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A Historical Perspective on Education

History's Classroom
  • The Four Socratic Dialogues of Plato (by )
  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead (by )
  • Christian Education in the Dark Ages (A.... (by )
  • Emile (by )
  • A Plan for Improving Female Education (by )
  • The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (by )
  • Ancient Tales from Many Lands : A Collec... (by )
  • Christendom and Islam Their Contacts and... (by )
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ... (by )
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History's Classroom: A Historical Perspective on Education

The voices of mathematicians, scientists, philosophers are included in this virtual exhibit, "History's Classroom: A Historical Perspective on Education." 

From ancient manuscripts to the unmatched selection of the world's much treasured children's picture books, the enduring importance of education and literacy is illustrated in the thousands of books contained in many collections joined to this exhibit. Subjects such as anthropology, religion, sociology, astronomy and Shakespeare are within. These books are vital to the continuation of mankind, as the sharing of knowledge, teaching and literacy are the cornerstone of everything we do, and want to accomplish. Perpetual pursuit of knowledge moves society forward.
Writing Systems and Societal Order
Writing Systems and Societal Order
Educational systems have been instrumental in the spread of societal awareness, innovation, the compiling of knowledge and the creation and death of mighty empires.  “History's Classroom: A Historical Perspective on Education," illuminates how educational systems have been used in different parts of the world and at different points in history to better direct humanity. From the development of the Sumerian logographic systems, cuneiform and pictographs, to the Phoenician Alphabet, the evolution of language and the transferring of ideas was highly important to the evolution of man. Language allowed mankind to apply the lessons of the past to the present in order to better our future. For many centuries, writing systems were instrumental in the passing of knowledge and maintaining societal order.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago (1000-2000 B.C), Egyptian upper class boys were trained to be scribes who copied religious hieroglyphic-texts onto papyrus. They learned arithmetic and geometry to keep accounts and write reports. Religious texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, taught young scribes how to become priests (Egyptian Book of the Dead, Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge). Chinese sons studied the major philosophers, creation myths and cosmological principles of yin and yang to become civil servants. In the book Ancient Tales of Many Lands, by Rachel Mary Fleming, one can find the Chinese myth of Pwanku, the mythological first man who carved out the heavens and the earth. When he died, his body became the lands, his blood the rivers, and the tiny insects that crawled on his body became the people on earth (Ancient Tales of Many Lands: A Collection of Folk Stories, Rachel Mary).  The myth of Pwanku taught Chinese students the origins of the celestial, terrestrial and human realms, the foundations of Chinese philosophy, religion and politics (The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the Chinese Empire and Its Inhabitants : Volume 1, Samuel Wells Williams).

Skills in literacy also foster critical thinking. Socrates was an Athenian philosopher who lived between 470-399 B.C. When Athens fell to Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, there was a movement to increase government control over the population. Socrates did not agree with this and expressed his views through teaching philosophy. Taking students into fields and marketplaces, he challenged them to question their assumptions about the nature of reality. Socrates was quoted  by his student, Plato, as having taught: “To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge” (“Socrates,” World Heritage Encyclopedia). Plato compiled his lessons into the Four Socratic Dialogues of Plato. According to Sister Mary Basiline, these lessons and techniques are collectively called the "Socratic method" and it is still being used in classrooms today (The Aesthetic Motif From Thales to Plato, Sister Mary Basiline).
Rise and Fall of Empires and Access to Education
Rise and Fall of Empires and Access to Education
The teachings within classrooms of major civilizations affected the constriction and expansion of empires. At the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Western Europe found itself in the Dark Ages. Monasteries, once sites of public spiritual and intellectual development, began to close. The uncertain future compelled remaining religious leaders to tightly control the preservation of books, limiting formal education to royalty and the lay people, and thus inhibiting the creation of new literary and cultural works (Christian Education in the Dark Ages A.D 476 - A.D. 1100, Eugene Magevney).

Around the same time, in another part of the world, the Islamic empire extended from the Arabian Desert, converting and ruling many lands and peoples across the Middle East, Europe and North Africa (Christendom and Islam: Their Contacts and Cultures Down the Centuries, W. Wilson Cash). This process gathered much knowledge for the empire. Islamic rulers built universities in the major Spanish cities of Cordova, Seville, Toledo and Salamanca. Books and scholars from varying religions and countries were featured. Voices of mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and crop cultivators from India to Greece echoed throughout university walls (Jerusalem and Tiberias, Sora and Cordova, A Survey of Religious and Scholastic Learning of the Jews: Designed as an Introduction to Literature, John Wesley Etheridge). Future generations adapted to the emerging social orders by building upon available knowledge.  

By the late 1700s, European cities like Geneva were sites of technological innovation. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a famous French writer who lived in Geneva during this time. In his autobiography titled, The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he describes how he was an apprentice to a master engraver that abused him (
The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau).  Perhaps this experience influenced his novel called Emile, which argued that children should not be forced into learning, but should be gently taught practical things and their natural talents encouraged.
Education in Early America
Education in Early America
European settlers brought their educational values to the American colonies. Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, wrote an autobiography entitled, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  People in the colony of Pennsylvania recognized the power of the written word and established many print shops (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin).  Franklin found his first employment in these print shops.  Amidst the print machines, Franklin observed how human ideals can be expressed in written form, and then copied and distributed. This experience foreshadows his own growth into a newspaper publisher, philosopher, inventor and diplomat. In the 1750s, Franklin established an academy to teach literacy, natural science, mechanics, drawing, foreign language, recent history, and geography (“Benjamin Franklin,” World Heritage Encyclopedia). 

The value of invention continued to be recognized well into the 1800s. A woman named Emma Willard observed how women was not encouraged to access formal education. As late as the 1850s, most schools limited women to subjects such as art and home-making (“Emma Willard,” World Heritage Encyclopedia).  Willard used her own literary skills to write A Plan for Improving Female Education to encourage the higher education of women so they could contribute their leadership in society (A Plan for Improving Female Education, Emma Willard). She founded the Troy Female Seminary in 1814 for this purpose - to educate women (“Emma Willard School,” World Heritage Encyclopedia).  

Works Cited
Basiline, Mary Sister.  The Aesthetic Motif From Thales to Plato.  Diss. University of Colorado, 1921.  New York:  Schwartz, Kirwin and Fauss, 1921. 

Benjamin Franklin.”
 World Heritage Encyclopedia.  Web.  2014. 

Budge, Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis.
 The Egyptian Book of the Dead.  World Public Library Association Edition.  Blackmask Online, 1550.

Cash, W. Wilson.
 Christendom and Islam:  Their Contacts and Cultures Down the Centuries.  New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1937.

Emma Willard.”  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  Web.  2014.

Emma Willard School.” World Heritage Encyclopedia.  Web.  2014.

Etheridge, John Wesley. 
Jerusalem and Tiberias, Sora and Cordova, A Survey of Religious and Scholastic Learning of the Jews:  Designed as an Introduction to Literature.  London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1856. 

Fleming, Rachel Mary.  Ancient Tales from Many Lands: A Collection of Folk Stories.  World Public Library Edition.  New York:  Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1922. 

Franklin, Benjamin.  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  Chicago:  R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co., 1915.

"History of the Peloponnesian War, The."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  Web.  2014.

Magevney, Eugene.  Christian Education in the Dark Ages A.D. 476 - A.D. 1100World Public Library Edition.  New York:  Cathedral Library Association, 1900.

Plato.  The Four Socratic Dialogues of Plato.  Trans. Benjamin Jowett.  Oxford:  The Clarendon Press, 1903.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques.  The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Trans. W. Conyngham Mallory.  Gutenberg Consortia Center.  Web. 1782.

Socrates.”   World Heritage Encyclopedia.  Web.  2014.

Willard, Emma.  A Plan for Improving Female Education.   Middlebury:  J.W. Copeland, 1819. 

Williams, Samuel Wells.  The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the Chinese Empire and its Inhabitants.  Volume 1.   New York:  Putnam, 1848.

Education Collections
If knowledge moves society forward, then education is a tool to make it happen.  Influential teachers around the world existed in Egypt, China and Athens; during the fall of the Holy Roman empire, rise of Islam, and technological innovation of Europe; and in Early America.  By recalling the historical events that moved them to teach, we can grasp the deeper meaning behind education.  

The "History’s Classroom Exhibit" shelves thousands of digital works from collections all over the world including:

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Top 100 books on Literature and Fiction

  • Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (by )
  • The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Ni... (by )
  • Robinson Crusoe (by )
  • The Scarlet Letter (by )
  • The Aeneid, Score Virgil Aen (by )
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (by )
  • The Diary of a Nobody (by )
  • The Pickwick Papers (by )
  • Sense and Sensibility (version 3) (by )
  • Moby-Dick or the Whale (by )
  • King Solomon's Mines (by )
  • Bleak House (by )
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (by )
  • Sense and Sensibility (by )
  • The Sound and the Fury and as I Lay Dyin... (by )
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Top 100 books on Classic Children's Literature

  • Rip Van Winkle (by )
  • Just So Stories (by )
  • Hans Brinker; Or, The Silver Skates : A ... (by )
  • Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The (by )
  • Tale of Two Cities, A (by )
  • Three Musketeers, The (by )
  • The Little Gingerbread Man (by )
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (by )
  • A Token for Children : Being an Exact Ac... (by )
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (by )
  • Through the Looking-Glass (by )
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (abridg... (by )
  • Ferdinand Frog (by )
  • Heidi (by )
  • Secret Garden, The (by )
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Top 100 books on Children's Early Learning

  • The Hey Diddle Diddle Picture Book (by )
  • Song of Hiawatha, The (by )
  • Anne of Green Gables (by )
  • Mother West Wind's Animal Friends (by )
  • Just So Stories (by )
  • The Ugly Duckling (by )
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit (by )
  • Three Blind Mice (by )
  • The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (by )
  • The King of the Golden River, Or the Bla... (by )
  • The Hey Diddle Diddle Picture Book (by )
  • The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes : ... (by )
  • Pollyanna (by )
  • Pollyanna (by )
  • King of Golden River (by )
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Top books on Contemporary Children's Literature

  • Curious George and the Pizza : Preformed... (by )
  • Otto : Preformed by Wally Amos (by )
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  • The Wolf and the Lamb : Preformed by Wal... (by )
  • Clifford The Big Red Dog : Preformed by ... (by )
  • Peter's Chair : Preformed by Wally Amos (by )
  • Green Eggs and Ham : Preformed by Wally ... (by )
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Top 100 books on Education

  • Beowulf 
  • Riders of the Purple Sage (by )
  • Adventures of Pinocchio, The (by )
  • Ancient Tales from Many Lands : A Collec... (by )
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Dougl... (by )
  • King Henry IV, Part 1 (by )
  • Pragmatism (by )
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ... (by )
  • Laddie 
  • History of Standard Oil: Volume 1, The (by )
  • Moby-Dick or the Whale (by )
  • Moby Dick, or the Whale (by )
  • Rights of Man, Score Aor Rom Volume Vol. II (by )
  • The Grapes of Wrath (by )
  • The Republic, Score Plato Rep (by )
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Top 100 books on Banned Books

  • The Rainbow (by )
  • The Robbers (by )
  • 1984 (by )
  • An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (by )
  • The Best Ghost Stories (by )
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (by )
  • The Essays of Michel de Montaigne : Volu... (by )
  • The Decameron Volume 2 (by )
  • Notre-Dame de Paris Aka the Hunchback of... (by )
  • Three Weeks (by )
  • Poems and Ballads (by )
  • The Praise of Folly (by )
  • The Satyricon, Volume 4 (Escape by Sea) (by )
  • The Awakening (by )
  • The Decameron, Volume I (by )
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  • Necessary Basis of the Teacher's Tenure (by )
  • Science ; Volume 2 : No 35 : Feb 1881 
  • Establishment and Firm Size (Including L... (by )
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  • Recorder (Mar. 1912); Volume: XVIII, no.... (by )
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DjVu Editions Classic Literature

  • Walden Or, Life in the Woods (by )
  • The Winters Tale (by )
  • Tess of the Durbervilles (by )
  • The Third Part of Henry the Sixth (by )
  • Twelfe Night, Or What You Will (by )
  • The Taming of the Shrew (by )
  • Elegies (by )
  • The Second Part of Henry the Fourth (by )
  • The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet (by )
  • Mansfield Park (by )
  • The Sea Wolf (by )
  • Pride and Prejudice (by )
  • The Life of Tymon of Athens (by )
  • Moby-Dick or the Whale (by )
  • Paradise Lost (by )
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Educational Resource Collection

  • The U.S. Department of Educations (by )
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  • Department of Education Submission for O... (by )
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Educational Videos

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  • Inverse trig functions : Example: Calcul... Volume Basic trigonometric ratios series (by )
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  • Maclaurin and Taylor series : Generalize... Volume Calculus series (by )
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  • Art History: Architecture : Gordon Bunsh... Volume Art History series (by )
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Historical and Literary Papers

  • The Villanovan : 1989-1991 Volume 1989-1991 (by )
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  • The Summer School : Year 1934 Volume Year 1934 (by )
  • The Summer School : Year 1921 Volume Year 1921 (by )
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  • The Summer School : Year 1922 Volume Year 1922 (by )
  • President's Report for the Year Ending :... Volume 1896-1903 (by )
  • Survey Information : Year 2002 Volume Year 2002 (by )
  • Pennsylvania Grange News : Volume 2 (by )
  • Salamon Dembitzer Collection 1908-1975 (by )
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The Beat Within

  • The Beat Within 11.20 : Volume 11 ; Arti... (by )
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  • The Beat Within : Volume 14. 02 : Volume... 
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  • The Beat Within 15.33 : Volume 15 ; Arti... (by )
  • The Beat Within 14.29 : Volume 14 ; Arti... (by )
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