Textbook History is the personal journal of Ronald Ladouceur, an independent scholar interested in the intersection of history, science and visual rhetoric. Articles here are inspired by history, anatomy, and biology textbooks published in the United States between 1845 and 1970, including the 135+ textbooks in the author’s personal collection.

Textbooks, it turns out, are a great primary document set for anyone interested in cultural studies (Isis agrees). Ambitious authors and an anxious public continuously sculpted and reshaped high school history and science curriculums throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in an effort to guide and control that most unruly of bodies, the pubescent teenager. Lessons in history, taxonomy and genetics turned into metaphors of race and progress. Lessons in health turned into lectures on the dangers of masturbation and sex, particularly sex with people not of one’s class. “Man” and “men” were used as synonyms for “human” and “humans” without thought.

Because they were published and revised more or less annually, textbooks are like tree rings, a nearly complete year-to-year record of the culture in which they grew.

About the Author

Ronald Ladouceur holds an M.A. in liberal studies from SUNY Empire State College. He is an adjunct professor in the Massry School of Business at the University at Albany, and has also served as an adjunct professor in the school of Humanities, Arts & Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His published work includes “Ella Thea Smith and the Lost History of American High School Biology Textbooks,” Journal of the History of Biology 41: 435 (2007), “Biology’s Bomb: Graphing ‘Explosive’ Population Growth in Cold War Textbooks,Climate & Capitalism (2011), The Rise of White Flour, SCA Journal 38: 1 (2020), and “All with Theories to Sell: Carleton S. Coon, Bentley Glass, Marston Bates, and the Struggle by Life Scientists in the United States to Construct a Social Mission After World War II,” available via ProQuest (2008).

SCHOLARS’ NOTE: Except for the above (or unless otherwise indicated), the articles published to Textbook History have not been peer reviewed or published elsewhere. You are of course encouraged to cite the work. Just be clear in your references that you’re citing a personal journal, not an academic journal, popular publication or thesis.

RECOMMENDED CITATION FORM (Chicago): Ladouceur, Ronald. [“Title of Article.”] Textbook History: A Personal Journal, [Publication Day, Year (posted at the top of each article)], https://textbookhistory.com/[article specific permalink]/.