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American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

An online exhibition of the Cubberley Education Library, Stanford University
American Primers and Readers Overview

American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

"The evolution of the modern reading textbook is in part the history of American education and in part the history of American culture."
"From the Indian Primer to Dick and Jane." American Primers. Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1990.

Richard L. Venezky (1938-2004) was a leading expert in the history of literacy and reading. "His interests ranged from orthography to pedagogy, from adult literacy to computer-assisted instruction, from the relationship between literacy and political participation to the history of spelling and reading instructional texts."1

The Venezky Collection contains American primers and readers published between the late 1700s through the middle of the twentieth century. Various editions of many titles show how they evolved over time. In addition, there are early pamphlets, chapbooks, primers, almanacs, dictionaries, children's stories, plus works on textbooks, spelling, and phonetics. Most of the works in this collection are in Special Collections, but the large microfiche collection American Primers, with its guide containing an introductory essay by Venezky, can be found in the Cubberley Education Library.

This exhibition, based on an exhibit in the Bing Wing of Green Library in Fall, 2008, follows some of the themes in Venezky’s various works on the history of textbooks and reading including the historic periods that he delineated: The evolution of the modern textbook can be traced through at least five distinct periods: Colonial (1639–1782), early national (1783–1837), pre-CivilWar (1838–1865), early modern (1866–1920), and modern (1921–present).2

A companion exhibit in the Graduate School of Education building displayed some of Venezky’s other work, including Literacy: An International Handbook (1999), The AmericanWay of Spelling (1999), and membership in the team that created the Speak and Spell. As his close friend Professor Robert Calfee writes:

“Venezky’s scholarly agenda was both broad and deep. The contributions to the Festschrift [published in From orthography to pedagogy : essays in honor of Richard L. Venezky] that culminated his career illustrate, in both their breadth and the quality and depth of the works, Venezky’s influence on his colleagues – which was an important mark of his role as a scholar….Combining linguistics, history, cognition and learning, and joining these disciplines to the practical and policy arenas, Dick did not arrive at the answers, but he set forth the seminal questions. That is the mark of a true scholar.”

1 ("Obituary" in History of Reading News, vol. 28, no. 1, Fall 2004)

2 Venezky, Richard L. "Textbooks in School and Society." Handbook of Research on Curriculum. Ed. Philip W. Jackson. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 436-61.