The Education of Things: Mechanical Literacies in British Culture (1760-1860)

Time Frame



  • Elizabeth Hoiem

This project examines writers who represent education as an embodied experience, with learning and literacy grounded in what they called “object learning” or “the education of things.” Denouncing rote-learning in favor of an induction method, object lessons promised to coordinate the development of body and mind by using the pupil’s senses as a catalyst for higher cognitive thought. Children place themselves above the elements composing their environment, which they control through what Hoiem calls “mechanical literacy”—that is, by learning the dependable laws governing how things are sensed, manipulated, created, purchased, manufactured, and exchanged. The project mobilizes a uniquely diverse archive of material and print cultures—pedagogical treatises, radical newspapers, automaton and machinery displays, philosophy of mind, and children’s toys—and shows how books, as objects, were historically understood as part of a network of manipulable education tools.

Funding Agencies