We all know, in the backs of our minds, that Wooster has been around for more than a century.† But there are places on campus where that past seems to reach out to us across the ages, and nowhere is that connection more palpable than in the offices of Special Collections, where Curator Denise Monbarren and Special Collections Librarian Elaine Smith-Snyder work to keep collections of historical files and rare books safe from the ravages of time.
The Early Textbooks and Primers exhibit currently on display at Special Collections provides a glimpse into daily life at the College back in the 1870s.
ìWhat we did was we looked at course catalogues from the 1870s to 1890s to see what was the required reading at the University,” said Monbarren, who worked with Collection Services Librarian Margo Curl on the display. Curl and Monbarren then tracked down copies of those textbooks from various sources ó some were already in the libraryís extensive collection, while others were recently donated from a private collection.
ìWe wanted to preserve this particular part of the history ó the curriculum,” said Monbarren.
The books demonstrate some differences in the curriculum from today. For instance, a much greater emphasis is placed on the sciences, as well as on Greek and Latin.
The other half of the display deals with education as well, though not at the collegiate level. Itís a collection of primers for teaching young children skills like reading, comprehension and basic math.
These books, drawn from the Collegeís rare books collection, were published in the early 1900s and are notable for being some of the earliest books published in Ohio.† Cincinnati became a hub for publishing as the population of the United States expanded westward.
ìPart of our rare books collection are early imprints and things that are important to book culture,” Monbarren explained.
The primers are familiar ó a page of letters accompanied by illustrations of common objects that start with that letter ó yet strange, with ìA” standing for ìaxe” rather than ìapple,” a reminder of the agrarian nature of the society.
ìIt was a very different culture,” said Monbarren. ìWhat might be considered ëback woodsí nowadays was very much a part of their culture.”
Special Collections maintains two exhibits per year, as well as periodically doing special displays on notable on-campus occasions. Monbarren encourages students to come by and enjoy the displays.
The locked, sealed doors of Special Collections can be imposing, preventing students from sneaking in unnoticed, but there is nothing to be afraid of in this reliquary of Woosterís history.
ìFor the most part, what weíre trying to do is just remind people of the wonderful treasures we have here on campus,” said Monbarren.
The exhibit is available for viewing Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 24 to Oct. 2.