Paradigm, No. 15 (December, 1994)

The John A. Nietz old textbook collection

Charles Aston
Special Collections Department,
University of Pittsburgh Library System,
363 Hillman Library,
Pittsburgh PA 15260.


The John A. Nietz old textbook collection provides a valuable addition to the extensive holdings of educational materials in the University of Pittsburgh Hillman Library System. Over 15,000 volumes are in the collection and consist of two principal types of publications. The bulk of the collection contains old primary and secondary school texts, some of which date back to the 16th Century, most of which were published before 1900. A smaller, uncatalogued part of the collection contains books on the history and theory of education and writings of the key figures on the field of education. A printout in the Special Collections Department provides author, title, place, publisher and date access to over 12,000 textbooks. Over 11,000 titles are now accessible via the on-line (OCLC) catalogue.

The John A. Nietz Textbook Collection was donated to the University of Pittsburgh in 1957 by John A. Nietz 1 then Professor of Education in the Foundation of Education Department at the University. The Collection was described in the Sixth Edition of the reference volume Subject Collections 2 It is presently the second or third largest historical collection of early American schoolbooks in the country. The other two large collections are at Columbia University and Harvard University. The Collection is an extraordinarily rich resource for the educational and intellectual history of the United States.

When the Collection was given to the University of Pittsburgh it contained approximately 9,000 volumes. It has now grown, primarily through gift accessions, to over 15,000 volumes, including different editions of many titles. Most of these additional volumes also have been catalogued on-line on the OCLC system.

The Nietz collection is now maintained and serviced as part of the Special Collections Department in the University Library System. The Collection continues to grow through annual gifts and occasional, limited expenditures for early mathematics and science textbooks.

The majority of titles in the collection were published in Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. However, seventeen states are represented in the titles currently under bibliographic control. Although the collection contains a few 16th- through 18th-century texts in Latin, which were published in Europe and brought to the United States, the earliest English language text in the collection is a copy of Humphrey Hody's The Royal Grammar, published in London, 1695. The earliest American schoolbook in the collection is a copy of A Youth's Instructor in the English Tongue: Or the Art of Spelling Improved. . . . which was published by D. and J. Kneeland of Boston in 1762.

Over 12,000 volumes in the Nietz Collection have pre-1900 imprints. Over 150 of the textbooks were published before 1800; approximately 3,600 were published prior to 1850, and approximately 9,000 were published between 1850 and 1899. There are approximately 4,500 authors represented in the collection. Thirty-five local subject descriptors are used to provide access into the collection in the departmental printout. They range from Algebra and Arithmetic through such subjects as Book-Keeping, Business Education, Composition and Rhetoric, Geography, Greek, History, Natural Philosophy-Physics, Physiology-Hygiene, Readers, and Spellers those volumes catalogued in Pittcat (OCLC) since 1986 use standard Library of Congress subject headings.

Two textbooks have been written by John A. Nietz based directly on the Nietz Collection: Old Textbooks. . . (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1961) and The Evolution of American Secondary School Textbooks (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1966). Twenty-four dissertations and theses at the University of Pittsburgh have been written, all in the history and development of education, utilising materials in the collection. At present, researchers use the collection to study the history of textbook publishing in the United States and as a primary source on social and intellectual history of attitudes, propaganda, and ideology as presented in early American schoolbooks. Typical of this latter kind of research was that done by Daniel H. Calhoun, University of California, Davis, in his article, 'Eyes for the Jacksonian world: William C. Woodbridge and Emma Willard', Journal of the Early Republic, 4, no. 1 (Spring, 1984), in which he analyses the content of early geography texts.

Further information from Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh Library System, 363 Hillman Library, Pittsburgh PA 15260. Telephone: (412) 648 8190


1. Dr. John A. Nietz is listed in Ethridge, James M. (ed.) Contemporary Authors, Vol. 4 (Gale Research Co., 1963), p. 199.

2. Ash, Lee and Miller, William G. (compilers) Subject Collections (New York: Bowker Co., 1985), p. 1971.


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