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Special Collections: Geography Textbooks

History of Education Sources

About the Collection

Description  The Geography Textbooks Collection is a comprehensive collection of books published in Britain for the teaching of geography in schools, or to young people. All aspects of geography are covered, including human geography, physical geography and regional geography as well as a selection of school atlases. The collection includes materials for both primary and secondary schools, up to A-level or its equivalent. The earliest examples date from the mid-nineteenth century, and the latest from the 1990s, with particular strength in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

The collection has been assembled with the help of generous gifts of material from the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton Library, as well as from a number of individuals. These have been added to the existing collections of the Newsam Library of the Institute of Education, University of London.

Cataloguing of the collection has been made possible by a series of grants from the Frederick Soddy Trust.

Size: c.4,200 items

Type/format: Books

Dates: c1830 - 1995

Accrual policy: Open

Bedford Way

Reference only. By prior arrangement with the Special Collections Librarian. Contact the Library Enquiry Desk in the first instance.

The collection is listed in the Library Catalogue.  A keyword search on ‘geography textbooks’ will find all those in this collection, as well as examples in other Special Collections, and current texts in the Curriculum Resources section of the Library.

Theses (MA) and Dissertations (PhD) on the study of geography textbooks by IOE students are also available to read in the Library.  A search on the Library Catalogue will identify these works.

Why is textbook research important?


School textbooks are often discarded as having little intrinsic value or academic worth, but they are a fascinating resource for historians. For the historian of education, textbooks are useful sources of information on the development of the school curriculum, especially before the introduction of the National Curriculum. They also provide evidence of changing ideas on teaching methods and assessment.

School books, and especially geography books, also provide much interesting evidence of other aspects of everyday life in past eras. In addition to the ‘factual’ presentation of contemporary life in text and illustrations, they often reveal prevailing attitudes. Their presentation of other races and cultures, for instance, or of the British Empire, demonstrates the accepted view of the establishment at the time of their publication.

Selected books in the IOE Library