The purpose of this project is to bring to light how much can be gleaned from studying children’s literature of the past. While there is great inherent historical value to the contents of the Historical Children’s Literature Collection, there is also a depth of sociological analysis, existential questions, and literary value that can be drawn out from the further study of these items. Children’s literature “reflects the historical, educational, cultural, social, and literary trends of the succeeding periods” (Steinfirst, 1976). Put differently, changing cultural attitudes influences the development of children’s literature (Hunt, 1995). We aim to provide access to these items to inspire studies, to share with others, and maybe even to encourage a visit Special Collections at the University of Washington.
The books digitized on this site range in date of origin from the 19th through early 20th centuries. The 19th century saw children’s literature come into its own as a genre; for the first time, stories were created specifically for the amusement of children (and adults with limited literacy), rather than for youthful religious edification or having been co-opted from works written for adults (Hunt 1995). This development in children’s literature reflects the “movement away from away from the intense religious temperament of the Middle Ages...to the late nineteenth century period of secularization” (Steinfirst, 1976). This emergence represented the opening of a new field of literature for book collectors.
The primary information issue at play here is the lack of awareness and access to and the Pamela Harer Collection and the other historic children’s literature available through UW Special Collections. This issue is a microcosm of the larger challenge related to a dearth of awareness and use of the many other materials available through UW Special Collections. Sandra Kroupa and the Harer family feel that now is the optimal time to call greater attention to this collection in order to memorialize Pamela’s significant contribution to the current academic understanding of children’s literature. She had a vision of using children’s literature as a touchstone for understanding the fundamental connection between the stories of the past and the lessons to be learned in the present day. While historic children’s books may appear quaint or charming, they are far from trivial. It is our responsibility to make these materials accessible; they can only live up to their potential to teach us about ourselves if scholars can find them, and use them.
Two factors have catalyzed the digitization effort in UW Special Collections: lack of awareness of the collections, and lack of access to the items therein. Digitization allows for greater dissemination of resources. People can more easily discover the existence of items when said items are available online. Once aware of that existence, users can also access the resources remotely and for an unlimited amount of time. Special Collections started a digitization effort for these reasons, but with such a vast materials base, only a fraction of the collection has been fully and completely digitized, and this project has acted as a contribution to that effort.
Within this site, users can explore multiple themes within children’s literature, a sampling of fully digitized books in the Historical Children’s collection at the University of Washington, resources with historical context, and guides for further research on each theme. At this juncture we have focused on specific themes of Race and Otherness, Alphabet Books, Fairytales, and Fear and Morality. We hope that these steps will lead to further research opportunities, greater use of the materials, both locally and remotely, and to increased awareness of the prestigious nature of the historical children’s literature available through UW Special Collections.
The physical copies of these books are available to view through UW Special Collections, but they are now also available through University of Washington’s digital collection and on this website.
Hunt, P., & Butts, D. (1995). Children's literature: An illustrated history. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Steinfirst, S. (1976). The origins and development of the ABC book in English from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century (Doctoral dissertation). University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.