Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America

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An experienced teacher of reading and writing and anaward-winning historian, E. Jennifer Monaghan brings to vibrant life the process of learning to read and write in colonial America. Ranging throughout the colonies from New Hampshire to Georgia, she examines the instruction of girls and boys, Native Americans and enslaved Africans, the privileged and the poor, revealing the sometimes wrenching impact of literacy acquisition on the lives of learners.

For the most part, religious motives underlay reading instruction in colonial America, while secular motives led to writing instruction. Monaghan illuminates the history of these activities through a series of deeply researched and readable case studies. An Anglican missionary battles mosquitoes and loneliness to teach the New York Mohawks to write in their own tongue. Puritan fathers model scriptural reading for their children as they struggle with bereavement. Boys in writing schools, preparing for careers in counting houses, wield their quill pens in the difficult task of mastering a "good hand." Benjamin Franklin learns how to compose essays with no teacher but himself. Young orphans in Georgia write precocious letters to their benefactor, George Whitfield, while schools in South Carolina teach enslaved black children to read but never to write.

As she tells these stories, Monaghan clears new pathways in the analysis of colonial literacy. She pioneers in the exploration of the implications of the separation of reading and writing instruction, a topic that still resonates in today's classrooms. Her close examination of reading methodology yields fresh insights into the colonial mind. Her discussion of instructional texts, particularly spelling books, adds an important and previously neglected element to the study of colonial literacy.

Monaghan's wide-ranging study confirms a break with tradition that began in some circles around the 1750s. Thereafter, a gentler vision of childhood arose, portraying children as more malleable than sinful. It promoted and even commercialized a new kind of children's book designed to amuse instead of convert, laying the groundwork for the "reading revolution" of the new republic.

"This book fills a significant gap in the scholarship of early America as well as in the scholarship of the history of reading and writing . . . . It will become an essential reference text for any scholar or student of American book history, the history of pedagogy, and the history of literacy."— Patricia Crain, author of "The Story of A: The Alphabetization of America from The New England Primer to The Scarlet Letter"

"Unique in its scope and in several of the questions being asked, this wide-ranging book will be important to early Americanists as well as to historians of reading."— David D. Hall, general editor of the five-volume "History of the Book in America"

E. JENNIFER MONAGHAN is professor emerita of English, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York.

A volume in the series Studie in Print Culture and the History of the Book.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
"Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America is a very important book. Its publication is reason for celebration by all who have been awaiting a full monograph since E. Jennifer Monaghan's first essays appeared. Literacy specialists will especially be gratified, but all historians of early America will profit from this richly researched work."--(The Journal of American History, September 2006)
New England Quarterly
"A book of extraordinary range, depth, and clarity. . . . 'Learning to Read and Write,' the only survey of its subject, is an essential text for historians of literacy, of gender, and of early America. Broad in scope and deep in research, it will inspire both within and beyond these fields."
New England Quarterly
This thoroughly engaging book is rich in detail and innovative in approach. The real testament here is that at the end of 381 pages of text, readers are left longing for more.
American Literature
One of the book's most engaging features is to take seriously reading instruction of Native Americans and African American slaves. . . . Monaghan convincingly shows that reading and writing were separate ideological domains. . . . Readers not primarily interested in book history or coloinal America will still find intriguing Monaghan's balanced and incisive analysis of the historical convergences of literary and race.
Library Journal
While much has been written on the history of literacy, the subject of learning to read and write during America's Colonial era has not received in-depth treatment. Monaghan (English, emerita, Brooklyn Coll., CUNY) seeks to remedy that situation with this truly impressive treatise, which has been exhaustively researched over the last 20 years. Following a chronological progression from 1620 through 1776, Monaghan offers a comprehensive analysis of Colonial literacy instruction that ranges throughout the Colonies and covers a broad variety of demographic groups and educational settings. She describes the separate motives behind the teaching of reading (largely meant to facilitate religious education) and of writing (which had more practical and secular purposes). In a refreshingly readable style for such a scholarly work, Monaghan studies the relationships between rates of literacy and other measures of Colonial culture, making rich use of primary sources to offer accessible and enlightening case histories. Illustrated with contemporary portraits and writing samples, this volume will no doubt become indispensable to those studying the history of literacy education. While covering the past, it is relevant to current debates about literacy. Highly recommended for academic libraries.-Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Pt. I The ordinary road
The congregationalists and the ordinary road, 1620 to 1730
1 Literacy and the law in orthodox New England 19
2 Literacy and the Indians of Massachusetts bay 46
3 Books read by children at home and at school 81
4 Death and literacy in two devout Boston families 112
The Anglicans and the ordinary road, 1701 to 1776
5 The literacy mission of the S.P.G. 143
6 Literacy and the Mohawks 166
Pt. II Decades of transition, 1730 to 1750
7 Schools, schoolteachers, and schoolchildren 197
8 The rise of the spelling book 213
Pt. III New paths to literacy acquisition, 1750 to 1776
9 Literacy instruction and the enslaved 241
10 Writing instruction 273
11 The new world of children's books 302
12 Literacy in three families of the 1770s 333
Afterword : the lessons
App. 1 Signature literacy in colonial America, the United States, and the Atlantic World, 1650 to 1810
App. 2 The alphabet method of reading instruction
App. 3 Production of American imprints, 1695 to 1790
App. 4 American imprints versus English exports, 1710 to 1780
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