As I look through my old books I tend to focus on the strange reality they present. I have spent hours looking through ‘facts’ of the past. The Earths core is solid, orange peels are a public safety hazard, you should never discuss hobbies at a diner party… these are the light side of my book collection. Segments easily removed from the context they were written and which show a comical contrast to today.
My encyclopedias from the 1920’s are both accurate and inaccurate portrayals of life at that time, these books were written for children and their families to learn about the world, they are intended as a complete view of the world and they include the sexism, racism, and colonial views of the people producing them. There is an assumption that the reader is a white child clear in the text. The images they create are true portrayals of what they wanted life to be at the time, but also show the biases influencing the writing, hinting that there are entire stories and lives that are never mentioned.
I am interested in knowledge. I love learning about the past and the assumptions these books make tells me a lot about the time they were written in, positive or negative.
Old textbooks are evidence of how children of the past were taught. I have met people who grew up reading “the book of knowledge”. We won’t know exactly what teachers were teaching in a classroom at any given time but we can reflect on the curriculum and resources they had access to. My set of encyclopedias was left in an elementary school in Victoria for 98 years, they were printed the year the school opened. I think they were likely used by the teachers.
I also have an additional set of encyclopedias from America in 1926. They are a different edition of the same book and as a result have content which differs slightly from the Canadian set. I have yet to research the difference in society between 1921 and 1926, it is something I plan to study further. Anecdotally I have noticed a trend of the Canadian books relying on colonial ideas, an article on the formation of the earth pauses several times to say that Canada is better than other parts of the world. In contrast the American text has the same article and it does not mention other countries or cultures, instead focusing on the formation of the earth through the lens of science and god. The Canadian book doesn’t mention god.
I feel that currently I have skimmed these books. I have not read all 18 volumes but I have looked at particular articles in depth. I plan to continue exploring the information and ideas of these books, as I recognize patterns and themes I will be able to focus my studying further.
This past month I have been comparing and contrasting the way various books explain the formation of the earth and moon. I finished gathering this information last week but was unable to decide on how to present the information. I didn’t want to simply write out everything as that would take a while, I had a lot of information.
As I have worked on this blog I have been trying new forms of technology where I can, I enjoy learning new mediums online, but I could not find one that matched my ideas. Finally I decided to forgo the technology aspect and draw/paint my information. This was the most work I have done for one of my posts in both the painting and the amount of time I spent gathering information. In the end I wrote explanations as well as the images, so a lot was put into the final post.
Unfortunately as I posted it the blog was erased and all that was left was the title. I enjoy using technology and I have seen first hand in my own schooling how valuable it can be. However, I am often nervous that things like this will happen, I saved the post several times and it did not stick. I want to use technology in cases when I works well with my goals, but I am aware that things put online are not always in my control. If I drop an assignment into a puddle that it something I can regret. If it is lost to the internet I can only start over, with more backups and twice the work. This time I will re-write my post on a document and so if something happens I can copy it back. This seems to defeat some of the convenience of blogging on a platform.
Although I am mostly focusing on The Book of Knowledge I started this week by picking up “The Girl Guiding Book of Ideas” (1939), and it held a wonderful general knowledge quiz full of incomprehensible questions and answers. The questions are honestly unfair since they are completely out of the context of 1939. I decided the best thing to do was make an honestly unfair quiz out of a few of the questions.
After searching online and attempting to make a quiz twice I found a website that was simple to use and had enough free features to make a multiple choice quiz (proprofs quiz maker). The website does ask for your name but will accept random letters which I noted in my post. I added the multiple choice because the original questions are impossible to answer without options, for example:
“Why can you not make a good cup of tea at the top of a mountain?”
“Because the water boils at a lower temperature”
Along with making this quiz I have been collecting household hints from my books, particularly “How girls can help” the first Girl Guiding book (1912) and “Enquire Within upon Everything” (1894) . And researching the Moon and Earth as explained by “The Book of Knowledge”(1921/1926) and “Reasons Why: Physical Geography” (1864).
All these different topics seem to lead me to multiple unrelated articles, as I open a book to find information on cleaning mirrors in 1894 and end up reading a poem about making salad. The past was a strange place and I am really enjoying such specific glances at it. I may at one point research further the world these books were published in, the outer society that influenced what was written and published, but the books themselves are also an answer to that question. They are an incomplete picture of the time they were made in, so once I have seen what picture my odd collection paints I will find the rest of the image.
I began collecting old books in 2015 when I found nine volumes of the children’s encyclopedia The Book of Knowledge in the basement of a local art school. As the books were not being used by the school the administration let me take them home. These books were from the art school’s past as an elementary school and were the Canadian 1921 edition. This summer a woman was selling volumes of the american 1926 edition of The Book of Knowledge at local fairs. I now have 18 volumes in total.
Along with the books of knowledge I am focusing on a book of science for children from the late fifties, three girl guiding books with information on badges, songs, and dressing battle wounds, and ‘Enquire Within Upon Everything’ a book holding everything you need to know about life (provided you are an upper class Londoner in 1894).
In order to start reading these books I wanted to organize the contents, so that if I chose a specific topic to look into I would not have to flip through 23 books to find all mention of it. The encyclopedias are not organized alphabetically but by sections seemingly at random. My solution was to write out a detailed table of contents grouping topics together, which was a lot of work although I quite enjoyed doing it.
Now that jumping between books is much easier I will begin reading.
This semester I aim to document my learning on technology in the classroom, I will research a specific aspect of technology with a group of classmates and include our progress here.
I also will post blogs about a personal project where I read and research old texts. I have a range of books from many decades. The texts I will focus on for this project are “The Book of Knowledge” of which I have editions from both 1921 and 1926, “Enquire Within Upon Everything” from 1894, and a few books from 1900’s. I plan to collect and condense the knowledge from these books, examine how it has changed throughout the years, and compare it to our current information. As these books are encyclopedias and collections of a lot of knowledge from very specific times I do not know what paths they will lead me down.
To organize my posts I will have two headings under Open Inquiry. The section titled Reflection will be where I look at what I am doing each week and the progress I make. The Knowledge section will be short blogs about the individual facts, stories, and articles within the texts themselves.