American Antiquarian Society's Summer School

Children across America are counting down the days until school gives way to the lazy, laid-back days of summer. While little ones take a break, the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester, Massachusetts kicks off its summer season this weekend with the first of four multi-day seminars dedicated to various aspects of book history and culture, with one in late June that will examine children as readers and authors.

The AAS has held summer seminars in the history of the book since 1983, focusing on a different topic every year, and from June 21 through June 26, the weeklong workshop will examine child readership in pre-1900 America. Over 26,000 childhood artifacts are part of the AAS holdings, offering a seemingly endless array of primary materials to provide fodder for discussion and to paint a more complete view of childhood in early America. Miniature printing presses, toys, and even books created by children all testify to the world of young Americans that was sometimes enchanting and magical, other times thoroughly practical.  

A 1769 speller, published in New London, Connecticut (reproduced with permission from the American Antiquarian Society) 

"There are definitely marks of readership on our children's material," said Paul Erickson, director of Academic Programs, who spoke about the upcoming workshop as well as the condition of the items at the AAS.  It's rare to find antiquarian children's books that haven't been well-read and well loved. "I like to call some of the markings 'juvenile marginalia," Erickson continued. These notes and scribbles may not appeal to the professional collector, but to a scholar they offer all sorts of valuable information about how and why children read. Pre-1900s children's books ran the gamut on topics as well. "People wrote kids books about everything from funerals to primers on finance, Erickson explained." Some of the books were intended as career guides and took the place of formal education.  

Competition to attend this year's seminar was intense: Over sixty candidates posted applications for only twenty available spots. The attendees include a mix of graduate students, faculty, and librarians from across the country. So while children play and school fades to a distant memory, visiting professors Martin Brückner (Delaware) and Patricia Crain (NYU) will have their students hard at to work as they explore the complexities of childhood in this most engaging way.

For further information, please contact Paul Erickson, Director of Academic Programs at AAS, at or (508) 471-2158. American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01609-1634
Tel: 508-755-5221, Fax: 508-753-3311,