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Title: Childhood Reading and Education: The Royal High School of Edinburgh, 1750-1850
Author(s): Branagh-Miscampbell, Maxine
Supervisor(s): Halsey, Katherine
Keywords: children
history of reading
school libraries
library history
history of education
Royal High School
childhood reading
borrowers' records
Issue Date: 16-Apr-2021
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: The Royal High School of Edinburgh was the first public institution for the education of boys in the city of Edinburgh. The history of the school as a grammar school goes back as far as 1503, and records and histories surrounding the school are unusually complete for the period. Crucially for the history of reading these also contain several borrowing records, catalogues and other documents relating to the use of the school library. This thesis focuses on the school library as a locus that demonstrates the school’s changing priorities in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I seek to demonstrate the ways in which the library both reflects and pre-empts shifts in the school’s educational priorities, and how it acted to supplement the children’s reading, both by providing texts which constituted a kind of informal curriculum, and, later, their recreational reading. Focusing on the period 1750 to 1850, this thesis provides a contextual background for the case study of the Royal High School in its first two chapters; the first exploring education and reading practices in Scotland in the period and the second looking at representations of ideal reading and education in conduct books and educational writing in the period. Chapter three offers a revised overview of the history of the school in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, focusing specifically on the school curriculum. It then goes on to provide an overview of the changing makeup of the library collections using catalogues and acquisition records. Chapter four examines the borrowers’ records between the 1770s and 1820s, highlighting the top ten most borrowed works in each decade and drawing out specific examples of individual borrowers to give a sense of the reading lives of the Royal High School children. Finally, chapter five examines the most popular books in the school library in greater detail, placing these in a wider literary and historical context, highlighting where the reading habits of the Royal High School children align with, or diverge from, what is known about other libraries and with the recommendations of conduct and educational literature. This thesis challenges and confirms some of the received narratives related both to childhood reading practices and reading practices in libraries more broadly and contributes to building a greater understanding of child readers in this period.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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