Paradigm, No. 1 (November, 1989)
For the social historian the school textbook is a junction where many lines of interest meet. Its author, often a quirky teacher of merely local repute, nevertheless expresses a wider range of prejudices and assumptions than just his own. He or she represents a popular, unsophisticated, but sometimes innovative view of knowledge and conduct, the dissemination of which is controlled by the commercial considerations of the printer-publisher, who in turn is responding to wider social and economic forces. The influences which form the textbook are more easily seen than those which the textbook sets in motion, but "it is in school texts that we find the best evidence not only for the importance and spread of ideas at a particular time but also for the accomodation of particular ideas to the core of intelligibility" (Murray Cohen, Sensible Words, 1977, p. 144). This evidence, however, has until recently been little studied. We still need to discover how much has survived and where it is located.
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