“History Repeating Itself”: The Republication Phenomenon and Josephine Pollard's Monosyllabic Histories for Children

Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM
New Hampshire Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Gregory M. Pfitzer , Skidmore College
This paper treats the phenomenon of republishing nineteenth century popular histories for use in the twenty-first century. In particular it focuses on the works of Josephine Pollard, a prolific author, poet, and hymn writer of the 1870s and 1880s whose popular histories “told in easy words of one syllable” have been widely circulated among Christian home-schoolers. The paper asks: 1) what kinds of books were these monosyllabic histories? and 2) what are the pedagogical and historical implications of reusing them today as the centerpieces of history curricula? To answer these questions, this paper analyzes Pollard’s popular histories in three ways: as cultural artifacts, as pedagogical devices, and as historical agents. In terms of cultural artifacts, the paper focuses on the pictorial and literary appeal of these popular books designed to encourage in young readers a love of God and country. The author traces the rich production and manufacturing histories of these works and charts the relationships between Pollard and her publishers and readers. In terms of pedagogy, the paper considers the implications for historical learning of Pollard’s “sight-word method” of reading in the mid-nineteenth century as opposed to the more popular “phonetic” approach. And in terms of historical agency, the paper details how Pollard’s volumes contributed to the dominant “master narrative” of history for children, establishing the putative facts and received traditions of the past that children were expected to study, absorb and act upon at the appropriate times. The paper argues that the impulse to republish Pollard’s works for a twenty-first century Christian home school market reveals misplaced intentions to “repeal the twentieth century” on the part of those who wish to ignore the advances of professional scholarship. Such re-publication efforts reflect a psychological aversion to change and a resistance to the idea of a contested and revisionist past.
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