most beautiful things in the world brought from Paris; this would amuse me very much, instead of this man boring me to death; when I see him, I can’t stop yawning at every moment: he tells Mama, she scolds me, and that makes me hate the teacher and geography even more.

Lady Spiritual: You don’t like reading stories?

Lady Babiole: No, honestly, my dear; still, it’s necessary that I read, because Papa wants it: but when I’m grown up; and can do what I want, I assure you that I will never read.


I suppose there’s a way in which we could read these characters as together demonstrating a range of opinions that more or less does represent girls’ feelings in 18th c. France. But the problem is that the rest of the story is obviously intended to persuade its contemporary audience that Lady Spiritual’s position is the only one moral and true.   Hmm. Before I leave this passage to percolate, I want to point out how radical it is that even the sanctimonious Spiritual is shown to be making her own choices about her time, education, money, and consumption!

[Below is the original text. French experts, forgive any errors I’ve made in my quick translation. Better yet, suggest any changes in the comments!]

Lady Spirituelle. Il y a plus de six mois que j’ai jeté toutes ces choses dans le feu: j’ai prié papa de me donner tout l’argent qu’il employait à ces bagatelles, pour acheter des livres, et payer toutes sortez de maîtres.

Lady Babiole. Je ne suis point de votre goût: si j’étais la maîtresse, au lieu de donner deux guinées par mois à mon maître de géographie, je ferais venir de Paris les plus jolies choses du monde; cela m’amuserait beaucoup, au lieu que cet homme m’ennuie à la mort; quand je le vois, je ne puis m’empêcher de bâiller à tous momens: il le dit à maman, on me gronde, et cela fait que je hais encore davantage le maître et la géographie.

Lady Spirituelle. Vous n’aimez donc pas à lire des histoire?

Lady Babiole. Non, en vérité; ma chère; il faut cependant que je lise, car papa le veut: mais quand je serai grande; et que je pourrai faire ce que je voudrai, je vous assure que je ne lirai jamais.

*    *    *

2 notes: First, is it possible that there’s a relationship between the French gronder, to scold, and the American sense of “being grounded”?  Or is the latter simply a borrowed metaphor from aeronautics?  And second, though I haven’t even gotten through the posts from my first stay in Paris, I’m now back in the city for one night (perfectly timed with a transit strike) before flying back across the ocean.  To be close to the train station, I’m staying in a delightfully disreputable hostel near Montmartre.  It’s very vie bohème.  At least in my head.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »