History of Things: Books that helped children and adults in past centuries

History of Things: Books that helped children and adults in past centuries
New Russian Spelling Book for Learning to Read and Write. Vsevolod Flerov. St Petersburg. 1912. From the Museum of Moscow archives
Read on to learn about the progressive methods of teaching children reading and writing in the 19th  century and eliminating illiteracy in adults in the 20th century.

Today's issue of History of Things is timed to Knowledge Day. The Museum of Moscow keeps a lot of items and personal belongings of Muscovites related to education and study. They help us imagine how literacy was taught in the past.

Almost 200 years ago

Hours of rest, or the Encyclopaedic Picture Gallery, in alphabetical order, for children of both genders and all ages, serving as a pleasant and useful pastime, forming taste and mind, was the 1838 ABC book. It was compiled from the drawings of the best Parisian artists of the time and lithographed in Moscow at the Vasily Loginov Lithography. Each of its pages contains everyday objects, exotic animals, food, workers of different professions and historical figures spelled with the same letter. Sometimes the letter is not the first letter of the word, but it accurately or paradoxically conveys the images. Gouache and watercolour were used in the book’s design.

Leisure Time, or the Encyclopaedic Art Gallery in Alphabetical Order for Boys and Girls of All Ages. Moscow. 1838. From the Museum of Moscow archives

100 years ago

The book first-formers used to learn how to read and write at the beginning of the 20th century was Vsevolod Flerov's primer. Its full title was The New Russian ABC Book for Teaching Literacy, to Be Used with the New Way of Learning the Fusion of Sounds by the Same Author. The primer shows the author's approach to literacy. Flerov believed the main feature of his book was the gradual order of studying sounds and letters: the transition from one difficulty level to another, taking into account the academic data on Russian phonetics and graphics. The book contains drawings, exercises, tasks for independent work, texts, and split letters alphabet. It cost 15 kopecks and was recommended for classroom use in primary schools. The primer went through many editions. This, for example, is a page spread from the 14th edition published in 1912.

New Russian Spelling Book for Learning to Read and Write. Vsevolod Flerov. St Petersburg. 1912. From the Museum of Moscow archives

How adults were taught

There were primers for adults as well. The most famous are the ones published after the 1917 October Revolution, which set universal education as one of the goals. Down with Illiteracy! was the title of the first editions of Soviet primers for adults compiled by Dora Elkin with co-authors. People could learn literacy from popular slogans of the time – for example, the famous phrase “We are not slaves, slaves are not us.”

Put an End to Illiteracy! Spelling Book for Adults. Edited by Dora Elkina, N. Boguslavskaya, A. Kurskaya. Moscow. 1920. From the Museum of Moscow archives

Check out the History of Things project to learn more about 19th century fast food, the first Moscow bicyclists, old dolls and interesting items from the Museum of Moscow collection.