American Textbooks

in the Discipline of English, 1776-1900

This site is the result of a research project I performed through Miami University of Ohio. The purpose of my project was to examine the entrance of the literary canon in the English high school curriculum.  First, I read several books of literary theory and several social and literary histories of both England and America.  In the second part of my project, looked at the prefaces and tables of contents of several early American textbooks in order to trace the evolution of the discipline first hand.

It was quite a journey.

Though the literary canon emerged in American critical discourse in the middle of the eighteenth century, the canon was not taught in schools until the middle of the nineteenth century when literature was taught as a part of the English curriculum.

After looking at textbook collections in the Nietz Collection at the University of Pittsburgh Hillman Library, and the National Library of Education in Washington, D. C., I have compiled a list of titles of textbooks used in English classes in America from 1776-1900.  These are strictly books written in English; many readers, especially prior to 1850, were written in Latin. Their titles are not included here, as the focus of my project was the English literary canon in education.  Also, while many early textbooks used in American schools were published in England, this list includes only books published in America at some point.  Finally, this list includes only textbooks which were intended for use at a high school level.

Some books in the lists are highlighted.  By clicking on these titles, you can access a copy of the preface and table of contents from that book.

Please have a look around.  I hope you will take the time to read my introductory essays and to consider with me the past and the future of this rich discipline.  Feel free to send me your thoughts at  I would love to hear from you!




American Secondary School Readers Essay

List of American Secondary School Readers, 1776-1900




American Literature Textbooks Essay

List of American Literature Textbooks, 1776-1900




List of works consulted including links to my summaries




The Future of English Education Essay



This project was completed only with the guidance and help of

Laura C. Mandell, Ph. D., professor of English at Miami University of Ohio. 

I can't thank her enough!


Special thanks also to the staff of Special Collections at the Hillman Library at the

University of Pittsburgh and to the research staff at the National Library of Education

for their help on this project.


 Sarah K. Wilson ~ August 2002