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Although Massachusetts towns provided free public education from the 17th century on, students and their families bought their own school books. Teachers taught the subjects from the books each child brought. Spellers, readers, and arithmetic books were most common, followed by geography books like this one by Roswell Smith. The question and answer format, or catechism Smith used was common to schoolbooks of the period. Scholars learned by rote, memorizing the answer to each question exactly as it appeared in the book. When Jedediah Morse wrote the first American geography in 1784, he included only two maps. In contrast, Smith's geography had maps and illustrations. It also provided information on and stereotypic images of countries and cultures around the world. Particularly interesting are the criteria Smith used to rank various cultures on a scale of "civilization" that began with "barbarous" and ended with "enlightened."