Teaching National Identity and Alterity

Nineteenth Century American Primary School Geography Textbooks

in Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society

Abstract

The swift and profound transformations in technology and industry that the United States began to experience in the late 1800s manifested themselves in school textbooks, which presented different patterns of race, ethnicity, and otherness. They also displayed concepts like national identity, exceptionalism, and the superiority of Euro-American civilization. This article aims to demonstrate, via an analysis of two textbooks, how world geography was taught to children in primary schools in nineteenth century America. It shows that the development of American identity coincided with the emergence of the realm of the “other,” that is, with the intensification of racial attitudes and prejudices, some of which were to persist well into the twentieth century.

“The concept of nation, in its original and technical use, has traditionally referred to people sharing common ancestry, born in a certain geographic area, and sharing certain cultural attributes.”1 National identity has also been defined by accentuating the “alterity of other nations”; such definitions also typically contain what Wendy Bokhorst-Heng has called an “‘us’ versus ‘them’ component”—a distinction between “who we are” and “who we are not.”2 In this quest for nation building by defining identities and alterities, “school textbooks play a critical role in the ongoing (re)defining of nation and state, the linking of the state with the nation, the inculcation of the nation and membership in it in the minds of the young, and the creation of citizens.”3 Particularly significant in this regard are textbooks designed during the second half of the 1800s (the age of imperialism), when the issue of establishing a global realm acquired significance for Western countries seeking to pursue the paradigm of the British Empire. In the United States, the second half of the nineteenth century was characterized by turmoil and strife as well as by development and progress. In the wake of the Civil War (1861–1865), Americans aspired to rejuvenate their state and redefine and strengthen their nation. Moreover, the technological, industrial, and economic development that America underwent during the Second Industrial Revolution (1870–1914) transformed the country into a major power; this in turn led the United States to redefine the meaning of the term American, encouraging nationalist sentiments like exceptionalism and racial superiority. The labeling of other races and nations became an effective tool for (re)building the nation and reinforcing the sense of superiority that accompanied the country’s rise to global hegemony. This article demonstrates the important role played in this process by geography textbooks. It focuses on two elementary school texts which, though popular at the time (they were republished several times both before and after the Civil War), have so far received little scholarly attention. It also attempts to explain how these sources (re)defined national identity in the United States by highlighting the superiority of that country and Western civilization in general at the expense of countries situated in the realm of the “other.”

Geography Made Easy, the first geography textbook about America in the United States, was published in 1784, earning its author, Reverend Jedidiah Morse, the epithet of “the father of American geography.”4 In the early nineteenth century, geography textbooks in the United States reflected a certain national and cultural “betweenness.” Similar to other communities that had witnessed colonization in their histories, the newly independent American nation sought to imprint its own national perspective on its schoolbooks, but it also agreed with some of the facts that Britain had approved and exported.5 Although the American geography textbooks of the early 1800s closely resembled those in use in Britain, they also reflected certain changes occurring within American culture, which could be described as an amalgamation of Old World biblical fundamentalism and the idea that “the world contained states and societies at different levels of development.”6 In the geography textbooks published between the 1850s and the 1890s, there occurred “a shift in the balance between religious and secular material, and from the amateur to the specialist author,”7 as a result of which geography began to be regarded as a serious academic subject in the New World.8 Beyond imparting the basics of geography, these books, which were “numerous and diverse in their generic form and spatial focus,”9 introduced a series of racial, cultural, political, social, and religious stereotypes that elevated Western civilization (and hence, the American nation) to the highest degree of exceptionalism while depicting other nations and countries as “different” and, to a certain extent, “subordinate.” In this context, nineteenth century American geography textbooks emerged as exquisite historical examples of pedagogical texts that not only narrated information, but also projected images of an idealized West and of a desired American land and nation that was distinct from, and superior to, the imagined characteristics of foreign countries and peoples.

Samuel Augustus Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography for Young Children: Designed as an Introduction to the Author’s Primary Geography and James Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography were published to be read by thousands of American schoolchildren during both the antebellum period and the post-Civil War era. These books achieved what might be called a resounding pedagogical success. Their impact was massive, and the social, cultural, and religious messages they conveyed not only reached their intended recipients, but were by and large accepted and approved by them to the point of becoming mainstream.

Both Mitchell and Monteith were experienced and competent scholars of geography. Mitchell, a geography teacher, published numerous books, maps, and travel guides,10 eventually becoming “the most popular author of school geographies in mid-nineteenth-century America” and having his texts used by “generations of students.”11 His most important work, Mitchell’s School Geography, which was in print between 1839 and 1866, stands out for its clarity as well as for its numerous copperplate illustrations.12 Other prominent textbooks by Mitchell included his Primary Geography: An Easy Introduction to the Study of Geography. Designed for the Instruction of Children in Schools and Families, published forty-five times between 1840 and 1984, and New General Atlas: Containing Maps of the Various Countries of the World, Plans of Cities, etc., which went through forty-nine editions between 1860 and 1889.13 His Ancient Geography (1845) provided geographical information about the classical Greco-Roman world and introduced the concept of “sacred geography,” which focused on “those parts of the earth that are mentioned in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”14 At the height of their success, Mitchell’s primary, intermediate, and high-school geographies sold over four hundred thousand copies,15 and he also became famous for his 1834 wall map of the United States. Over the course of his career, Mitchell authored some twenty-seven geography textbooks, which went through a total of 288 editions.16

James Monteith was a similarly prominent figure.17 The 1865 edition of the introduction to his Manual of Geography indicates that the author was the principal of Ward School No. 17 in New York City, and his Physical and Political Geography of 1866, has been described as “the most comprehensive example (and perhaps the most intriguing treatment) of physical geography in late nineteenth century textbooks.”18 According to his publisher, A. S. Barnes & Company, Monteith’s books were “the most notable, and by 1865, [his] four book series surpassed two million in sales.”19 Monteith thus emerged in the United States as a “prolific and influential geography textbook writer and cartographer” with at least twenty-eight geography textbooks (containing some 119 printings) to his credit.20

This article examines the works of these two eminent geography textbook writers. Its purpose is to illustrate nineteenth-century teaching methods and common subjects and topics, and, more specifically, to demonstrate the widely internalized images of the American land and nation (and of other, “foreign” peoples) propagated by mainstream US primary school geography textbooks in the nineteenth century.

Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography was originally issued in 1859, and remained in print throughout the second half of the century. The cover of the 1860 edition was plain in design, without illustrations. In the preface of his book, Mitchell quotes an observation by the Roman rhetorician Quintilian, who compares a child to a bottle with a very narrow neck: “If you attempt to pour water into it by a copious stream, your effort will be fruitless. The water is all dashed upon the ground. But if you introduce it a drop at a time, you will gradually fill the bottle.”21 Mitchell concludes that instead of providing numerous details an ideal pedagogical text should combine written facts with visual aids in an attractive way, that is, with “a great variety of beautiful and suggestive engravings, and … a large number of clear and accurate maps.”22

By contrast, the cover of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography23 conveys tangible visual messages. A product of the author’s collaboration with John William Orr (1815–1887), one of the most prominent wood engravers of the period,24 the cover references Europe, Asia, Africa, and America with stereotypical portraits of “indigenes” representing each respective region.25 At the center of the illustration, a mother is shown instructing her three young children, showing them a map of North America. The two girls are captivated by the map; one of them points at it while, next to them, their older brother, attentive but somewhat detached, examines a globe (Figure 1).

The preface to First Lessons in Geography: On the Plan of Object Teaching. Designed for Beginners, published in 1875, indicates that the work aims to impart knowledge of the “general features” of geography, including “[descriptions] of Continents, Countries, States, Rivers, Mountains, etc.”26 Monteith also provides a definition of what he referred to as “object teaching,” pointing out the importance of visual materials for learning. Both textbooks address similar subjects. In line with the tradition of rote learning that “had characterized instruction in the nineteenth century”27 and in which pupils were encouraged to memorize the required information via repetition, the books focus on memorization, constructing a pedagogical approach based on a method of suggesting answers to pertinent questions by providing keywords and essential geographical, cultural, and historical concepts. This method, which was employed both in the introductory and final parts of each chapter, was a natural outcome of the catechetical system implemented by the Church, which had long dominated mass schooling.28 While the catechetical form was considered suitable for young pupils, texts that were written in the grammatical form were reserved for older pupils.29 A comparative examination of the two

Figure 1
Figure 1

Front cover of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2018.100107

books from this perspective reveals that while Mitchell’s textbook generally conforms to the traditional system, Monteith’s book (in its postbellum edition) adopts a more advanced method by combining predetermined questions and answers with short texts containing basic information. In this way, it goes beyond merely urging pupils to memorize details about American and world geography, and instead offers them truly relevant information. In this method, which Monteith refers to as “object teaching,” the mind “receives impressions through the medium of the eye,” and the child becomes “able to read” when he or she becomes “interested and instructed.”30

In both textbooks, questions and answers are generally accompanied by illustrations of significant places, buildings, and monuments, which serve to facilitate the pupils’ visual memorization. Colored maps are also employed to help primary schoolchildren visualize, categorize, and memorize basic geographical information.

The definition of geography and various geographical terms are among the indispensable tools that the textbooks introduce to their young readers; other concepts presented include “eclectic physical geography” and “political geography.” The 1875 edition of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography features a full-page illustration depicting the creation of the world and its basic geographical features from a creationist point of view (with the caption “God Created the Heaven and the Earth”), then goes on to instruct its readers via a guided type of visual reading: “This is a picture of the world or earth upon which we live. It is a GREAT BALL. The part you see is the outside or surface, and is either land or water.”31 This introductory lesson replaced an earlier version in the 1856 edition, which opened with a series of questions and answers about basic geographical features and featured, instead of the creationist illustration, an image of the globe on which a crescent-shaped moon, meridians, parallels of latitude, and the contours of North America were delineated in a visually comprehensible manner.

The introduction to Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography follows a similar method, asking a series of questions and providing short answers, for example: “What is the shape of the Earth? The Earth is round like a ball.”32 Instead of using an unrealistic, full-page illustration to demonstrate basic global geographical features, Mitchell utilizes a faintly colored image, which covers half a page, in which physical features (an erupting volcano, an ocean, a mountain range, and a forest) were combined with the silhouette of a city. In addition to defining basic geographical formations, Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography also refer to political definitions such as “empires, kingdoms, republics, cities and towns.”33 Both works feature detailed depictions of the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere, which Mitchell relates to centers and symbols of wealth. Rather than depicting relevant geographical features such as oceans and rivers, these illustrations feature financial buildings as symbols of wealth and power. Thus, the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, represents the western half of the world, while the eastern half is associated with the Royal Exchange in London.34 In his presentation of North America, Mitchell enhances his account with visual references, incorporating illustrations of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge and the Capitol.35 In these and similar depictions, Mitchell visually encourages the notion that American civilization was created in the midst of a wilderness that had been cultivated with hard work, perseverance, and industrial and technological advancement, thereby emphasizing the role of technological innovation—manifested in rising cities and developing farmlands—in the creation of civilization. By contrast, when presenting regions outside the Euro-American territory (Asia, Africa, and Latin America), Mitchell emphasizes, via his illustrations and the information he provides, the wild, untamed nature of these continents and the archaic origins of their local cultures.

In addition to detailing the geographical features, environment, and history of the various continents, both books also describe the physical, social, cultural, and, occasionally, the moral characteristics of their inhabitants. North America is typically discussed first: the readers are introduced to the continent’s various regions, including New England and the southern, central, northern, and western states. Monteith’s textbook states that Christopher Columbus discovered North America, where he found “dark-colored savages” whom he called “Indians,” and that the continent was named after “a man named Americus, or Amerigo.”36 The illustration in the 1875 edition of the book portrays Columbus disembarking from a small boat with members of his crew, with his ship, the Santa Maria, visible in the background. Columbus is portrayed as a conquistador and is followed by a priest carrying a large cross representing the arrival of Christianity to the New World. The natives, by contrast, are portrayed as tiny human-shaped dark shadows and are situated at the opposite end of the illustration, where they are difficult to see. The focal point of the image is unquestionably Columbus, who is portrayed as a resolute and robust commander with sword in hand in the act of discovering and conquering the land of the unidentified “other” (Figure 2).

In the 1856 edition, the natives are more visible; two of them are shown running away, while two others await the arrival of Columbus with suspicion. In this version as well, Columbus arrives on shore with sword in hand.37 Whereas this earlier illustration depicts the arrival of Columbus from the point of view of an objective eyewitness, the 1875 illustration places the reader in the position of the invisible native, who perceives Columbus the “discoverer” from a closer and more detailed perspective. In the book’s post–Civil War edition, the savage, naked, armed, and hostile natives are transformed into unidentifiable dark silhouettes in the background. Elsewhere, this edition emphasizes the “flourishing” relationship between the natives and the Anglo-Americans during the colonial era. To illustrate a passage about William Penn, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania, who “was very wise and kind in his dealings with the Indians … [and] respected and loved the Quakers very much,”38 Monteith employs an illustration reminiscent of Benjamin West’s 1772 painting Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, which shows Indian men listening to Penn in a respectful and attentive manner while the women “carry their … babies … on their backs like soldiers’ knapsacks.”39 The 1875 edition thus visually contrasts the savagery of Native

Figure 2
Figure 2

Columbus Discovered America, 12 October 1492, Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2018.100107

Americans in the late fifteenth century with their subsequent “half-civilized” state, which resulted from their contact with the European colonizers.

During the colonial period, the Indian was the primary “other” in the American national consciousness, and was perceived as the enemy of a new, united American identity; with time, however, this position came to be occupied by other “enemies” such as the British monarchy and the Established Church during the American Revolution, and Catholic immigrants and the Roman Catholic Church in the 1840s and 1850s.40 Mitchell, in his First Lessons in Geography, also presents North America from a more multiethnic perspective. In the answer to a question about the inhabitants of the New World, he names “whites, negroes, and Indians” as the residents of America, adding that the Indians were the “original inhabitants” of the country, who were “found … by the whites, when the country was discovered.”41

In discussing the establishment of the United States, the 1875 edition of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography pays significant attention to the role of George Washington in the American Revolutionary War. In Lesson 24, Monteith reminds his young readers that the “great man [who] led the American army” also became the first president of the country.42 This section is accompanied by an image of Washington created by the wood engraver and illustrator John Karst (1836–1922), which resembles Rembrandt Peale’s famous portrait. Each corner of the picture depicts a different segment of Washington’s life: at the top left, he is portrayed as an infant standing near his father, hatchet in hand (an allusion to the well-known Cherry Tree Myth, in which the six-year-old Washington damages one of his father’s cherry trees with his hatchet but then admits his fault with honesty). The top-right image presents him as a young man, while at the bottom left and right the leader is portrayed respectively as a soldier and as a statesman. This geography textbook thus encourages its young readers to examine the life of one of their country’s most prominent founding fathers via a meticulously detailed illustration about his exemplary life (Figure 3).

By contrast, the 1856 edition of the book contains no detailed textual or visual reference to Washington, apart from the statement that he was the first president of the United States.43 Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography adopts a similar approach, illustrating a lesson about the southern states with an image of George Washington that emphasizes the leader’s military and political skills, which are symbolized by a sword and the Constitution.44

After providing general knowledge about the United States, the textbooks present detailed information about the country’s various regions. Both editions of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography emphasize the idea that the Native Americans were savages who had lived in the wilderness until the colonizers brought civilization to the New World. They also note that “many of the white settlers of this country suffered great cruelties from the Indians, who burned their houses, and murdered men, women, and children.”45 To bolster the claim that “many [settlers] were murdered by the Indians,”46 both textbooks employ images which visually suggest this message. The 1856 edition features an illustration of a group of Native Americans (depicted according to the negative stereotypical image of the “savage Indian”) attacking white male settlers in front of a log cabin (a symbol of the cultivation of American soil by European

Figure 3
Figure 3

George Washington, Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2018.100107

civilization) in a forest symbolizing the wilderness. The book’s 1875 edition likewise includes an image of Indians molesting settlers; only here, the primary victim is a kneeling, half-unconscious woman. While one Indian attempts to scalp her with a hatchet, a settler points his gun resolutely at him, and the other settlers also appear prepared to fend off any attack from the “savages.” This emphasis on the image of Native Americans as wild savages was presumably intended to remind the reader of the harsh conditions that had greeted the European colonizers upon their arrival in America, as well as of the ordeals of the Civil War, which had forced them to protect their country’s union. Both editions reinforce the notion of European superiority textually and visually by referring to the development of industry and technology as a consequence of the colonization of the New World and by praising the “perseverance and inventive genius” of the new Americans.47

Mitchell also alludes to the problematic relationship between colonizers and Native Americans via a visual reference to the story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, in which the Indian chief’s daughter is shown saving the captain from a group of dark-skinned, armed native men (Figure 4).48

Mitchell also suggests the idea that the white settlers “civilized” not just the Indians, who are described as literate, possessing “good houses and farms,” and living “as white people do,”49 but the continent itself. One

Figure 4
Figure 4

Captain Smith and Pocahontas, Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography (1860).

Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2018.100107

of Mitchell’s illustrations shows “savage” natives fighting and hunting against the backdrop of an idyllic countryside scene symbolizing the development of white American civilization in the heart of the wilderness: a steamboat cruises on a river, a train passes nearby, and further away the skyline of an American city is silhouetted against the horizon.

Shifting the attention of their readers to the outside world, the textbooks go on to present information about Mexico, South America, and the West Indies. Yet rather than describing the development of Latin American cities or civilization, both texts focus on geographical and natural features, providing textual and visual knowledge about natural resources and fauna and describing how settlers endeavored to cope with the wilderness. Mitchell explains that the Spaniards and Portuguese had settled in South America, where “Negroes and Indians” were “found in large numbers.”50 In addition, both Monteith and Mitchell emphasize the devastation caused by earthquakes in the region, which they present as a manifestation of nature’s superiority over humans.51 In brief, South America, in absolute contrast to “developed and civilized” North America, is depicted as an untamed territory whose inhabitants struggle to survive amid harsh natural conditions.

The textbooks next address Europe, providing historical, political, and social information about the various European countries. Both editions of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography mention the name William Tell. An explanatory note to an illustration of Tell in the post–Civil War edition describes the Swiss leader’s exploits in glowing terms: “William Tell, a heroic Swiss, in his efforts to obtain liberty for his country, was captured; and, for punishment, was cruelly ordered to shoot an apple placed on the head of his own little son. The arrow cut the apple in two, without injuring the child. This occurred more than 500 years ago.”52 In the 1856 edition, by contrast, Monteith, though he refers to Tell as a “brave man,”53 provides no detailed information or illustrations of the hero. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he describes as a “great General, [who] a few years ago, led the most powerful army in the world.”54

Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography highlights the features of European civilization. To represent Europe, Mitchell chooses an illustration of a street scene representing everyday life in the Old World. In the background, an edifice similar to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London appears beside other buildings, a bridge, ships, and the smoking chimney of a factory, the latter symbolizing the Industrial Revolution. In the foreground, a group of commoners (men, women, and children) are shown greeting members of a higher social class, who appear on horseback or riding in a carriage. Mitchell presents the European nations as epitomes of Western civilization, which the white settlers caused to flourish also in America; they are “exceedingly powerful” and “abound in wealth and refinement, cultivate science and the arts, and profess the Christian religion.”55 Mitchell also mentions the social hierarchy and divisions in European society. He describes London as “the largest and most wealthy city in the world”,56 and notes that Europe’s population is divided into nobles, who are “often enormously rich,” and common people, who are “poor, and are sometimes greatly oppressed.”57 Mitchell thus tempers his praise of European civilization with criticism of the rigid social divisions that existed in the Old World.

The next continent to be addressed here is Asia. In his textbook of 1856, Monteith emphasizes the continent’s ancient history by making a biblical reference and commenting that Asia was created out of the “division of the Earth [which] was first inhabited,” and that the first people who lived in Asia were Adam and Eve.58 While this edition notes that Asians “worship idols,” the 1875 edition makes an even more conspicuous visual and textual reference to Asian religion. The readers are presented with an illustration of a “heathen temple” in which groups of men worship giant, monstrous-looking idols. The details in the background (palm trees in a desert, a street vendor carrying his goods, a man riding an elephant) suggest a location in Asia. Monteith comments that the temple is full of “frightful looking objects” that he defines as “IDOLS, or false gods,” and whose worshippers he describes as “IDOLATERS, PAGANS, or HEATHENS” who believe that the statues can “hear their prayers and grant what they ask.”59 He also notes that “millions” of such idolaters live in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands.60 In the same breath, Monteith refers to the missionary spirit of the Americans and Europeans who were sent to such places “to teach those ignorant people about the TRUE GOD who says, in his commandments, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods but me.’”61 Monteith employs capital letters to emphasize concepts he sees as defining the “other” (in this case, the words “idols” and “idolaters”) while simultaneously citing one of the Ten Commandments to underscore the civilizing mission of the white Christian missionaries (Figure 5).

Mitchell similarly describes the inhabitants of Asia as “idolaters, or followers of some false religion,” excepting “a few who have been converted to Christianity.”62 To depict Asia, he uses a nineteenth-century engraving of the Nusretiye Mosque and Tophane Clock Tower in Istanbul, ignoring the fact that both buildings are situated on the European side of the city. The caption below the illustration presents Asia in a positive light as the “cradle of the human race,” where “our first parents were created, and [whence] the descendants of Noah, after the flood, peopled the rest of the world.”63 While Mitchell’s text describes Asia, the illustration that he employs (which is a simplified replica of one of the drawings in a British travel album)64 depicts the European (rather than the Asian) side of the Ottoman capital from a nineteenth-century Western perspective that would have been familiar to the textbook’s readers. In addition to

Figure 5
Figure 5

Heathen Temple, Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2018.100107

the mosque, the clock tower and a series of wooden houses in the background, the image also features barely visible figures of turbaned men in boats ferrying goods from ships to the shore, where a number of equally blurred figures wearing headscarves and long tunics await them. Unlike the ones in the original drawing, none of these figures are identifiable as individuals (it is often not even clear whether they are women or men); rather, they appear as depersonalized, indistinguishable representatives of a distant land and nation. This visual depiction of the population of Istanbul as the “other” is further heightened by an apparently trivial detail; on the same page, Mitchell refers to the biblical account of the flood, visually identifying its devastating impact with the waterway between Asia and Europe. The eastern rim of the European continent is thus presented as a natural and cultural border between the civilized Western world and the barbaric Orient (Figure 6).

The last continent to be presented is Africa. Monteith, in both editions of his book, identifies Africa as “the warmest division of the Earth,”65 and describes its proverbial sandstorms as capable of destroying entire caravans in the desert.66 Monteith emphasizes the intensity of these storms with two illustrations of caravans traveling through a stormy desert. Elsewhere, Monteith further emphasizes the wild and untamed nature of the continent.

Mitchell describes the continent as the “hottest region of the globe” and its inhabitants as “very ignorant and degraded.”67 The accompanying illustration depicts an African family (parents and two children) in a

Figure 6
Figure 6

A Scene in Asia, Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography (1860).

Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2018.100107

jungle. They are shown in stereotypical style: half-naked and carrying primitive tools and weapons. The background of the illustration features examples of the continent’s fauna and flora. Mitchell also employs an illustration of the Sphinx and two pyramids, reminding the reader of the significance of the River Nile and the kingdoms of Ancient Egypt.68

Both textbooks conclude with the lesson on Africa. While Monteith’s 1856 edition includes a recapitulation, the 1875 edition ends with a general overview following a lesson on the most important types of plants and grains. Mitchell’s final lesson provides some information about Australia and, in the 1871 edition, is followed by a series of “Words for Spelling and Questions for Review and Examination.”

Keith Crawford has noted that “the collective memories of nations are scarred by their past, and what they decide to celebrate or forget about their history says much about how they wished to be seen by themselves and others.”69 In this process, education is a very important tool, since “historically, subjects were transformed into citizens through the teaching of history, geography, and the language of the nation.”70 The United States was no exception: after declaring its independence from Britain, the US government began to establish its own national identity and culture by creating its own myths and (re)telling its history. The strong cultural, linguistic, and social ties between the two countries endured throughout the early years of the nineteenth century, and after the Civil War the task of rebuilding the country and the nation was high on the American agenda. It is therefore no coincidence that school textbooks of the time placed special emphasis on narrating the discovery of the American continent and the establishment of the United States, and on praising the country’s industrial and technological achievements. They also underscored America’s unique characteristics by presenting other nations and countries as alien, peculiar, and, to a certain extent, inferior. The American nation, which had strong ties to the Old World due to its European origins, saw itself as cultivating the New World once perceived as the periphery of the West. Before the United States proclaimed its superiority over the Old World in the early twentieth century, and at least until the 1860s, the American West was, commercially and economically, a “vigorous part of a European system.”71 Yet in the minds of American intellectuals, the United States was an exceptional entity, which was distinct from Europe for a number of reasons.72 In his Frontier Thesis of 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner pinpointed the fundamental connection that he perceived between the development of democracy and the experience of the settlement of the West,73 thereby presenting the United States as a country with a unique and exceptional mission: to enhance and enrich Western civilization and expand its sphere of influence. By amalgamating the basics of geography and certain subjective views on global and national history, nineteenth-century American geography textbooks endeavored to enhance the eminence of the United States to promote the (re)construction of the nation and to affirm Western or American superiority over other races and peoples. In their textbooks, both antebellum and postbellum, Mitchell and Monteith projected a series of invented and constructed characteristics of other countries and peoples, as well as “others” living within the United States. In addition, they defined the cultural topography of the American nation by emphasizing certain historical incidents and names—for example by identifying white or European Americans as the purveyors of Western civilization in the New World. In other words, the settlers and their descendants were presented as having expanded the boundaries of civilization to America, whereas the natives of the continent were depicted as representing savagery and brutality, having partially ameliorated only as a result of contact with the Euro-Americans. Moreover, when they presented geographical terms and definitions, both authors classified races and countries according to an imaginary racial hierarchy that was rooted in the ideas, preferences, and values of the dominant white society. By situating the American and European nations at the center of civilization and by pushing “other” peoples to its periphery, these texts contributed significantly to the formation and diffusion of racial attitudes and prejudices that would persist throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Notes
1

Wendy D. Bokhorst-Heng, “Palimpsest Identities in the Imagining of the Nation: A Comparative Model,” in (Re)Constructing Memory: Textbooks, Identity, Nation and State, ed. James H. Williams and Wendy D. Bokhorst-Heng (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2016), 2.

2

Bokhorst-Heng, “Palimpsest Identities,” 1–24, 2.

3

James H. Williams, “Nation, State, School, Textbook,” in (Re)constructing Memory: School Textbooks and the Imagination of the Nation, ed. James H. Williams (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2014), 1–9, 1.

4

William Marsden, The School Textbook: Geography, History and Social Studies (London: Routledge, 2007), 73.

5

For a discussion of the process of the revision of textbooks by new nations in the context of the relationship between former colonies and their colonizers, see Williams, “Nation, State, School, Textbook,” 1.

6

Albert Craig, Civilization and Enlightenment: The Early Thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 34.

7

Marsden, The School Textbook, 74.

8

Marsden, The School Textbook, 76.

9

Innes Keighren, “Catechisms, Grammars, and Readers: Towards a Generic History of Geography Textbooks,” Landscape Surgery Blog, Royal Holloway University of London. https://landscapesurgery.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/towards-a-generic-history-of-geography-textbooks/.

10

Dictionary of American Bibliography (Boston: Osgood & Co., 1872), 626.

11

Craig, Civilization and Enlightenment, 41.

12

Craig, Civilization and Enlightenment, 41.

13

“Mitchell, S. Augustus (Samuel Augustus) 1792–1868,” WorldCat Identities. https://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n50-36750/.

15

Craig, Civilization and Enlightenment, 41.

16

Kevin Reilly Page, “The Practice of Geography Instruction in American Schools” (PhD dissertation, Kansas State University, 1994), 96.

17

Henry Littlefield refers to Monteith as “one of the most popular writers of the period after the Civil War.” See Henry Miller Littlefield, “Textbook, Determinism and Turner: The Westward Movement in Secondary School History and Geography Textbooks, 1830–1960” (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 1968), 123.

18

Spencer Snow, “Reading the Map: Geographic Space, Reading Publics, and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century American Identity, 1803–1898” (PhD dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012), 202. The New York Public Library owns a digital copy of Monteith’s Map of the City of New York: Showing the Wards, Grammar and Primary Schools, etc. to Accompany Monteith’s Boys’ and Girls’ Atlas (1885). See The New York Public Library, “Monteith’s Map of the City of New York.” https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c9599850-f3a2-0130-b42a-58d385a7b928.

19

Lisa Lynn Zagumny, “The Social Construction of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Geography Schoolbooks” (PhD dissertation, University of Tennessee, 2003), 70.

20

Page, “The Practice of Geography Instruction,” 90.

21

Samuel Augustus Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography for Young Children: Designed as an Introduction to the Author’s Primary Geography (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1860), iii.

22

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography for Young Children, iii.

23

Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography were originally published in 1856 under the title First Lessons in Geography, or Introduction to Youth’s Manual of Geography, as the first installment of the publisher’s “National Geographer Series”; they were republished numerous times over the course of the century. Although the 1875 version reveals significant differences compared to the original antebellum edition, the cover illustration remained the same throughout the decades.

24

Graphic Arts Collection: Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University, “Sorting Out John William Orr and Nathaniel Orr.” https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2016/02/11/sorting-out-john-william-orr-and-nathaniel-orr/.

25

James Monteith, First Lessons in Geography: On the Plan of Object Teaching. Designed for Beginners (New York: A. S. Barnes & Company, 1875), front cover, Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00028266/00001.

26

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 5.

27

Joseph Moreau, Schoolbook Nation: Conflicts over American History Textbooks from the Civil War to the Present (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 4.

28

Bill Marsden, “Geography Curriculum Planning in Evolution: Some Historical and International Perspectives,” in International Handbook on Geography Education, ed. Rodney Gerber (Dordrecht: Springer, 2003), 141–157, 141.

29

“The term ‘grammar’ was used to refer to a text that employed a form of systematic or methodical ordering of information to communicate the principles of the subject it described. Most often in works of geography this meant—in the tradition of special geography—the sequential description of countries under a set of common headings.” Keighren, “Catechisms, Grammars, and Readers.”

30

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 5. For an extensive analysis of the utilization of illustrations in Monteith’s other works, see Jack Vazzana, “A Visual History of Role Stereotypes in Geography Textbooks from 1880 to 1910” (PhD dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1994).

31

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 7.

32

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 7.

33

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 17.

34

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography,19, 21.

35

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 24, 28.

36

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 24, Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00028266/00001/26j.

38

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 41.

39

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 41.

40

Godfrey Hodgson, The Myth of American Exceptionalism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 92–93.

41

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 24.

42

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 29, Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00028266/00001/31j.

43

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1856), 25.

44

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 41.

45

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 32.

46

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1856), 25.

47

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 33. A recent study also refers to Monteith’s opinion about Native Americans by revealing his approach to mixing of races in New Physical Geography: For Grammar and High Schools, and Colleges (New York: American Book Company, 1885). He claimed that the natives in South America became more powerful when they mixed with the Spanish. Emily L. Wicks, “‘Melting Pot or Dumping Ground?’ Racial Discourse in American Science, Magazines, and Textbooks in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries” (MA thesis, Kent State University, 2012), 160.

48

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 40, Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00003334/00001/41j.

49

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 48.

50

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 52.

51

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 53; Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 52.

52

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 56.

53

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1856), 51.

54

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1856), 51.

55

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 56.

56

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 57.

57

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 57.

58

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1856), 55.

59

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 61, Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00028266/00001/63j.

60

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 61.

61

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 61.

62

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 61.

63

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 60, Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00003334/00001/61j.

64

“Mosque of Mahmud II at Tophana,” in Constantinople and the Scenery of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor Illustrated. In a Series of Drawings from Nature by Thomas Allom. With an Historical Account of Constantinople, and Descriptions of the Plates, by the Rev. Robert Walsh, ed. Robert Walsh and Thomas Allom (London: Fisher, Son & Co. 1836–1838), 75.

65

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1856), 59; Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 64.

66

Monteith, First Lessons in Geography (1875), 64.

67

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 64.

68

Mitchell, First Lessons in Geography, 64–65.

69

Keith Crawford, “Culture Wars: Japanese History Textbooks and the Construction of Official Memory,” in What Shall We Tell the Children? International Perspectives on School History Textbooks, ed. Stuart Foster and Keith Crawford (Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, 2006), 49–68, 49.

70

Yasemin Nuhog˘lu Sosyal and Hanna Schissler, “Teaching beyond the National Narrative,” in The Nation, Europe, and the World: Textbooks and Curricula in Transition, ed. Hanna Schissler and Yasemin Nuhog˘lu Sosyal (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005), 1–9, 1.

71

Hodgson, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, 21.

72

Hodgson, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, 51.

73

Hodgson, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, 63.

Textbook Bibliography

  • MitchellS. Augustus. Mitchell’s School Geography: A System of Modern Geography Comprising a Description of the Present State of the World and its Five Great Divisions America Europe Asia Africa and Oceanica. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.1842.

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  • MitchellS. Augustus. Primary Geography: An Easy Introduction to the Study of Geography. Designed for the Instruction of Children in Schools and Families. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.1845.

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  • MitchellS. Augustus. Ancient Geography Designed for Academies Schools and Families: A System of Classical and Sacred Geography. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.1845.

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  • MitchellS. Augustus. First Lessons in Geography for Young Children: Designed as an Introduction to the Author’s Primary Geography. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co.1860.

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  • MonteithJames. First Lessons in Geography or Introduction to Youth’s Manual of Geography. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1856.

  • MonteithJames. Introduction to Monteith’s Manual of Geography. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1865.

  • MonteithJames. Physical and Political Geography: In Two Parts. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1866.

  • MonteithJames. First Lessons in Geography: On the Plan of Object Teaching. Designed for Beginners. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1875.

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Contributor Notes

Bahar Gürsel teaches in the Department of History at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. E-mail: bgursel@metu.edu.tr

  • View in gallery

    Front cover of Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

    Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

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    Columbus Discovered America, 12 October 1492, Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

    Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

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    George Washington, Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

    Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

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    Captain Smith and Pocahontas, Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography (1860).

    Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

  • View in gallery

    Heathen Temple, Monteith’s First Lessons in Geography (1875).

    Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

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    A Scene in Asia, Mitchell’s First Lessons in Geography (1860).

    Source: Baldwin Library of Children’s Historical Literature, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries (Gainesville: University of Florida).

  • MitchellS. Augustus. Mitchell’s School Geography: A System of Modern Geography Comprising a Description of the Present State of the World and its Five Great Divisions America Europe Asia Africa and Oceanica. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.1842.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MitchellS. Augustus. Primary Geography: An Easy Introduction to the Study of Geography. Designed for the Instruction of Children in Schools and Families. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.1845.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MitchellS. Augustus. Ancient Geography Designed for Academies Schools and Families: A System of Classical and Sacred Geography. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.1845.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MitchellS. Augustus. First Lessons in Geography for Young Children: Designed as an Introduction to the Author’s Primary Geography. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co.1860.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MonteithJames. First Lessons in Geography or Introduction to Youth’s Manual of Geography. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1856.

  • MonteithJames. Introduction to Monteith’s Manual of Geography. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1865.

  • MonteithJames. Physical and Political Geography: In Two Parts. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1866.

  • MonteithJames. First Lessons in Geography: On the Plan of Object Teaching. Designed for Beginners. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company1875.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation