Assistant Professor Elizabeth Hoiem has authored a new book on how children learned about the material world at the close of the eighteenth century. The Education of Things, Mechanical Literacy in British Children's Literature, 1762-1860, funded in part by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was recently published by the University of Massachusetts Press.
In her book, Hoiem examines the rising popularity during Britain's industrial revolution of children's moveable books and toys, which parents and teachers used to integrate observation and tinkering into lessons on reading and writing. These "mechanical" skillsets became essential literacies in an industrial economy. She also investigates the complex class politics behind the playful literature, toys, and learning aids created to teach reading alongside science, technology, and economics.
"The origins of children's literature publishing during this period reflect these important socio-economic changes. As learning strategies traditionally used to train youth in artisan workshops were incorporated into nurseries and classrooms for wealthier children of leisure, educators framed these activities as 'play' to offer a socially acceptable alternative to learning practical science through work," said Hoiem.
This month, Hoiem will present research from her new book at virtual and in-person events. On February 14, she will speak to the Centre for History and Philosophy at the University of Leeds. The talk, which is part of the Centre's Visiting Speaker Seminar Series, will be held at 9:15 a.m. Central Time on Zoom. On February 20, Hoiem will give a special presentation from 3:00-5:00 p.m. in the Rare Books and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, which will include refreshments and children's books on display from the collection. Both events are open to all.
In her research and teaching, Hoiem explores the history of technological innovations in children's literature, from early children's books and toys to contemporary applications of digital pedagogy. She received the Judith Plotz Emerging Scholar Award for her article on 1830s radical texts for working children. Her essay on representations of slavery in children's books on manufacturing sugar received the 2021 Illinois Humanities Research Institute Prize for Best Faculty Research. This year, she is a fellow with The OpEd Project and the University of Illinois System. Hoiem holds a PhD in English from Illinois and MA in literary and cultural studies from Carnegie Mellon University.