Deakin University’s Australian schools textbook collection consists of texts used (but no longer current) in Australian primary and secondary schools, wherever they were published. As textbooks are a relatively recent development in publishing in Australia most texts in use in the nineteenth century were published in England or Ireland. It is estimated that in the nineteenth century there were as few as two hundred textbooks published in Australia and of these, Deakin is fortunate to hold at least 150 examples.
Deakin University first began collecting school textbooks in 1981 with the purchase of 1400 pre 1950 school texts from Mr J.B. Prentice. This collection was particularly strong in nineteenth century Australian publications. In 1988, with the help of the Myer Foundation, the textbook collection was enhanced by the purchase of another collection, gathered over the years by Carmel McPherson, a lecturer in education. It contains an extensive array of nineteenth and early twentieth century material and numbers nearly 1000 items. Apart from the textbooks themselves, Deakin’s holdings also include teachers’ manuals, teaching aids and serials.
Part of the value of school textbooks for research and study can be found in the insight they provide into the prevailing cultural values and attitudes of the day. School textbooks are so revealing because they are far from being neutral in their presentation of facts and theories. For instance the socialisation process at work can be found in many of the older books where girls are advised that their roles in life are to be supportive, as wives, mothers, sisters or daughters. For boys, the choices were equally narrow. Role models were frequently soldiers, and defending Queen and Empire was an ideal to strive for. Concepts such as morality and good citizenship were also regarded as an essential part of education and were presented via textbooks.