Textbook History is the personal journal of Ronald Ladouceur, an independent scholar interested in the intersection of history, science and visual rhetoric. Articles published here are (mostly) inspired by the author’s collection of 135+ high school and college biology textbooks published between 1907 and the early 1970s. (See the author’s database.)

Biology textbooks, it turns out, are a great primary document set for anyone interested in American history and cultural studies (Isis agrees). Ambitious authors and an anxious public sculpted and reshaped the high school biology curriculum throughout the twentieth century in an effort to guide and control that most unruly of bodies, the pubescent tenth grader. Lessons on taxonomy turned into metaphors of race and progress. Lessons on health turned into lectures on the dangers of 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, biology textbooks are like tree rings, a nearly complete year-to-year record of the culture in which they grew.

About the Author

Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in history at Binghamton University, Ronald Ladouceur holds an M.A. in Liberal Studies from SUNY Empire State College, and is an adjunct professor at the University at Albany. 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SCHOLARS’ NOTE: Except for the above (or unless otherwise indicated), the articles published to Textbook History have not been peer reviewed or published elsewhere.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]/.