Using the Special Collections to map out ‘Early Literacy Attainment’ by Professor Gemma Moss

The following is a guest post by Professor of Education at the Institute, Gemma Moss.  Professor Moss writes about her experience of researching 19th century historical sources on literacy attainment.

Last year I completed an ESRC-funded research project investigating the collection and use of literacy attainment data in the nineteenth century, with the policy of “payment by results” as the main focus.  I started out with very little idea of how education was organised in the 19th century, and how the process of teaching children to read was conceptualised, or which primary sources might act as my best guide to any of this.  As I tracked back from the attainment data themselves, presented in the form of annual accounts in the reports of the Committee of Council on Education, to the policy of payment by results, and its genesis in the Newcastle Commission, I found myself becoming increasingly interested in understanding how the policy related to everyday school practice. This in turn led me on the trail of the common textbooks in use in elementary schools to teach literacy and their changing form, as well as their antecedents in the previous century.  There are some good secondary guides to sources.  Ian Michael’s  The teaching of English: from the sixteenth century to 1870 (published in 1987) stands out.  But I wanted to set the texts in their context of use.  This meant widening the scope of enquiry to take in: the examinations set by the early Teacher Training colleges, advice manuals written for teachers prescribing different approaches, as well as journals written for school sponsors, and school or pupil teachers (Laaden Fletcher’s, The Teachers’ Press in Britain, 1802-1880  (1978) is an invaluable guide to the latter).  As I followed the leads I realised that I was amassing information that might be useful to anyone following in my own footsteps.  The library guide is the end result.  By working with Nazlin Bhimani, in charge of the Institute of Education’s Special Collections, we’ve been able to bring into the same place a variety of resources  that set literacy teaching in the nineteenth century in its broader policy context and highlight the very different communities of practice that reflected on literacy teaching, its point and purpose, at that time.   This has included embedding hotlinks to materials that are available in digitised versions on Google Books, signposting users to collections worth visiting in other libraries, as well as the collections we hold here at IOE.  The review of sources amassed in this way has also provided grounds for extending the special collections held at the IOE with some new purchases that will fill out the study of literacy teaching and its development for anyone who comes after. In particular, Nazlin was able to purchase some of Sarah Trimmer‘s works which the Library did not have in stock.

All of this has been an interesting insight into the scope and range of the collections in the Newsam Library and their contribution to scholarship.  I hope that others follow in my footsteps, and are able to make similar links between their topics of enquiry and the work of the Specialist Librarians and Archivists here at IOE.

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
This entry was posted in Library and Archives, Special Collections and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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