The set was purchased by a Bloomington resident in 1995 for $25 from a local antique shop. It was donated to our county historical society who in turn recently passed it along to a unit within the university library system. There are 25 intact charts, printed both recto and verso with all manner of subject- literacy, penmanship, geography, physiology, mathematics, and governance. At first the work- though complex- was fairly routine: disassembly, washing, alkalization, mending, pressing. The longer we had it in the lab, the more it revealed aspects of itself in terms of its immense value in documenting American life and education in the late 19th century. The poster reflects the Common School Movement- a development in American education that sought to develop a common curriculum. It began in the 1830’s but went through ferment and change in the 1890’s when this was printed. A parallel movement had risen in Germany in the mid 1800’s as well- the training of teachers could not keep pace with rapidly increasing numbers of students in schools. Wall charts allowed for clearer instruction for greater numbers. Coupled with german expertise in chromolithographic printing, the glory days of the educational wall chart reached a zenith in Europe in the mid 19th century. Our set of charts highlights both technical printing skill and contemporary educational thought in one.
One plate, with a particularly gruesome physiological theme, displays the effects of prolonged alcohol and tobacco consumption:
All of the physiological plates, this one included, had an interesting printing technique we do not see too often. In areas that depict blood, viscera, and sometimes hair, it appears that an additional layer of glaze, perhaps just linseed oil, was added on top of the ink to create greater saturation of color. During aqueous treatment (washing) this particular effect can often blanch- much like the ring left from a wet glass placed on top of a varnished table- in order to rectify it, we were able to swab the foggy areas with isopropyl alcohol to drive the water away that had become bonded within the ink’s oil.
These detail shots show before and after the treatment:
After each sheet was treated, a cloth-covered drop front box was made to hold unbound charts, with the original roller in its own compartment. It will now reside in our Auxiliary Storage Facility (ALF).
Apparently, the Common School Movement was criticized as promoting Protestant values during the period when the US saw an influx of Roman Catholic immigrants. Such strife eventually led to the Parochial School Movement.
Today’s debates over home-schooling versus public education and evolutionary theory versus creationism are just a continuance of how we, as Americans, are constantly struggling to decide how to educate our children. Different interest groups compete for dominance over curriculum depending on the social conditions of the time.
For more about changes in the American curriculum, read Kliebard, Herbert M. The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893-1958. New York: Routledge, 1995.