Primers

This was sitting in my drafts queue since our trip to Toronto; now it can sit in public. (Hello, bots! Not to imply that all visitors are bots, but looking at the site traffic, it seems safe to assume that a fair number are.)

I was reading the Schnorbus article in Early American Studies (“Calvin and Locke: Dueling Epistemologies in The New-England Primer, 1720-1790″) and idly thinking about educational choices. I wonder how many parents considered the theories of Calvin and Locke when choosing their children’s educational material. I’m guessing not many gave it conscious thought: that’s a higher level of pedagogical thinking than your average not-extensively-trained-as-an-educator-just-doing-it-on-the-side-as-a-function-of-childrearing person probably gave it. (Same applies now, IMHO, with a lot of home schooling…but then, I am perhaps unfairly biased given the motivation for home schooling where I grew up.) I wonder how much loyalty there was to a particular primer across multiple generations. Not just because the physical primer might still be around, ready for use by another child, nor simply brand loyalty. (Since consumers did have choices, how could branding not come into play?) But did parents also have fond (or not-so-fond) memories of specific woodcuts or verses? How much of the retained content was motivated simply by emotion (or printers’ playing upon the emotional reaction of the primer-buying public)? Calvin vs. Locke, religion vs. Enlightenment, the rise of secularism and children’s literature, and the complication of those narratives make for interesting and meaty reading. But on the ground, in individual purchasing decisions, how did those larger issues play out? Did the new “C” rhyme take off because it was pious, or because somebody’s dad remembered being scared by the cat looming over the mice back when he’d learned to read? Did somebody’s mom just like the idea of the lion and lamb, even if the specific image altered from one edition to the other?

Babar is filled with highly questionable content, but I still read it to The Daughter. I figure we’ll address the problems of colonialism—and post-colonial regimes, for that matter—when she’s a bit older. More immediately, I am still debating whether to say Babar’s mother “fainted” when she saw the hunter (my own mother’s editorial choice when reading aloud) or acknowledge her death. The sadness of a dead mother versus child abandonment: which is worse?

As a side note, I am happy I subscribed to EAS earlier last year. It seemed like a Good Idea™ for someone planning to apply to graduate programs. I’m glad (relieved, even) to find that I’ve been actively enjoying reading the articles. I don’t devour it cover to cover in the space of days, but the publication schedule allows for more leisurely consumption without multi-issue backup (one reason we killed our subscriptions to SF mags some years ago). I am liking the interdisciplinary focus (if that’s not an oxymoron) because there are things I want to know about even if they are not precisely in my wheelhouse (e.g. archeology: I have no strong desire to go digging through privies, but I am interested in reading about the state of that particular art, as in the Hodge and Gallagher pieces).

I also like reading an entire current volume; there’s a much different feeling than with a full-length book or the contents of a syllabus. A little piece of my brain is trying to categorize this as market research (that little piece of my brain should concentrate on writing fiction and stop kibbutzing the parts of my brain that are trying to do other things). And while that’s not quite right, it’s not entirely wrong, either: a volume of EAS (or another journal) is a snapshot of current writing and editorial interest…hot topics or under-represented areas of study or the product of recent symposia. (The first two 2010 volumes are a striking juxtaposition: the first tightly focused on Franklin—even if he was sometimes sort of shoehorned into an article—and printing, the second all over the place.) So, it’s interesting for the articles, but also interesting as a means of examining the field.

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Almanacs

Last night I finished T. J. Tomlin’s article, “‘Astrology’s from Heaven, not from Hell'” and it’s yet another data point urging me to delve into almanacs, which seem so revealing along so many different axes. The idea of astrology as “occult” being a semantic impossibility makes sense based simply on circulation. Looking at the citations, maybe that thinking was in fashion in the mid-twentieth century but subsequently almanacs became sexy and subversive…?

I’m also curious–and this has doubtless been addressed in the literature somewhere along the line–about the divergence in almanac contents. If astrological principles are simply a matter of doing the math, then theoretically they should all agree (unless somebody forgot to carry the one). Was that in fact the case, or did different individuals calculate different results? I’m also curious about weather predictions based on past performance: it seems some writers encouraged readers to do that, but including a historical weather write-up would seem to sidestep accusations of heresy and the risk of making an incorrect prediction (i.e. a win-win scenario for the almanac-maker), so why was it not fashionable?